Sunday, March 20, 2011

Poplar Grove becomes king of the hill

 
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Photo: Poplar Grove winery

The talk of Penticton this spring is the new 10,000-square-foot Poplar Grove winery which opened in July, high on the flank of Munson Mountain.

Visible from many parts of the city, the winery’s vivid green walls stand out like a beacon. Ian Sutherland, Poplar Grove’s founder, hastily points out that the green walls are the raw exposed fibre glass covering concrete. When the winery is finished, about June 1, it will be clad with cedar and will fit more comfortably in the landscape.

However, the winery’s vast expanse of windows ensures that it will always be visible, especially in the setting sun. And those visiting the winery will be treated to one of the greatest Okanagan views available from any winery. It seems almost like looking at Penticton and Okanagan Lake from the window of an airplane.

“We want the main focus to be on the wines – and after that, on the view,” Ian says.

Poplar Grove opened in 1993 in a winery with a tasting room almost too small, as the cliché goes, to swing a cat in it. Space was even more cramped when cheese production was added to the business. In time, Ian erected a large metal building for winemaking, addressing the space needs of that side of the business. The tasting room remained small.

Several years ago, pharmaceutical executive Tony Holler bought a majority stake in Poplar Grove. He also bought and planted more than 100 acres of vineyard. Once a garagiste winery, Poplar Grove began to expand its production and also launched a second brand, Monster Wines. In recent years, the winery had well and truly outgrown its tasting room and was pushing the limits on the processing facility.

With great foresight, Tony bought a block of land on the side of Munson Mountain. He had identified it as a great winery location near the start of Naramata Road. Three years ago, the property was folded into Poplar Grove.

This is meant to be a showpiece winery. The barrel cellar, visible through glass windows from the large tasting room, will include racks of Poplar Grove’s top library wines and a substantial table for private tastings. The tasting room itself has three individual tasting bars so that staff can give visitors the VIP treatment.

Behind the tasting room, there is a restaurant that will be cozy in winter and will more than double in summer when open-air patio becomes available. The landscaping plans also provide for a terrace down the hill from the winery for functions. The view from this terrace is even more awe-inspiring than the view from inside the tasting room.

It also looks over one of the winery’s vineyards, with two and a half acres of Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris. When site is finished here, perhaps another three acres of vines will be planted.

Concurrent with the opening of the new winery, Poplar Grove will be moving toward splitting its brands. Monster Wines, its entry-level brand, will be tasted and sold from the historic Poplar Grove tasting at least for this year.

Current plans call for building a separate winery and tasting room for Monster on a former apple orchard at the corner of Tupper Road and Middle Bench Road. The site is a stone’s throw down the hill from the new Poplar Grove winery.

While a lot of earth had to be moved to prepare the Poplar Grove site, the Tupper Road parcel is flat. The intention is to build a functional winery there with more processing capacity than there is at the winery up the hill. The tasting room for Monster Wines will also move to Tupper Road, perhaps as early as next year.

These two wineries, so visible and accessible, will only add to Naramata Road’s reputation as the Okanagan’s best address for wine touring.

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