Change is nothing new at Summerhill Pyramid Winery. As a leader in organics and biodynamics and a world class producer of sparkling wine the winery evolves continuously. On my visit in May some of the changes were dramatic. Others, no less important, were invisible to a visitor.
Across from the building that houses the winery, tasting room and Sunset Organic Bistro, a large excavation site was teeming with workers building forms for a concrete foundation. Upon that foundation a 20,000-square-foot building will become Summerhill’s new storage warehouse, replacing an equivalent rental space in Kelowna. It will not only allow all wine to be stored on site in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment and allow easy access, but it will reduce the winery’s carbon footprint as it cuts down on trucking needs. As an added bonus, it will accommodate car parking on the roof. An additional 53 parking spots will be added for the convenience of guests.
Inside the main building, renovations to the tasting room and bistro have improved the traffic flow, opened up the available space, and created a quiet ambience in the dining area with the installation of cork flooring. As Canada’s most visited winery, the changes were made to improve customer experience within the facility.
A new menu greets diners at Sunset Organic Bistro, reflecting the tastes of new chef Jonas Stadtlander and his team. Additional organic and biodynamic gardens have been created on site under the supervision of Gabe Cipes, one of founder and president Steve Cipes’ three sons who work at the winery. Gabe also has a new low-tech greenhouse that allows him to extend the growing season of plants used to supply the bistro.
As a regular visitor to Summerhill, I have come to assume that I will see CEO Ezra Cipes, winemaker Eric von Krosigk and, often, Steve Cipes, when I am on site. I emailed Ezra and got a reply. “I am in England.”
For the third time in five years a Canadian delegation of wine and cider makers was hosting a “Canada Calling” event on the eve of the annual London Wine Fair. Canadian producers were pouring samples and educating British wine tradespeople about the burgeoning Canadian wine scene. The event was hosted in Canada House, a familiar sight on Trafalgar Square to Canadians visiting London. Another message arrived from Ezra: “I got a bottle of Cipes Gabriel delivered to Prince Charles today.” He also suggested I could talk to the winemaker for this story.
When I asked Tarrah MacPherson, vice-president operations, about von Krosigk I got another surprise. He was in Portugal, scouting out sources for bottle corks in one of the world’s premier producers. Steve? He was in Texas!
Tarrah came to the rescue. The renovated bistro and new menu are clearly a hit. On the Victoria Day weekend more than 200 diners enjoyed lunch each day, and one day a record was set for most lunches served. Evening diners arrived in droves.
What about wine sales, I wondered? International sales are increasing dramatically and sales in the wine shop are setting records. With an increasing number of Summerhill organic wines—the Alive label has been embraced by the public—and biodynamic farming practices taking hold, customers are finding the wines to be more and more in line with their own values. The dream that has guided Steve Cipes for a quarter century, one that made him a visionary in the wine business, is now being embraced by the public, which increasingly wants a closer connection to where its food is grown and produced, and to the people involved. Summerhill Pyramid Winery is ready, willing and able to meet those expectations.
But Summerhill has always been about more than the wine. Nearly hidden from view from the bistro, near Mallam House (perhaps the oldest existing structure in the area built by white settlers) is a Makwala Kekuli. The Kekuli is a replica of a sacred earth house used by indigenous peoples. Log construction is covered by earth, but logs rot eventually. The earth has been cleared off the structure and rotted logs are being replaced. Nothing to do with wine, but everything to do with what Summerhill Pyramid Winery is all about—honouring our past, celebrating the present and respectfully planning for the future.
~ Lorne Eckersley