Class of 2011: Gold Hill Winery
Photo: Gurbachan and Sant Gill
When a widening of Highway 97 was completed this spring midway between Oliver and Osoyoos, it moved the new Gold Hill Winery from highway frontage to a parallel service road.
The winery’s owners actually see this as an advantage. The winery is still visible to passing motorists but the access now is far safer. This had been a stretch of road notorious for mishaps. No one in the wine business wants to be associated with that, much less two of the most recent entrants.
Theirs is the classic immigrant story. Joining an uncle already here, brothers Sant and Gurbachan Gill came from India with only a few dollars and took $6 an hour farm worker jobs. A quarter century of hard work later, they opened their own winery.
Sant, who was born in 1958, emigrated to the Okanagan in 1984. Younger brother Gurbachan, born in 1967, followed him in 1989, in the same year that Sant bought his first house in Osoyoos. After a few years of orchard work, the brothers in 1991 began working in vineyards owned by Kal Gidda, one of the principals at Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery. The experience they picked up during almost a decade with Kal and his brothers shaped the future for the Gill brothers. Today, they plant and manage vineyards for others as well as looking after their own vineyards.
The winery is based on a farm that they bought in 1995. They continued to grow peaches, apricots and cherries there until they switched to grapes in 2007. The rocky slope is either the southernmost extension of The Golden Mile or the northernmost extension of the Osoyoos Lake Bench, since the winery and 7.3-hectare (18-acre) vineyard are almost midway between Oliver and Osoyoos.
In plantings since 2007, the brothers have put in the mainstream varieties – Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier and Gewürztraminer. They also own or lease smaller vineyards in Osoyoos, Okanagan Falls and Kaleden; the latter produces Pinot Noir for the winery.
The winemaker for Gold Hill is consultant Philip Soo. Formerly a winemaker with Andrew Peller Ltd. in Port Moody, Phil since 2006 has become of the Okanagan’s busiest consultants with a client list that includes Dirty Laundry, Noble Ridge and Cassini Cellars. He crafts wines that are distinctive and different with each client, reflecting both individual vineyards and client preferences. The Gill brothers grow grapes that are ripe and full of flavour and that was reflected in the winery’s three bold reds from 2009, all of which spent 16 months in French oak, and the 2010 unoaked Chardonnay, the debut wines. Additional varieties – Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir - are planned in subsequent vintages.
Always willing to learn new skills, Sant is picking up some of the art of winemaking from his consultant. “Phil is a really nice guy,” Sant says. “He explains lots of things to me when he comes here.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Chardonnay 2010 ($19.12). This has the classic freshness of an unoaked Chardonnay, with aromas and flavours of apples and with a crisp finish. 88.
Merlot 2009 ($22.48). This is a concentrated and firm Merlot, with aromas of cassis and with flavours plum, pomegranate, liquorice and chocolate. 88 and it will add a few points with cellaring for a year or decanting now.
Cabernet Franc 2009 ($24.72). Here is another wine that makes the case for this under-appreciated variety. It is big and juicy, with aromas of cassis and blueberry, and flavours reflecting those fruits, with a spicy note. 89.
Syrah 2009 ($26.96). This is a generous red with aromas of lavender and iodine; with flavours of plum and cherry and a touch of pepper on the finish. 88.
Gold Hill Winery
29014 Highway 97
Osoyoos BC V0H 1V0
Open daily in summer from 10 am to 6 pm.