Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Name change and a new winemaker at Soaring Eagle

Photo: Winemaker Richard Kanazawa
Soaring Eagle Winery on Naramata Road has changed its name to Bench 1775 Winery and has hired Richard Kanazawa as its winemaker.

Soaring Eagle was arguably the centrepiece of the seven Holman Lang Group of Wineries which went bankrupt in 2010. All but two have since reopened under new owners and, usually, with new names.

Soaring Eagle was purchased in 2011 by Jim Stewart, the owner of icewine producer Paradise Ranch Wines, in partnership with Peter Wille, a veteran marketing executive from Mission Hill Family Estate Winery.

“My background is as a real estate and business lawyer,” Jim told me in a 2011 interview in which he explained why the partners bought the property. “I am picky about real estate – and this is a magnificent spot. I can’t think of a winery in B.C. that has a better view when sitting on the tasting room patio.”

The partners spent the past year renewing the property, which had become a little rundown during the Holman Lang problems.

And they took their time deciding on how to rebrand the winery, even releasing some wines last year that were labelled Intermission.

The Soaring Eagle brand was launched almost a decade ago at Lang Vineyards when Ross Mirko, then the winemaker, crafted a series of wines that were barrel aged and aimed at premium quality.

When Keith Holman bought the Lang winery, he spun off the Soaring Eagle brand for a new winery he developed at 1775 Naramata Road, on a bench overlooking Okanagan Lake. While it does indeed have one of the finest views of Naramata Bench wineries, it never reached its potential under the Holman ownership.

The new owners have finally settled on a simple device for rebranding: use the street address. The first wines released under the new label are a 2011 Chardonnay ($19) and 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($18).

To take the winery to the next level, they have hired a veteran winemaker, Richard Kanazawa.

Richard, who was born in 1972 in Langley, started in the wine industry as a deliveryman for Domaine de Chaberton after playing professional rugby in Japan. His eight years at Chaberton supported studies in food technology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, preparing himself, he hoped, for a winemaker’s job. “I had a lot of experience at Domaine but I couldn’t get a cellar hand job in British Columbia if my life depended on it,” he recounted later. “I thought if I can’t get a job here, going overseas was my best opportunity.”

In 2002 he went to Australia, taking courses at Charles Sturt University and working at several wineries. The Simon Gilbert winery recognized his potential. “They said I was being wasted in the cellar, so I moved up to the lab.” He returned to Canada in 2004 with winemaking experience on his resume, joining Red Rooster for two vintages and moving to Blasted Church Vineyards for four vintages.

Last year he took over winemaking at Lang Vineyards, which was also emerging from the Holman Lang bankruptcy with new owners. This spring, a falling out with those owners led to Richard’s departure from Lang.

Over his career, he has proved himself a capable winemaker. Red Rooster won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence for a Malbec that Richard made there before moving to Blasted Church. The latter winery then won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award with a Syrah that Richard made.

When the Bench 1775 vineyard is up to speed, one would anticipate that Richard will begin making good wines here as well.


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