The family farm may be in decline elsewhere, but it’s thriving in the South Okanagan. Between Oliver and Osoyoos, more than 80 per cent of wineries are family enterprises, including the five newest ones. And like the wines they produce, each has its own flavour.
Harry McWatters and his family have deep roots in the wine industry. Harry founded B.C.’s first estate winery, Sumac Ridge, in 1980. His daughter, Christa-Lee, made wine when she was nine years old from grapes she had planted there three years earlier. In 2000 Harry sold Sumac Ridge along with half of Black Sage Vineyard, establishing Time Estate Winery on the remaining 60 acres, now called Sundial Vineyard. It produces two brands: Time (“Everybody needs more time, and we’re the only winery to put time in a bottle,” says Harry) and McWatters Collection, a legacy brand for Christa-Lee and her brother, Darren.
To say Christa-Lee is very involved at Time would be an understatement, says Harry. “She tells me what I’m doing wrong. And sometimes she’s right about that.” Darren, who Christa-Lee says is one of the best production managers in the business, is employed elsewhere but works at Time on his days off and may join the team once construction of a new 25,000-square-foot winery is complete. The cellars and the production facility are expected to be ready for fall harvest, with the hospitality and visitor’s centre, guest suites and kitchen opening next spring.
Wine shop hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. year round
Born and bred in the Okanagan, Michael and Don Bartier launched Bartier Bros. as a virtual winery in 2009, making wine through Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland with grapes purchased from the Cerqueira family’s vineyard in Osoyoos. Last January, the Cerqueiras retired and the Bartiers bought their 15-acre vineyard. “We had a very close relationship farming with them to the point where we’re family,” says Michael. “It’s a very special thing that we’ve come across.” Joe Cerqueira is helping build the winery facilities, and his daughter, Sophia, is involved with hospitality. Michael, a winemaker at other wineries for many years, is both viticulturist and winemaker, while Don, a CGA based in Calgary, handles financial matters and Alberta sales as well as farming a small vineyard with his wife’s family in Summerland that supplies Bartier Bros. with Gewürztraminer grapes. The new winery opened in summer 2015.
Wine shop hours: Easter weekend to mid-October, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Kismet Estate Winery, which opened its tasting room in May 2014, is also owned by two brothers: Sukhi and Balwinder Dhaliwal, who emigrated to the Okanagan from India about 20 years ago. Starting with five acres, the Dhaliwals now have about 200 acres and are one of the largest independent grape growers in the valley. Balwinder’s brother-in-law, Dapinder Gill, is the winemaker. “I’ve pretty much grown up with Sukhi and Bal, so I had known them before my sister got married,” he says. “We had family connections.” Originally an accountant, Gill learned to make wine by talking to the winemakers who buy their grapes and asking lots of questions. “Winemaking is not as difficult as you think,” he says. “What you really need is a good palate to understand where the wine’s going.”
Wine shop hours: April to November, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; December to February by appointment (250-408-9800).
Winery owners Gary and Montakarn Misson had no farming experience when they bought a peach and apricot orchard near Oliver in 2003. Montakarn had found Vancouver cold compared to her native Thailand but fell in love with the desert climate on a visit to Gary’s sister in Oliver. At first they didn’t even have a tractor, picking fruit from the back of a truck that they drove through the rows of trees. “We just sort of put it in the back of the truck in a box and then took it to a packing plant,” says Gary. “We didn’t know what we were doing.” As the trees got older, they replanted 10 acres with grapes, which they sold to wineries. Gary had made wine for himself for 30 years, so in July 2013, they opened a winery. “When you look at your wife and you say, ‘Let’s be a winery,’ at that point that’s the cheapest, easiest part of the whole process.”
Wine shop hours: spring 10 a.m to 6 p.m.; summer 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; fall/winter by appointment (250-498-7709).
“We bought the house and it came with a vineyard,” says Ray Coulombe, who opened VinPerdu with his wife, Wendy, and daughters Catherine and Nathalie in May. Ray and Wendy settled in Oliver after 20 years in advertising in Montreal and Toronto. “We thought, why not?” says Ray. “So we became instant farmers.” They took courses and hired a viticulture expert to coach them in the vineyard. The name, VinPerdu—“lost wine”—refers to the years that the grapes from the five-acre vineyard were sold to other winemakers. “They were lost into blends all throughout the valley for that amount of time,” says Ray. “So for this vintage we wanted to see exactly what our varietals could show us and what our terroir has to offer. It will always be different year to year because we’re going to take what the grapes give us.”Wine shop hours: May through October, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; November through April by appointment (250-498-2234).
There are 36 wineries in the Oliver Osoyoos area and more than one way to visit them
The Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association’s Half-Corked Marathon takes in more than a dozen wineries with wine, water and sometimes food at each. It doesn’t take place until May, but tickets go on sale by lottery in November. The event is so popular that last year more than 4,000 people competed for 1,000 tickets. The only other competitive aspect is for best costume as the focus is on fun, not run.
One of the marathon sponsors, Landsea Tours & Adventures, recently added bus tours of the Okanagan to its previous routes around Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler. In the Oliver Osoyoos area, Landsea has half-day tours of four wineries, each on the Black Sage Bench and Golden Mile with commentary on the landscape along the way. Landsea is a boutique tour company that specializes in smaller groups. Tours are $79 a person, $45 for non-tasters.
What could be more convenient than staying right next door to a winery? Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort, on a ridge overlooking Osoyoos Lake, includes Nk’Mip Cellars, a winery and vineyard owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band. In addition to the winery, Nk’Mip Cellars has an outdoor dining patio serving aboriginal-inspired meals from May through October. Spirit Ridge has several other restaurants, a pool, spa, golf course, walking trails and more. Suites all have full kitchens and range from one to three bedrooms.