New life for Lang, Soaring Eagle and Stonehill
Photo: Sunset on the Naramata Bench
The three prime Naramata Bench wineries in the bankrupt Holman Lang group are now open or close to re-opening under strong ownership.
The three are Lang Vineyards, Soaring Eagle Winery and Stonehill Winery.
Only Lang Vineyards continues to operate under that name. One of the original Naramata wineries, it was opened in 1990 by Günther Lang. He sold the winery in 2005 to Keith Holman, remaining in management for some months until he and Holman parted ways.
Günther is now back as a consultant to the general manager and winemaker, Richard Kanazawa, and the new owner, Chinese businessman Yong Wang. His company, Bravo Enterprises, bought the winery for $2.2 million in February in a court-supervised auction.
Under the failing Holman Lang group, the winery had run out of cash to bottle wines and to maintain the property. Wang, said to be the chief executive of a mining company, bought what had become a shell. He was attracted to the property because it is beautifully situated, with views across its vineyard over Okanagan Lake and the valley.
Photo: Richard Kanazawa
Once he had acquired the property, Wang decided to return it to wine production. In May, he hired Kanazawa, the former winemaker at Blasted Church Vineyards and gave him the budget to re-equip the winery. He has now opened a remodelled tasting room selling, at bargain prices, wine from recent vintages. A total re-launch with new wines is planned for next spring.
Alone among the seven Holman Lang wineries, Lang emerged from the bankruptcy with its brand relatively undamaged. Lang Farm Reserve Riesling was, for many years, regarded as one of the Okanagan’s best Rieslings. “We will continue to make the Riesling,” Kanazawa says. “It is the one wine that has always been successful, no matter what winemaker has come through here. It has always been a really good seller here.”
Kanazawa also is arranging to purchase grapes since the Lang vineyard is relatively small. Depending on the volume of grapes that he purchases, Lang’s 2011 production could reach 8,000 cases and some of that will be exported to China.
The Soaring Eagle Winery has recently been acquired by Paradise Ranch Wines Corp. and is becoming Paradise Ranch. The Soaring Eagle brand has been retained, at least for now, with the recently re-opened wine shop offering so-called Intermission Series wines.
Those are, for the most part, wines that were made under the auspices of the receiver, in part to use the grapes from the 2010 vintage and in part to preserve the winery asset as a going concern. The wines were made by consultant Michael Bartier with Soaring Eagle’s in-house cellar master, Anthony Buchanan.
With this deal, Paradise Ranch has come full circle. The winery was opened in 1998 by Vancouver lawyer Jim Stewart and Penticton doctor Jeff Harries. It was conceived as an Icewine specialist with grapes from the Harries family Naramata Road vineyard, which was called Paradise Ranch.
In 2003 the family sold the vineyard to Mission Hill. The Icewine business and the Paradise Ranch brand were taken over by Stewart. The winery continued to make and sell Icewines, first using the facilities of other wineries and then, several years ago, setting up in a Kelowna building licensed as commercial winery.
Stewart’s long term strategy was to return Paradise Ranch to Naramata Road after buying a small vineyard there several years ago. The opportunity to buy the 30-acre Soaring Eagle property and brand for $3 million this spring accelerated that plan. It also gave Paradise Ranch a more viable land-based winery license.
Photo: Jim Stewart and Peter Wille
Stewart brought in a partner: Peter Wille, a 23-year veteran of wine sales with Mission Hill. Born in Denmark, Peter came to Canada as a young child. He began a career in beverage sales with Coca Cola and then Okanagan Springs Brewery before joining Mission Hill in 1988. His posts there have included director of sales for Canada and, for the past three years, director of exports.
Photo: Shana and Gavin Miller
The third winery is the former Stonehill Estate Winery which is re-emerging under the proposed name, Upper Bench Estate Winery. This will be the third name for this winery which opened in 2001 as Benchland Winery.
This winery was acquired for $1.6 million by a retired pulp and paper executive, Wayne Nystrom, who, with his wife, Margareta, already owns a small vineyard and an orchard on the Naramata Bench. His partners are winemaker Gavin Miller and Gavin’s wife, Shana, a former cheese maker at Poplar Grove. Miller is the former winemaker at Painted Rock and, before that, Poplar Grove.
The winery, which is at the outskirts of Penticton, has undergone a substantial renovation this summer to accommodate the different business model planned by Nystom and Miller. Cheese-making facilities have been installed in the rear of the winery, in an area formerly used to distil spirits for wine fortifying. (The two stills and the spirits inventory were purchased by Merridale Cidery on Vancouver Island). Shana would like to begin selling cheese this fall.
Next spring, when the winery reopens fully, it will also have a fruit stand marketing the products of Nystrom’s orchard.
“I am really pleased we got this winery,” Miller says. “I always thought it had good bones, this place. It was never used to its potential.”