Class of 2011: SummerGate Winery
Photo: Gillian and Mike Stohler
Mike and Gillian Stohler, the owners of one of two new Summerland wineries opening this spring, would like consumers to bring back wine bottles for re-use.
They are not alone is trying to get real bottle recycling established; a number of wine producers are offended that returned wine bottles are simply crushed.
For the Stohlers, this is part of the green sensibility governing how they manage their SummerGate Winery. It is one of the handful of organic wineries in British Columbia.
They made the decision to be organic as soon as they bought this Summerland vineyard in 2007.
“We have a young family of four little ones,” Mike explains. “We did not want the chemicals around for practical reasons.” Other wineries advised them, as newcomers to wine growing, to “learn to walk first and then start to run. No, we threw caution to the wind.”
They now have their first wines, all white, in their tasting room as well as in a few restaurants and in Liberty Wine Stores in Vancouver. Judging from the quality of those wines, being organic is not a disadvantage for this couple.
Born in Ontario in 1972, Mike was managing a Vancouver call centre and Gillian, trained in accounting, was working there when they decided in 2003 to move to the Okanagan and to a different lifestyle. “We realized, as some people do, when you are climbing up the corporate ladder, sometimes it is leaning against the wrong wall,” Mike says. “We were young enough to make a change.”
They took their time finding a property, making their decision in 2007 before Okanagan real estate values inflated out of sight.
They bought the property where winemaker Eric von Krosigk had already planted about nine acres of grapes, intending to develop a winery dedicated just to sparkling wines. His project was shelved for personal reasons and the 9-acre vineyard was sold.
Half of the vineyard is planted to Muscat Ottonel, propagated with cuttings that Eric obtained when he was working with Hillside Estate Winery, where Muscat Ottonel is a flagship wine. The remainder of the vineyard is planted to Riesling and to Kerner.
“I love Kerner” says Mike. While at a German wine industry trade show a few years ago, he and Gillian researched the origins of the grape. It is a 1929 cross of Riesling and Trollinger, named for some obscure reason after a poet called Justinus Kerner. There is, in fact, a move in Germany among quality producers, to release the wine as Justinus K.
Mike is not going that far yet because Kerner does not have a bad name in British Columbia. He has even added to his vineyard’s Kerner acreage, having found that the variety is well suited to his comparatively cool site.
Photo: SummerGate property
SummerGate’s red wines are a few years down the road. A neighbour with a good 4.5-acre site is proposing to plant Pinot Noir, along with Gewürztraminer, for SummerGate. Even when those vines are producing, SummerGate will remain a boutique winery.
“It is all about careful growth,” Mike says. “Being big is not part of our plan. We’re happy doing what we are doing.” The winery made about 450 cases in 2009 and about 600 cases last year. All wines are priced at $19.90 a bottle.
When he is not busy now as a realtor with one of the major firms, Mike is managing the vineyard with the discipline necessary for good wines. “We crop down to one or two tons an acre,” he says.
Gillian – she pronounces her name with a hard G – is the winemaker. She has taken Okanagan College winemaking courses. In its initial vintage, SummerGate also called in a consultant, Kelly Symonds, the former winemaker at Hillside. As well, both a German winemaker and one from New Zealand spent several months here under a hosting program called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
Her small batch winemaking begins with grapes that Mike and his crew pick into small buckets, not large bins, so that the fruit does not get squashed on the way to the winery. The grapes are fermented at cool temperatures to preserve the aromatics. Whenever wine is moved in the winery, dry ice is used to shield the wine from air. This reductive winemaking yields fresh, clean and focussed wines.
Here are notes one the debut releases.
Muscat Ottonel 2009 Stohler Family Reserve: This begins with the variety’s classic signature, a floral aroma of rose petals. On the palate, the wine is fresh and crisp, with citrus flavours and with the defining bite of spice on the dry finish. 88.
Kerner 2009 Stohler Family Reserve: The 61 cases of this wine have been sold at the winery but may still be in restaurants. The wine is balanced to finish off-dry. There is enough residual sugar to add a richness to the creamy mid-palate and a lift to the tropical fruit aromas and flavours. 89.
Riesling One 2009 Stohler Family Reserve: In 2009, the Riesling harvest at SummerGate was interrupted by poor weather. The grapes picked in early October produced this wine. It begins with aromas of citrus and a classic hint of petrol. On the palate, the wine is crisp with flavours of lime and green apples. The finish is tangy and refreshing. 90.
Riesling Two 2009 Stohler Family Reserve: The late-picked Riesling had a touch of botrytis and lower acidity. The wine begins with a hint of honey comb on the nose and a touch of honey mingling with the citrus flavours. The finish is dry but softer than its partner. 88.
11612 Morrow Avenue,
When to visit: Afternoons Friday through Monday May 1-October 31; weekend afternoons in winter; and by appointment.