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Raising a Glass to Kelowna’s Wine Industry

Kelowna’s terroir is one of the biggest reasons for the city’s flourishing wine industry 

Generally considered the birthplace of the B.C. wine industry, Kelowna is home to the oldest and most established wineries. Today, the city boasts 28 wineries and that number will likely continue to rise. 
Kelowna also has the distinction of being home to an internationally award-winning Pinot Noir—Mission Hill Family Estate’s 2011 Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir won a 2013 Decanter World Wine Award for Best International Pinot Noir. 
For those involved in this region’s wine industry, the win is no surprise. 
“With Kelowna’s easy access to water, moderate temperature with a slightly cooler climate than further south, and long growing days, we are the perfect location for growing varietals such as the Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay,” says Andy Gebert, co-owner of St. Hubertus Estate Winery. 
Because of glacier deposits and soil type, Kelowna is truly “Mother Nature’s gift” to Pinot Noir. Historically, the reason this area’s soils are so perfect for Pinot is because the lake used to be a much larger body of water 10,000 years ago (during the Pleistocene Era). Therefore, the soils are lake-bottom, mineral rich soils; and when irrigation was introduced, this made the terroir idyllic for growing fruit of all types, including grapes. 
In addition, the cool nights preserve natural acidity and encourage plenty of colour in the Pinot Noir, while contributing richness to the Chardonnay. 
“For those reasons, wineries here are able to produce perfectly balanced Pinot Noirs, Rieslings and Chardonnays,” adds Gebert. 
The phenomenal growth of the Kelowna wine industry over the past several years is also a product of the innovative techniques that winemakers are incorporating into their processes. 
One of the key components to this, according to Quails’ Gate winemaker Nikki Calloway, is the “melting pot of nationalities bringing with them great ideas.”
“We are New World wineries, with many of the winemakers coming from countries such as France, Australia, New Zealand and Germany,” says Calloway, who completed a Diplôme National d’Oenologue at the prestigious University of Bordeaux. “With that comes different technologies from across the world. Then, we take those [ideas] and we figure out what works best here.”
The fundamental process of fermentation, which is centuries old, remains. However, new equipment and processes continually evolve. Calloway says it’s about matching techniques and products—such as irrigation systems and automated temperature controls—to Kelowna’s weather, soil and topography that creates award-winning wines.
“The old school way of temperature control was time consuming,” she adds. “We had to manually look up the temperature on every tank. The Pinot Noir is very sensitive to temperature changes and had to be moved six to seven times a day.”
Now, with the new automated thermal regulated temperature control, Calloway can simply go to her computer and read the temperature on every tank on her screen. She can then change the temperatures if need be from her home computer. 
“We just installed the new software a month ago and it is extremely beneficial, not only for Pinot Noir, but for white wines that need to be fermented at lower temperatures.”
Having said that, sometimes what is old is new again. Recently, there has been the emergence of egg fermenters. Crafted from concrete and breathe-like barrels, they don’t expose oak flavours to the wine. They are easier to stir around the sediment of the wine; adding complexity and weight to the wines. 
As for the future of the wine industry in Kelowna, Calloway and Gebert see one filled with promise where many more of its wines will become internationally acclaimed.