Photo: Tinhorn Creek's Sandra Oldfield
On your next visit to Tinhorn Creek Estate
Winery, walk to the northern border of its Golden Mile vineyard and look over
the edge. You will see the winery’s compost field.
While this is not the most photogenic
feature at the winery, it is a key part to Tinhorn Creek’s focus on sustainable
During the past six years, the winery’s
sustainability initiatives have been gathering momentum, part of its policy to
reduce its carbon footprint. Some examples:
* In 2004 the winery began releasing
beetles to control a particular weed (the beetles eat the stems), replacing
herbicides. Also in 2004, the winery
became involved in a major project to restore the antelope brush habitat in the
* A trial program with snake fences, begun
at Tinhorn Creek, is now widely used in the south Okanagan to safeguard people
from snakes – and to protect the endangered snakes from people. These are low
fences, low enough to step over, that prevent snakes from slithering into the
vineyards. There is one, for example, at the top end of the winery vineyard,
ensuring that snakes stay in the grassland on the hillside.
* The winery is believed to be the first in
the Okanagan to convert to biodiesel for its farm machinery.
Photo: Tinhorn Creek's compost field
* The winery – like a growing number of its
peers -- has been ramping up a program to compost every residual, from spent
grape skins and seeds to food wastes from its restaurant. The compost then is
put back onto its 130 acres of vineyard, much of it on sandy soil on Black Sage Road
that benefits from the addition of the compost.
“We have a never-ending supply of land that
can accept the waste that we generate from the process of making our product,”
says Sandra Oldfield, the winery’s president and winemaker. “It means we don’t
have to ship our waste out.”
It is not always the easiest way to deal
with waste. For example, it would be cheaper to take restaurant waste to the
local landfill. Tinhorn Creek has developed a method of fermenting these wastes
before mixing them into the compost. That eliminates the odours that could
attract bears and also annoy winery visitors.
* The winery has numerous programs to conserve
water in its processing and in its vineyards, water being a precious commodity
in the dry Okanagan. Currently, the winery is well into a four-year $1 million
conversion of its overhead irrigation system to drip irrigation. Drip is so
much more efficient that it can reduce the amount of water put onto the
vineyard by as much as 75%.
“There are huge cost savings in putting in
the drip system from an operational point of view and an environmental point of
view,” says Andrew Moon, the winery’s viticulturist. “Grape vines don’t like
having water thrown on top of them. They start getting diseases. Converting to
drip cuts down the opportunity of those diseases getting into the vines. We
don’t have to spray as much.”
* The winery has an extensive health and
safety program developed over the last two years by a committee of the
employees. The employees actually identified 900 workplace hazards – everything
from dealing with confined spaces to avoiding repetitive strains. This
initiative has changed the entire culture at the winery, and for the better.
“Employees are where it is at,” Sandra
says. “Wine is just a by-product.”
That is just for starters. The winery uses
energy efficient light bulbs, paperless faxes, and recycled packaging products
whenever possible. This is a winery that is truly serious about have a light
footprint on the environment.
Tinhorn Creek is certainly not alone among
Okanagan wineries in working to be green, but it seems to be in a leading
A bean counter might ask whether wine
consumers will reward Tinhorn Creek’s laudable efforts by buying its wines. I
don’t think Tinhorn Creek is engaged in good works in the expectation of
gaining more sales; the management here is not cynical. However, the rising green sensibility
in society in general is certain to translate into better sales for those
wineries making an effort at being good citizens.
Here are notes on current Tinhorn Creek
releases. With the exception of the rosé and the new white blend, most of the
Oldfield Series wines were released last fall and may have been reviewed here.
I have another opportunity to taste them this spring, however. Oldfield Series
is the winery’s designation for its reserve tier.
Creek Pinot Gris 2011 ($17.99). In this vintage,
the winemaker tweaked its most popular white by letting 30% ferment in small stainless
steel barrels and putting it through malolactic fermentation. When
assembled with the other 70%, this portion softened the acidity and broadened
the palate. The wine is still a bowl full of fruit brimming with pears and
Creek Gewürztraminer 2011 ($17.99 for a production
of 3,640 cases). This is one of the winery’s drier Gewürztraminers, showing
classic spicy aromas and flavours of grapefruit. This is a very good wine with
Series 2Bench Rosé 2011 ($22.99). The third vintage
of Tinhorn Creek’s rosé, it is made in greater volume that in previous years
because the vintage gave the winery more Cabernet Franc best suited for rosé.
This wine is crisp and dry, with aromas and flavours of raspberry. It is a
light, refreshing wine looking for a picnic. 88.
Series 2Bench White 2011 ($22.99 for a production
of 1,091 cases). This wine, which will be released June 1, is complex blend of
52% Chardonnay, 31% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Viognier and 3% each of Sémillon and Muscat. It begins with
attractive citrus, herbal, grassy and tropical fruit aromas; it delivers lovely
fruit flavours and has a refreshing, zesty finish. 90-92.
Series Merlot 2008 ($27.99 for a production of
1,200 cases). This elegant Merlot begins with aromas of red berries and
vanilla. It delivers flavours of blackberry, plum, chocolate and vanilla. 90.
Series Syrah 2008 ($34.99 for a production of 528
cases). This wine begins with aromas of pepper, meat and plum and delivers
flavours of plum, fig, game meats and pepper, all with a polished texture. 90.
Series 2Bench Red 2008 ($34.99 for a production of
731 cases). This is 40% each of Cabernet
Sauvignon and Merlot and 20%, Cabernet Franc, aged almost 20 months in French
oak barrels (a mix of new and used). This is still a wine for cellaring, with
its backbone of grippy, earthy tannins supporting flavours of black currant and