Monday, September 24, 2012

Class of 2012: Harper’s Trail

Photo: Vicki and Ed Collett

If you dined recently in top Kamloops or Sunpeaks restaurants, you will have noted a new label on the wine lists: Harper’s Trail.

The locals are taking pride – justifiable pride – in the largest of the two new wineries to open near Kamloops this year.

The smaller one is Privato Vineyard & Cellars which is just about to release a very fine Chardonnay 2011 and has a Pinot Noir maturing in bottle. I expect those wines also be snapped up by area restaurants, wine stores and consumers.

Growing vinifera grapes in the Thompson River Valley is a risky proposition. However, these vineyards are figuring out how keep the vines from freezing over the hard winters so that they can mature tasty grapes during the hot, dry summers.

Judging from the three Harper’s Trail releases, all affordably priced, the effort is worth it.

Harper’s Trail has not yet built a winery. It delivered its grapes last fall to Okanagan Crush Pad and Michael Bartier made the wines.

Here are my notes.

Harper’s Trail 2011 Rosé ($16.99). With 10.5% alcohol, this is a light and refreshing wine, ideal for summer drinking and, now that summer is over, for the hot tub. There are aromas and flavours of strawberry and rhubarb; and the wine is balanced to finish dry. Three grape varieties comprise this rosé: Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Merlot. 90.

Harper’s Trail 2011 Field Blend White ($16.99). This is a blend of Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. Again, the wine is light and refreshing, with 10.5% alcohol. There are herbal and citrus aromas, with flavours of citrus and apples. The finish is crisp and dry. 89.

Harper’s Trail 2011 Riesling ($19.99). The limestone gives this attractive Riesling a delicate spine of minerals. The wine has lovely floral and citrus aromas, with crisply focussed flavours of lime, apple and white peaches. 90.

Here is the text of the Harper’s Trail profile from the recent John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.


What makes this vineyard special is same thing that has enabled Lafarge to operate a cement plant nearby since 1970: the underlying limestone in the area, which is quarried for cement but also benefits grape growing.  Ed Collett, who owns Harper’s Trail with his wife, Vicki, points to the cliff above the south-sloping vineyards. “That whole side hill is lime rock,” he says.

This property on the north side of the Thompson River is about 16 kilometres (10 miles) east of Kamloops. Formerly, it grew hay and grazed cattle in what is quintessential British Columbia range country. Harper’s Trail is named for Thaddeus Harper, the 19th-century American-born rancher who once owned the vast 15,569-hectare (38,472-acre) Gang Ranch, one of the first farms to use sturdy gang ploughs. Ed bought his modest slice of ranch country in 2007 after he had conceived the idea of developing a winery.

He developed a taste for wine during travels to Chile on business for the mining equipment company he has run since establishing it in 1987. The desire for a winery emerged during Okanagan wine tours. He remembers relaxing at a bed and breakfast overlooking a vineyard and remarking: “I’ve got to get myself one of these.” His brother Jeff, who was briefly involved with the winery, remembers that episode differently, placing it in the restaurant at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery.

Ed began planting vines in 2008. He currently has 7.2 hectares (18 acres) of vines and has plans for as much as another 18 hectares (45 acres), in stages as he and vineyard manager John Dranchuk determine what varieties will succeed. “You have to take baby steps,” Ed notes. “We are further north [than most vineyards] but obviously, it is not a deterrent for us.” 

The cold winters have eliminated   Syrah and created question marks around Merlot and Cabernet Franc. However, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay show early promise for what is the largest vinifera planting in the area.

Two wind machines combat early autumn frost while ginseng shade-cloth on the vineyard’s borders breaks the valley’s constant winds. Even though the nearest residential subdivision is a kilometre away, on the south side of the river, the unfamiliar sounds of grape farming have upset a few neighbours. “All of this is new to the Thompson,” the vineyard manager says. “This is the first vineyard with wind machines and bird bangers.”

The first   wines—Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay—were produced in 2011 at a custom winery. Ed plans to build a winery and open a tasting room by 2013. Within a few years, he intends to add a restaurant and build walking trails. 

The experience of developing a winery in challenging terroir has given him a whole new appreciation of wine. “Before, we might say, ‘Twenty dollars for a bottle of wine? You have to be kidding me.’ Now, I’ll pay forty dollars,” he laughs. “We’re not going to get rich making wine but we are having a whole bunch of fun.”

Harper’s Trail Estate Winery
2720 Shuswap Road
Kamloops BC V2H 1S9

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