Friday, April 17, 2009

Hester Creek's new winery nears completion

Views of Hester Creek's new winery. Courtesy Kathy Mercier

At Hester Creek Estate Winery this spring, it is out with the old and in with the new.

A $4 million 35,000-case winery, partially buried into the hillside above the winery’s south Okanagan vineyard, is nearing completion. The tasting room, with a spectacular view across the valley, is expected to be open by June. Meanwhile, the existing tasting room remains open. In 2010, it may be converted into a restaurant.

The entire 23,000-square-foot winery, packed with modern winemaking equipment and tools, will be complete in time for the crush this fall.

During the past week, demolition has begun on the former Hester Creek winery. Believed to have been erected in 1982, it was one of the oldest winery buildings in the Okanagan.

It was built by Joe Busnardo, the colourful vintner who opened Divino Estate Winery here in 1983 to process the grapes from the vineyard that he had begun planting in 1968. Now about 75 acres in size, this was one of the earliest plantings of European grapes in the south Okanagan. Joe did grape trials with dozens of varieties, including a number from his native Italy. That is why the vineyard to this day has the Okanagan’s only Trebbiano vines, turned into a popular white by Hester Creek.

Joe sold the winery in 1996 and moved Divino to the Cowichan Valley. The new owners renamed the Okanagan property Hester Creek, after the creek on the south side of the property. The creek, in turn, was named by Judge Haynes (first customs officer at Osoyoos) after his daughter. Today, the Hester Creek wine label has a stylized image of a female swimmer gyrating behind a fish. Legend has it that Hester Haynes liked to swim.

The various owners of Hester Creek since 1996 made as many improvements in the old winery building as could be accommodated, including upgrading the dodgy electrical system.

However, Curt Garland, the current owner, concluded the weary building was past its due date almost as soon as he took over the winery in 2004. Winemaker Robert Summers, a veteran Ontario winemaker who was recruited in mid-2006, began designing the new winery that fall.

The winery is partially buried: 13,000 cubic meters of soil was removed, the winery was erected in this excavation and soil was returned to cover a portion of the roof. The object is to reduce the energy needed for heating or cooling the building.

The exposed front of the building has a row of well-shaded windows that face east, looking across the Okanagan Valley. Behind the windows is the tasting room and wine shop. As well, there is a kitchen designed for cooking classes.

These facilities complete the redevelopment of Hester Creek into a destination winery. Garland’s first step was the construction in 2007 of six Mediterranean-styled luxury guest villas. These are even higher up the hillside. Each one commands breathtaking views across the valley and its vineyards.

It has been a long journey since Joe Busnardo first had his dream for this site. He was so far ahead of his time that in the 1970s he could not even get a satisfactory winery contract for his grapes.

Surely, the potential of the site – one of the better vineyards in the south Okanagan – will be unlocked when Robert Summers gets to process well-grown grapes in a thoroughly modern winery this fall.


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