Thursday, October 11, 2012

Class of 2012: 50th Parallel Estate Winery

Photo: Winemaker Adrian Baker

While the showpiece winery is a few years in the future, 50th Parallel Estate Winery has begun to establish its brand with two white wines and with the planned release (next year) of a Pinot Noir, the wine destined to be the flagship here.

The winery, located north of Carr’s Landing and on the east side of Okanagan Lake, made its first small vintage  (700 cases) last fall from young vines, in circumstances recalling the early years at Black Hills Estate Winery. Perhaps that is an omen for the future success of 50th Parallel.

“I made those wines in a section of this uninsulated traditional Quonset hut,” says winemaker Adrian Baker. “I came from the company that Terry Peabody founded in New Zealand, Craggy Range Vineyards. I always tell people that in the job I left, we had two wineries.  One of them cost $13 million to build and the other cost $18 million to build. My winery in 2011 cost me $800.”

This fall, with almost 30 acres of vineyard in production, Adrian plans to make about 3,500 cases. He is working in a new building. It is still functional in design because it is the temporary winery and the future tractor shed. But it is large enough for his needs and large enough to accommodate the tasting room that 50th Parallel will open next spring.

The design for a gravity-flow winery has been completed, with construction expected to start next year for a 2014 completion. Future plans call for a separate hospitality centre on a site with an especially fine view over the lake.

There also are more vineyards to plant. “We’ll end up with just over 50 acres planted,” Adrian says. “My great belief is, when you are developing vineyards, every time you do a block, you learn something about your site. Every year that you phase it, you improve your process and you improve the planting.”

Here are notes on the wines so far.

50th Parallel Gewürztraminer 2011 ($18.90 for 200 cases). This wine is made entirely with estate-grown grapes. Adrian says his objective was to make a white that “promises sweet but finishes dry.” The wine does have sweet notes of grapefruit in the aroma and on the palate, with a crisp kiss of spice on the finish. 90.

50th Parallel Pinot Gris 2011 ($24.90 for 400 cases).  This is made with 70% estate-grown grapes and 30% from another north Okanagan vineyard. It has aromas and flavours of pear with a touch of spiciness and with good weight on the palate.  The finish is dry. 88.

 50th Parallel Pinot Noir 2011 (barrel sample). Made from the estate’s first Pinot Noir harvest, this wine has great promise. It has lovely aromas of cherry and strawberry, with layers of flavour – strawberry, cherry, mocha, spice, and subtle oak. It also has a rich and silky texture that one expects in fine Pinot Noir.  Only 100 cases were made, with a proposed price at release of $30 a bottle. 91.

Here is the 50th Parallel winery profile from the recent edition of  John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.


Curtis Krouzel’s 10-year search for vineyard property ended here in 2008, four years after he had invested in resort property on the west shore of Okanagan Lake. “As we looked across the lake, we saw this beautiful piece of property that seemed to be sitting predominantly idle,” he remembers.

After some research, he discovered the property’s vineyard history. Jordan & Ste-Michelle Cellars, a winery then based in Victoria, bought grapes—mostly French hybrids but also Riesling and Bacchus—from this vineyard in the 1970s. Frank Whitehead, then a viticultural manager for the winery, remembers it as “good dirt.” Ste-Michelle closed after being acquired by Brights Winery in 1981 and the vines were pulled out in 1988. Before Curtis bought the property, he set out weather stations for climate data and analyzed the soils, assuring himself that it really was good dirt.

“It was 61 acres [24.7 hectares],” he says. “It was about three times the size of the project I intended but I had always wanted to do something fairly world class. So we set out on this mission to create a winery focussed on Pinot Noir, complemented with a few workhorse wines.”

Born in 1975, Curtis grew up in Edmonton, earned a degree in engineering design technology and soon established his own company, designing plants for the oil and gas industry. With parents from the former Czechoslovakia and grandparents active in the Austrian wine industry, Curtis developed a passion for wine at the family table. When they began courting, one of the first things he told Sheri-Lee Turner, now his wife, was that he was going to own a winery in the Okanagan.

In three seasons, beginning in 2009, he has planted 11.5 hectares (28.5 acres), including seven clones of Pinot Noir along with Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. As the project took shape, he recruited a winemaker from New Zealand who would understand cool climate viticulture and Pinot Noir winemaking. “I did not want to poach from the Okanagan,” he explains. With some help from Quails’ Gate winemaker Grant Stanley, he found Adrian Baker, who has a master’s degree in enology from the University of Adelaide and more than a decade’s experience, primarily with Craggy Range Winery, which also has an Okanagan connection. Australian entrepreneur Terry Peabody, who launched Craggy Range in 1997, turned around struggling Western Star Trucks in Kelowna as chief executive from 1990 to 2000.

The size and potential of the vineyard transformed 50th Parallel from the $5 million project Curtis once had in mind to a $22 million destination winery designed by Zeidler Partners, a Toronto firm with clients all over the world. Investors have joined Curtis to realize a 30,000-case showcase winery, including underground cellars, visitor accommodation, dining services and a spa. “This is being built to make sure people have a complete wine experience when they come here,” Curtis says.

17010 Terrace View Road
Lake Country, BC V4V 1B7
T 250.766.3408


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