La Dolce Vita: Ringing in the new Okanagan winemakers

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Bottles from the Quinta Ferreira Estate Winery and Tyler Harlton Wines.

Bottles from the Quinta Ferreira Estate Winery and Tyler Harlton Wines.

Part of the excitement in watching a burgeoning wine industry, as I have for a quarter-century, is seeing new, young winemakers emerge and make their mark.

One of my favourites is Michael Ferreira at Quinta Ferreira Estate Winery, a lovely family operation on the Black Sage Bench near Oliver. Several years ago, we pulled up to the new winery, completely unaware that it was the opening day. I suppose we were the first customers in the beautiful and spacious tasting room and wine shop. And we have been fans of the winery, and the wines, ever since.

The Quinta Ferreira story is an Okanagan classic: Portugese immigrants start fruit orchard, then see another opportunity in the wine business. John and Maria Ferreira came to Canada with their families as youngsters and purchased the property in 1979. After 20 years, they pulled out cherry, peach and apple trees and planted Merlot and Chardonnay grapes. Other varietals followed.

Their son, Michael, cut his winemaking teeth working alongside Michael Bartier, a highly respected winemaker who now works out of Summerland’s Okanagan Crush Pad. Eventually, Michael would come to make a great selection of first-rate wines using a selection of grapes that includes Syrah, Viognier, Malbec, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot.

Now, in addition to his duties at the family operation, Michael has teamed up with his sisters, Nicole and Christina, to create a new label, Squeezed. Nicole is an accountant and Christina has her own marketing and promotions company, so the siblings pretty well have all the skills necessary to make a successful go.

“Quirky, fun, serious when needed, creative, outgoing and dedicated can describe the three of us, and choosing a name like Squeezed helps to incorporate all of that!” says the Squeezed website.

Last month I stopped at the Penticton Wine Information Centre to pick up some Squeezed wines — they have no wine shop at this point — and ended up accepting help from one of the employees. He helped with my selections, then pointed out some bottles on the shelf with a name I was unfamiliar with.

Bright, cheery paintings on the labels draw attention to Tyler Harlton Wines. I was caught by surprise with his next statement, “I make these.” William Adams is the winemaker for his friend Tyler’s new venture.

I picked bottles of the rosé made from Cabernet Franc (delicious) and Cab Merlot (yet to be opened) and I look forward to watching Tyler Harlton Wines story unfold in the coming years.

Another young winemaker who made a strong early impression was Manuel Zuppiger of Arrowleaf Cellars, north of Kelowna en route to Vernon. While his Swiss parents were preparing to start a winery, Manuel went to Switzerland to study winemaking. On his return to the new winery he hit the ground running, making memorably good wines from the first vintage a dozen years ago. And he hasn’t missed a step since.

Of course it is only 25 years since the B.C. wine industry as we know it today began in earnest. A government-sponsored program to encourage growers to tear out the commonly grown hybrids and replant with European vinifera varietals on phylloxera-resistant rootstock led to the reinvention of the business that was aided by the vision of what were then new, young winemakers.

John Simes arrived from Australia and put Mission Hills Family Estate on the map with his fabulous Chardonnays. Stephen Cipes arrived from New York state with a vision of making great sparkling wines and teamed up with winemaker Eric von Krosigk to form a partnership that continues today at Summerhill Pyramid Winery. Howard Soon stayed with the old Calona Vineyards and helped in the transition to make quality wines, eventually adding his very successful Small Lots label to the mix.

Today, B.C. wineries number more than 200 and winemakers are young and old(er), Canadian born and immigrants, educated right in the Okanagan and institutions around the world. They tend to be a pretty open and co-operative bunch, sharing information, ideas and support. When the occasional tragedy hits a winery, winemakers, owners and other staff are usually among the first to jump in to help.

We are fortunate to have such diversity of people in the wine industry, and luckier still that it manages to attract dynamic younger enthusiasts.

Lorne Eckersley is publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. His website, www.lorneckersley.com, features a collection of columns, stories and photographs about wine, beer and spirits, food, travel and arts.