Thursday, August 30, 2012

Okanagan Crush Pad plans a major new vineyard



Photo: OCP's Steve Lornie in the Garnet Valley


In a significant vineyard expansion, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery Ltd. has purchased 317 acres of ranch land in Summerland’s Garnet Valley with about 85 plantable acres.

“We are getting ready to plant this coming spring,” says Christine Coletta, one of the majority owners of OCP with builder Steve Lornie, her husband.

The fast-growing OCP winery, which will do just its second crush this fall, is based on the 10-acre Switchback Vineyard.

The plans for the Garnet Valley vineyard are being developed by OCP in conjunction with OCP’s Italian winemaking consultant, Alberto Antonini and a Chilean “wine terroir” consultant, Pedro Parra. The varieties under consideration include Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc.



Photo:  Alberto Antonini

“We are in the process of mapping that land,” Christine said in an interview this week. Pedro and Alberto, who work together on vineyard projects in South American and Italy, “will be determining what will be planted; what rootstock it will be on; the clones; and the orientation on the site.”

Christine and Steve have emerged rapidly as major players in Okanagan wine growing since 2005 when, on a whim, they bought an orchard that became the Switchback Vineyard and was planted entirely to Pinot Gris.

Christine, of course, has been a force in British Columbia wine marketing since 1992, when she was named executive director of the British Columbia Wine Institute. She spent almost a decade building the market for Vintners’ Quality Alliance-branded wines. She left BCWI to set up her own firm, Coletta Consultants Ltd., providing branding, packaging and marketing services for a number of wine industry clients.

"My attitude is blaze ahead, boldly go forward and do, do, do,” she once told me in an interview that captured her hard-charging style. The dramatic growth of OCP is an example.

Photo below: Michael Bartier

The Switchback Vineyard was just coming into coming into production in 2009 when Michael Bartier, now OCP’s head winemaker, persuaded Steve and Christine to launch their own wine rather than sell grapes. They let Michael make 160 cases of wine that fall, testing the market with the wine under the Haywire brand.

“It is a haywire thing - I should know better,” Christine once said, explaining the name. “Haywire is an old Canadianism. We never intended to do this, so it is a little haywire.”

With classic Coletta brio, they made 4,500 cases of wine in 2010, just their second year. Then Steve, with a long and successful career in construction, built the 8,000-square foot OCP winery in 2011, just in time for it to produce 7,500 cases last fall for Haywire and other OCP brands. Crush plans for 2012 call for producing 10,000 cases for the OCP brands.

That production, along with making wine for clients of OCP, is quickly taking the winery to its design capacity of 30,000 cases a year.

Building a winery capable of handling custom crushing is critical to OCP’s business strategy. “It enables us to buy the equipment we want to buy and to ensure that everything we have is top notch,” Christine says. Many of the clients also use the full suite of marketing services through OCP, providing additional revenue streams to the business.

 “It enables us to buy the equipment we want to buy and to ensure that everything we have is top notch,” Christine says. Many of the clients also use the full suite of marketing services through OCP, providing additional revenue streams to the business. “It would be just a lot easier to do custom crush and marketing for other people,” she admits, “but there is the call of making your own wine.”

Together with their consultants, Steve and Christine spent two years looking for property before settling on Garnet Valley, a bucolically attractive valley northwest of Summerland. Currently, the only grapes grown here are believed to be those in a small vineyard planted, beginning in 2003, by George Lerchs. A retired civil servant, he once considered opening a winery but decided to sell the grapes. The varieties grown here include Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer.

 OCP purchased a neighbouring parcel that, crucially, has never been either a vineyard or an orchard. “What Pedro was looking for was raw land that had never been bulldozed or disturbed,” Christine says.

 The decision to develop winery-owned vineyard also reflects the reality that independent growers – and OCP is happy with those it buys grapes from - have different priorities than wineries. “They’re in the business of selling grapes, not in the business of selling wine,” Christine notes. “The thing is, you understand what it takes to make a $35 bottle of wine versus a $25 bottle of wine. And you are willing to make that sacrifice in your vineyard to get to that in the finished bottle.”









  


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