A unique feature of Okanagan Crush Pad is its egg-shaped fermentation tanks.

A unique feature of Okanagan Crush Pad is its egg-shaped fermentation tanks.

La Dolce Vita: Having a crush on wine

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Of the more than 230 wineries in B.C., there were none I looked forward to visiting more than Okanagan Crush Pad (OCP).

Before the Summerland winery opened, I had met two of the principles, Christine Coletta and David Scholefield. Coletta’s marking agency was in Creston to do work for the yet-to-opened (or -named) Baillie-Grohman winery. I spent a blistering hot couple of hours on a deck with Coletta, Scholefield and Leann Froese, talking about wine and the Creston Valley. These folks were extremely knowledgeable and very passionate and I sensed immediately that new winery owners Bob Johnson and Petra Flaa were in good hands.

Fast-forward a couple of years and these same people were announcing the opening of a unique facility in Summerland. Okanagan Crush Pad is a winery with a distinctive twist. While it produces its own wines under several different labels, it is also designed to act as a custom facility that can handle any and all business needs for small or aspiring winemaking operations. From winemaking through to marketing, OCP has the equipment and expertise to handle every aspect of winemaking and selling.

“We are intended to be an incubator,” Coletta told me on a recent visit.  What that means for someone wanting to get into the winery business is that he or she doesn’t have to go whole hog into getting an education, buying equipment and starting out with an enormous debt. Instead, they can contract with OCP to use the equipment and expertise to whatever extent they need, and gradually learn what they need to know while getting some cash flow going.

The OCP team is a canny mix. Coletta has a terrific reputation as a marketer and was instrumental in creating the Vintners Quality Alliance program in B.C.’s then-fledgling quality wine industry. Her husband, Steve Lornie, is a building contractor. He was busy during our visit, preparing for an expansion to the young facility. David Scholefield is one of the Canada’s star wine tasters and judges and Julian Scholefield has tons of experience in organizing large wine events and festivals. Head winemaker Michael Bartier is one of the province’s most respected winemakers and he brings a wealth of experience to the group.

Finally, OCP somehow managed to score Alberto Antonini as its consulting viticulturist and winemaker. The Tuscan winery owner has a doctorate in agricultural studies from the University of Florence and studied oenology at the University of Bordeaux and University of Califonia, Davis. He was the winemaker for Antinori and Frescobaldi in Italy and Robert Mondavi in California. He visits OCP at least four times a year.

As we tasted our way through a few of the 30 wines and nine labels now available at OCP, we were impressed, but hardly surprised, with the quality. Among our eventual purchases were three-litre boxes with tall, narrow designs intended to take up very little space in the refrigerator or shelf. Once opened, the remaining wines are meant to stay fresh for up to six weeks. It’s been a treat to open the fridge and come away with a glass of lovely rosé wine and not having to be concerned about whether we want to finish a whole bottle.

One of the many smile-inducing aspects of OCP is the row of black concrete “eggs”, fermentation tanks whose design encourages the crushed grapes and juice to roll inside, reducing or eliminating the need for punching down the cap formed by the grape skins. The natural movement, caused by the creation of fermentation gases and the shape of the tank, seems to add to the body of the wine and the concrete has a porosity not found in stainless steel, allowing the wine to interact with microscopic amounts of air as it ferments, much like it does in oak barrels. The eggs hold about four barrels in volume and were custom made for OCP in California.

The OCP team clearly has taken a long-term vision of how to fill a niche in the wine market and with expansion underway already, the signs are clear that it is on to a very good idea. “From Field to Market” is the way OCP describes the services it offers, and they include vineyard management, business planning, winemaking, licensing, branding and marketing, and sales and distribution.

Great people, great wine, great plan. I wish them well.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.