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Le Vieux Pin Winery
Le Vieux Pin Winery
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Checking the vinesSeverine Pinte, the viticulturist and head winemaker at Le Vieux Pin.
Relocating from the south of France to the South Okanagan has been hugely positive for Severine Pinte, the viticulturist and head winemaker at Le Vieux Pin. A graduate in agronomy with a masters in viticulture and oenology from Montpellier University, Pinte arrived at Le Vieux Pin in August, 2010, after a sterling 12 year career in the wine industry chiefly in her native France.
Born in Lille near the Belgian border, she has always been immersed in wine. “My father’s work meant moving every year, giving me the opportunity to travel and tour wine regions all over Europe,” says Pinte, who now makes the hottest part of Canada – Osoyoos – her home.
To complete her university diploma, Severine apprenticed at Cave de Tecou, an 800 ha grower’s cooperative in Gaillac outside Toulouse in South West France. For her paper, she focused on improving organizational efficiencies and quality control.
After graduation, Pinte went to Bordeaux to head up the Syndicat Viticole de Pessac-Léognan, an association of growers and châteaux in the best communes in the Graves region. Working under its famed founder, André Lurton, her responsibilities included protecting wine quality in accordance with appellation laws and regulations, as well as media relations. “The biggest concern was saving the appellation from being overrun by urban growth,” she says. “We lobbied against issuing building permits that would adversely affect vineyard land.”
In 2001, Pinte returned to the Languedoc to direct the 700 ha Vignerons du Sommièrois, followed by nine years as head winemaker at Le Vignoble de 2 terres in St. Felix de Lodez, a cave cooperative outside Montpellier. “The beauty of a co-op is that, with the large scale, I could be picky about selecting the best grapes for our top wines,” she explains. “With a lot of vineyard visits and a crush of 600 tons a day, effectively organizing resources with the goal of meeting client requirements was the key.”
Highly regarded for tasting expertise, she has been solicited as a trained judge for such prestigious wine competitions as Vinalies and Guide Hachette in France every year since 2001.
Since opening in 2006, the vision at Le Vieux Pin has been fixed firmly on handcrafting top notch South Okanagan wines from Rhône grape varieties. Even the architecture of the winery on Black Sage Road has the look of a French railway station with an amply overhanging roof or a large, solid barn-like structure in Provence. The winery planted a 10 acre vineyard on this property primarily with Syrah along with a plot of Viognier, later adding Marsanne and Roussanne. As well, a three-acre block of Stag Vineyard in Osoyoos originally planted with Pinot Noir has been grafted to Syrah.
The conversion to Rhône varieties has been gradual. At first, Le Vieux Pin’s portfolio comprised Merlot (Époque and Apogée), Pinot Noir (Périgée and Belle) and Chardonnay (Déjà and Céleste) along with Sauvignon Blanc (sourced in part from estate grown grapes from the north-facing Lumeno Vineyard by Osoyoos Lake. Inaugural releases of Syrah (2008, meaty/velvety) and Viognier/Roussanne (2009, elegant/aromatic), from contracted grapes, are now available. Pinot Noir red will be discontinued after the 2008 vintage (Adieu), while the popular Vaïla Pinot Noir Rosé will remain a staple.
Experience with, along with a passion for, Syrah and Viognier – mainstays in the South of France, is one of the strengths Pinte brings to Le Vieux Pin. “It is a near perfect match,” she says.
Pinte’s exposure to the Rhône varieties is not limited to France. While directing activities at St. Felix de Lodez, she took a sabbatical in the winter of 2003 to participate in the harvest at Frankland Estate in Western Australia. It was an opportunity to learn about new techniques as well as work with other varieties.
Neither is Pinte a complete stranger to Canada. She first visited as an intern in the UBC research forest program in Maple Ridge between her second and third years of the Montpellier agronomy program. While studying the impact of beaver damage on wetland around cities, she met her future partner, Michael Kosaka. Later, after apprenticing at Cave de Tecou in Gaillac, Pinte returned to B.C. in 1998 to work at Domaine de Chaberton as assistant winemaker under Elias Phiniotis.
Making wines at quality-obsessed Le Vieux Pin, with production capped at 3500 cases, adds another dimension to Pinte’s wide-ranging pursuits in the wine industry. She uses the French word “dentelle”, or fine lace work to describe what she does.
“It means crafting wines with precision, striving for excellence, and putting the bar higher,” she says. “When I taste the wine, I am mainly interested in how it can be improved.”
Also a priority for Pinte is sustainability. Soon after her arrival in 2010, she became involved in the BC Wine Grape Council’s Innovative Sustainable Practices program launched in July, 2011, by participating in the pilot study to test the manual. “It’s a good starting point,” she says.
Impressed by the terroir, Pinte sees a bright future for Okanagan wines despite a climate that sometimes comes up short: “A lot more people will know Okanagan wines in five to ten years.” ■