In every detail, Summerhill Pyramid Organic Winery stands behind its commitment to “Celebrate Nature’s Perfection.”
Established in Kelowna’s Lakeshore district for more than 25 years, Summerhill is Canada’s largest, certified organic winery and BC’s first Demeter certified biodynamic vineyard. It is Canada’s foremost producer of sparkling wine. The accolades and many prestigious awards for its wines have proven that doing the right thing for the planet by going organic — as founder and proprietor Stephen Cipes maintained from the beginning — enhances flavour.
These principles are embraced by its acclaimed Sunset Organic Bistro, a 200-seat restaurant with a panoramic view of Okanagan Lake, which serves food grown and raised by local, organic producers, including vegetables from Summerhill’s own permaculture-style garden.
Biodynamicist and permaculturist Gabe Cipes oversees the organic garden crew and sources and prepares the biodynamics applied to Summerhill Vineyard. As well as successfully leading the transition to Demeter Certified biodynamic status, he continues to diversify the farm with food forests and edible landscaping. With his team, he conducts experiments based on permaculture principles to increase biodiversity inside the vineyard system. Companion plantings are done with the grapes between the vineyard rows and in some cases with rows of herbs under the vines. Viticulture is integrated to add value to the edges and use marginal spaces. Bees are treated as royalty and chickens dart about freely.
Gabe and his core team, including Jade Shaman, Barbora Varnaite and Isabelle Perrier, take their roles as stewards of the land seriously.
Says Gabe, “The farm is a living organism and we care about it and respect it.”
Barbora Varnaite agrees, “Here, we stress an awareness of our surroundings and as a team work with the spirits of the plants and earth as we care for the land, creating habitat and biodiversity.”
Always trying to lead by example, everyone on the team is an educator. The Experimental Block below the observation deck of the bistro, too, is aspirational as a prototype of a polycultural management strategy to produce multiple yields and ecological benefits in the vineyard.
Experiments extend to the greenhouse, hot house, cold frame enclosures, vertical space, no-till raised beds, passive solar greenhouse, bees, berries, vegetables, the food forest and even the growing of grains in the vineyard alleyways.
“We are,” says Gabe, “doing phenomenological research with the use of the astrological calendar and aging our wines, seeds and biodynamic preparations in the pyramid, which is a sacred geometrical chamber. We are seeing how the microcosm and macrocosm are all interconnected and how everything effects everything else in the quantum field. We collect quantifiable data in the vineyards, conduct scientific research and experimental development for the company for tax credits.”
Jade Shaman adds, “The fact that these people and this company, Summerhill, recognizes that farmland is a valuable resource and invest in it as well as in the young, organic farmers is commendable.”
The culinary garden, now in its 12th season of production, provides the kitchen with various heirloom vegetables, herbs and berries. The garden team is excited, too, by the new culinary crew at Summerhill, led by Executive Chef Jeremy Luypen in the Sunset Bistro, as well as Chef Mara Jernigan, a Cipes family friend, who was formerly of Fairburn Farm in the Cowichan Valley. An avid Slow Food supporter, Mara will offer Culinary Weekend Packages and accommodations in the lake-view home located in the middle of Summerhill’s 80-acre parcel.
Says Gabe, “As kindred spirits, we can work together with the natural food world and, given Chef Luypen’s organizational skills and love of gardening himself, we can have good communication and influence.”
Part of that influence includes kitchen composting that ensures chickens don’t eat what they shouldn’t. Nothing is wasted, including the crush and considerable water used in the winery production. The garden is managed with hand tools, no-till farming methods and biodynamic preparations to organically enhance the biological activity within the soil.
Twenty acres of the Summerhill property is under restrictive covenant with The Land Conservancy of BC to protect wildlife habitat for future generations, adding to the biodiversity of the farm, and providing a source for wild-crafting.
As a visitor to Summerhill, you’re welcome to explore the pathways including the gardens — just don’t tramp on the beds. Be warned, as your senses take in the abundance, you’ll work up an appetite. Find out about culinary tours at summerhill.bc.ca or in the Wine Shop.
Thanks to the incredible terroir of the Okanagan Valley and its own organic and biodynamic vineyard management, you’ll want to taste the array of organic wines. Be sure to watch for a new sparkling wine to be released soon — Cipes Blanc de Blanc 2012. It’s destined for critical acclaim and major international awards as part of the Cipes line.