Two workers pull in the 2012 harvest at Privato’s Kamloops vineyard.
The launch of Harper’s Trail took place on a perfect summer day in July 2012. Owners Ed and Vicki Collett poured three wines from grapes harvested in 2011 on their 18-acre vineyard east of Kamloops. Highly credible wines from one of B.C.’s most northerly vineyards, they are bound to draw attention to the Kamloops area where a trio of start-ups are producing or are on track to produce homegrown wines.
“We could not see any reason why Kamloops could not grow and produce top quality wine,” Ed says. When a 125-acre parcel on the upper banks of the north side of the South Thompson River – originally part of the storied Gang Ranch owned by Thaddeus Harper – became available in 2007, they jumped at the chance. Backed by limestone hills, it features southeast-facing slopes, in a valley that runs east-west rather than north-south, taking full advantage of daylight hours.
In 2008, the Colletts planted seven acres of Gewürtztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Riesling. The following year they added 11 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and more Riesling. Ed decided to pull the Merlot in 2010 because of susceptibility to winter kill. “We will be planting five acres of Pinot Noir in the spring of 2013,” he adds. “But we will also change the way the land is prepared by “discing” and adding organics to the soil, giving the young plants a bit of the boost.”
Until the new winery is built, winemaking has been in the hands of Michael Bartier and Okanagan Crush Pad. Of the challenges, Michael says that, “Because of the long hang time, the harvest is tight. So we have to pay attention to the numbers, considering what the leaves are doing and whether the seeds have browned before deciding when to pick. Not yet released, 2011 Cabernet Franc looks pretty solid. With 30-40 tons harvested in 2012, we have more options.”
Opening of the tasting room in the spring will be followed by a new winery, with a barrel room and storage cellar below, by the 2013 harvest.
On the north tributary of the Thompson River, a short drive from Kamloops, John and Debbie Woodward’s 80 acre Christmas Tree Farm and Tree Nursery also provided a venue to fulfill their dream of a vineyard. Committed to high caliber vinifera varieties, they planted three acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling in 2010 for their Privato winery. “The vines are planted on an 8% southeast-facing slope where the upper slopes are sandy loam and the lower, silty clay loam,” Debbie says. The vagaries of Mother Nature have taught them the importance of “a good blanket of snow, mulching the plants well and cultivating new seedlings in the green house for the first few years.” The Woodwards will not make wine from their own grapes “until they meet the criteria we are demanding.” For now, they make wine from Okanagan grapes, with John’s mentor, Gustav Allander of Foxtrot Vineyards in Naramata, providing winemaking expertise. Instead of a wine shop, Debbie adds, “We are more likely to host private events for avid supporters and welcome folks for private tours.”
Looking for cheaper land in the interior to grow blueberries, Gurjit Sidhu of Sidhu & Sons Nursery in Mission, B.C., acquired historic Monte Creek Ranch, on the south side of the South Thompson River and the Trans Canada Highway, in 2007. While blueberries did not pan out, Gurjit liked the land, even purchasing nearby Lion’s Head Ranch. When he asked retired, provincial government grape expert John Vielvoye to assess the land, Vielvoye recommended cold-hardy Minnesota hybrids, never before used to make wine commercially in B.C.
Vineyard manager Menno Schellenberg explains,“ there are adequate heat units to achieve ripeness, but cold snaps are 6ºC lower than the Okanagan.” On an elevated, north-facing bench, Gurjit planted 12 acres with five Minnesota hybrids plus Maréchal Foch in 2010. The five included Marquette and Frontenac Noir reds and whites called Frontenac Blanc and Gris, and La Crescent. Of Monte Creek’s 2012 Marechal Foch made by Summerhill’s Eric van Krosigk, Schellenberg says, “The grapes were picked on November 10 at 25 Brix, comparable to Okanagan levels.”
Not wanting to put all his eggs in one basket, Gurjit decided to include vinifera varieties when planting additional vines at both locations in 2011. “The south-facing vineyard at Lion’s Head, on the north shore directly across the river from Monte Creek, is more favourable for vinifera,” Schellenberg says. Six acres of vinifera, including two clones each of Gewürtztraminer and Pinot Gris, plus Riesling, Pinot Meunier and Cabernet Franc, were planted, along with 8½ acres of hybrids.
At Monte Creek, 2½ acres were added, which also includes experimental plantings of vinifera. To ensure early ripening, growing methods for vinifera incorporate high vine density, universal cordon training and low yields. “When the Monte Creek sales centre opens in 2014, it will provide an opportunity to learn about grape growing, while also visit the historic ranch still used for cattle grazing,” Schellenberg says. ■