Friday, August 19, 2011

Class of 2011: Heaven's Gate Estate Winery

Photo: Andy and Diane Sarglepp

Summerland’s newest winery, Heaven’s Gate Estate Winery, had its grand opening last week and that is good news for rosé lovers.

Most of the other 10 members of the Bottleneck Drive Wine Route (the name for their promotional association) are running low on rosé. Heaven’s Gate still has some, but only because it took the winery a few extra months to jump through all the regulatory hoops before opening.

In addition to the rosé, Heaven’s Gate opened with four other wines, all from the 2010 vintage. Available in the tasting room is a Merlot, a Gewürztraminer, a Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon blend and Pinot Gris.

I tasted the whites and the rosé from the tank this spring. The Gewürztraminer is a juicy, off-dry crowd pleaser. The Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon had a honeyed not to the flavours. The rosé was dry and tasted of cherries; I am told that finished wine is not quite as dry.

I was particularly impressed with the Pinot Gris with its intense aromas and flavours of lime and grapefruit. The wine is a 90 pointer in my book.

Photo: Wine shop mural

The proprietors of Heaven’s Gate are Andy and Diane Sarglepp. Until 2008 they grew peaches, operating as Triple A Orchards. If peaches have a cult following, Triple A had such a reputation.

“I had customers from day one, right to the end, when I quit after 20 years,” Andy says. “They would only buy from me because I had almost unsurpassed quality. I would grade harder and get rid of any flaws among the peaches. If you reached into one of my bins, you did not have to look at the fruit - it would be perfect.”

Andy was born in Haney in 1965 and in adulthood began working in logging and sawmilling. His Estonian-born parents – his father had become a successful construction contractor in Canada after arriving impoverished after the war – bought this Summerland property about 25 years ago. Andy was asked to help develop the peach orchard. He fell in love with the Okanagan and stayed.

He may have been good at growing peaches but somewhere along the way, the business lost its appeal. The orchard was “all peaches, of different varieties, so I was picking from the middle of July to the middle of September,” he remembers. “I was busy picking peaches for two months straight.”

He says he stopped eating peaches about 15 years ago. Diane says that peaches are not allowed in the house.

In 2008, they decided to replace the orchard with 5 ½ acres of grapes for a winery. “I wonder if the same thing will happen with wine,” Andy says, asking rhetorically: “Will I dislike wine as much?”

The building formerly used as cool storage for peaches turned out to be well-suited for making and storing wines.

For the wine shop, Andy and Diane have completed very elegant renovations to a log building that once served as summer accommodation for visiting friends and relatives. The tasting counter is Brazilian granite. A large mural and antique farming and logging tools decorate the interior walls.

The patio in front includes a fountain and is bordered by rock work, some of it – along with the baronial pillars at the front gate - done by Andy’s late father. The view from the patio is a panorama of vines in the foreground and Okanagan Lake in the distance.

“We want to keep our patio uncramped,” Andy says. “I have a big bird feeder there and I will sit here sometimes and just watch the little guys.” And they hope that visitors will take time for the same pleasure, with a glass of wine in hand.

The grapes in the vineyard include two acres of Gewürztraminer, a variety very much at home in the Summerland terroir. Andy has also planted Merlot, Gamay and Sémillon; a planting of Sauvignon Blanc did not survive an early winter freeze. The vineyard’s first crop will be harvested this fall.

To get started, Andy purchased grapes last year. With the help of consultant Christine Leroux, he made 13,000 litres (about 1,450 cases) in 2010, about two-thirds of it white. The volume of red is likely to be increased in subsequent vintages.

“This being first year, I did not want to max out my capacity of my cellar,” Andy says. “I wanted to go half throttle, learn my system, figure out the bugs if any. Next year, it will be game on, full steam ahead.”

Heaven’s Gate Estate Winery
8001 Happy Valley Road
Summerland BC
T 250.809.7099


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