Thursday, June 23, 2011

Class of 2011: Sunnybrae Estate Winery

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Photo: Barry Turner

The large framed photograph in the tasting room of newly-opened Sunnybrae Vineyards and Winery – a picture of a muscular farmer with his team of Belgian draft horses – immediately conveys a sense of heritage.

It is a picture of the late Mac Turner, the father of Barry Turner who, with his wife, Nancy, and their family, has launched the newest of the six wineries in the Shuswap. A stylized image of Mac Turner and his team appears on the labels of all Sunnybrae wines.

Barry’s family has farmed in the Sunnybrae district for five generations. The winery’s seven and a half acre vineyard is part of a 20-acre property that once belonged to a Turner ancestor, a Major Mobley, said to have been one of the first non-native settlers. Barry says that his ancestor sold the land in 1907. In 2000 Barry reacquired the land for his family.

“We had a hay field there that went to pigweed,” he remembers. “I don’t like haying. It’s a beautiful field if you did something with it. Everybody told me it was an ideal spot for grapes. It has gravel soil, probably eight inches of top soil, with a south slope of up to 6%.”

The idea appealed to him. Barry’s career as a heavy equipment operator and a road builder often has taken him away from home and family. “My plan was, later in life, to phase out of that and get into this full time,” he told me five years ago when he began planting the vineyard.

“We have put our whole heart into this,” his wife, Nancy, says now.

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Photo: Nancy Turner and daughter Kristie

To negotiate what he called the “steep learning curve” of grape growing, Barry sought advice both from James Wright, who operates the nearby Ashby Point Vineyard, and from Lanny Martiniuk, a veteran vine propagator in Oliver.

“He is one of these guys, he’s doing it by the book,” James said of Barry in a 2006 interview. “I wish my rows were as straight as his and my spacing were as good as his.”

Barry, who began planting in 2006, now has 2.3 acres of Maréchal Foch, 1.3 acres of Siegerrebe and 1.2 acres each of Ortega, Kerner and Schönburger. And he could plant perhaps another five acres on his perfect slope.

It is only recently that the Turners learned of substantial viticultural expertise in Nancy’s family. She is a cousin of Lloyd Schmidt. Lloyd’s father, Frank, (her uncle) once owned an historic Kelowna vineyard. Lloyd, who grew up around vines, was one of the founders of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery. Now, based in Ontario, he is a leading importer of vines for Canadian vineyards.

Over the years, Nancy had lost touch with her cousin. A few years after the Sunnybrae vineyard had been planted, she spotted Lloyd Schmidt’s advertisement in a grape industry publication and invited her cousin to visit. She recounts that Lloyd tasted their first wines in tank and said: “I don’t know what you are doing but keep doing it.”

The wines impressed the cousin because Barry, who is not a winemaker, has just continued to do things by the book. The winery’s first vintage, 2010, was started with consultant Hans Nevrkla, the former owner of Larch Hills Winery (the Shuswap’s original winery) and completed by Jesse Steinley, who is also the winemaker at the nearby Recline Ridge Winery.

On Lloyd Schmidt’s recommendation, Mark Wendenburg, the former long-time Sumac Ridge winemaker, consulted on finishing the vintage. Sunnybrae made 1,200 cases in its first vintage, opening its tasting room in May, 2011.

Nancy and daughter Kristie Smolne have the tasting room open seven days a week (with extended weekend hours) during the summer; and by appointment. If they happen to be working nearby in the vineyard, they hang a walkie talkie on the door with which visitors can summon them.

The winery, with a driveway described as “friendly” to recreation vehicles, counts on strong summertime traffic from tourists camping in the nearby provincial park or visiting Salmon Arm across the lake and only a fifteen minute drive from the winery.

Here are notes on the wines.

Ortega 2010 ($16.90). The wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple, with a crisp, refreshing finish. 88.

Siegerrebe 2010 ($17.90). The winery’s own notes describe this as a “passionate dance to a composition of citrus, lychee and apricot notes.” The prose may be a bit purple but this is an appealing wine, with aromas of spice and grapefruit. It is a tropical bowl of fruit, finishing crisply. 90.

Rosé 2010 ($17.90). This wine is based on Maréchal Foch blended with white wine; the exact blend is kept secret, presumably to thwart competitors from copying. The wine is appropriately light, juicy and refreshing, with notes of strawberry on the nose and palate. 87.

Bastion Mountain Red 2010 ($16.90). This wine is named for the mountain that rises at the back of the vineyard, dominating the Salmon Arm skyline. This is a fruit-forward wine made primarily with Foch (the only red in the vineyard). An easy drinking wine, it has flavours of black cherry and chocolate with a smoky finish. 87.

Maréchal Foch 2010 ($18.90). This wine is crafted into a wine distinct from the Bastion Mountain Red by being aged in French and American oak. The oak tannins add structure to the Foch, which has soft tannins. This dark-hued wine has aromas and flavours of black cherry, chocolate and coffee. 88-90.

Sunnybrae Vineyards & Winery
3849 Sunnybrae Canoe Point Road
Tappen, BC, V0E 2X0


At September 21, 2011 at 10:35 PM , Blogger said...

Siegerrebe 2010. We were in the nearby provincial park recently and we sampled a bottle of this white. It was absolutely one of the best white wines I have tasted since coming to BC from Europe. It explodes like champagne on the tongue, fills the mouth bursting with flavour and finishes with a very interesting perfume. I can't wait to have it again. I live in Vancouver and this wine is award standard! Well done people.

At February 1, 2012 at 7:46 PM , Blogger Patty J said...

We got to sample the wines of Sunnybrae Winery last summer... my sister was with me and is a red wine drinker.. always turned away from white wine...that is until she tried Barry and Nancy's Siegerrebe, the best wine.. white or red. I think my sister bought a case of it to take back to her home in Nanaimo. I liked them all.... especially the Marchal Foch. Delicious.


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