Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Greata Ranch gets its own personality

Photo: Greata Ranch's lakeside winery 

You might call Greata Ranch Estate Winery a born-again winery even though it is 10 years old this year.

“We want to give Greata its own personality,” says Gordon Fitzpatrick, the president of CedarCreek Estate Winery, which owns Greata Ranch.

That means making wines there that are different from most of the wines in the CedarCreek portfolio. Darryl Brooker, who also is CedarCreek’s winemaker, has made a reserve Chardonnay and a reserve Pinot Noir for Greata Ranch.

In April, he is putting down a cuvée (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) for a sparkling wine that Greata Ranch plans to release for Christmas, 2015. And Greata Ranch will plant some Pinot Meunier this year, giving him another of the classic Champagne varieties.

This will be the first sparkling wine from either CedarCreek or Greata Ranch, perhaps because CedarCreek finally has a winemaker with sparkling wine experience.

Darryl Brooker

“I was making 10,000 cases a year of traditional method sparkling in Ontario,” says Darryl. The Australian-trained winemaker made bubble (among other wines) during his five years at Hillebrand Estate Winery before he moved to CedarCreek in 2010. “It has been three years. I have the itch for sparkling again.”

There is, however, a bit of déjà vu about the reserve wines. Six years ago, the winemaker then at Greata Ranch, Corrie Krehbiehl, produced first-rate reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Those wines were part of a project linked to a luxury 500-unit condominium development. When the 2008 recession stopped that development in its tracks, the reserve program also died. Greata Ranch went back to offering winery visitors much the same wines that they could get at CedarCreek.

The Greata Ranch winery and vineyard are south of Peachland, on a bench overlooking Okanagan Lake. This is a storied property. The history is recounted in A Wine Journal, a privately published book about CedarCreek and the Fitzpatrick family:

The property is named after George W. Greata, a British immigrant who arrived in the Okanagan in 1895 after a short stay at Souris in   Manitoba.  After securing water rights and building an irrigation line from a nearby creek, Greata planted the first apple trees in 1901. George Greata sold the ranch in 1910 and it was run for the next fifty-five years by John T. Long, another British immigrant, and his two sons.

The Long family vastly expanded fruit production, building a large packing plant on piles extending from the shore into the lake, with a wharf so that rail cars loaded with fruit could be barged to the closest railhead. Because it was impractical to pump irrigation water steeply uphill from the lake, the Longs secured rights for water from Brenda Lake high in the mountains west of the ranch, transporting the water through a pipeline more than forty kilometres long. A 1949 article in the Family Herald and Weekly Star reported that the orchard's average annual crop totalled 485 tons of cherries, pears, apricots, plums and peaches; and the packing house also handled 25,000 cases of apples from the area each year.  The enterprise run by the Long brothers was a major business in its time, with about 75 full-time employees. “The Ranch is entirely mechanized and the barns formerly used for horses now house modern machinery,” marvelled the Family Herald reporter.

Orchardist Elwyn Cross had the misfortune to buy the ranch just in time for the very hard 1965/66 winter to kill many of the fruit trees. Over the next 28 years, the 110-acre property went through several owners until its waterfront was given over to squatters’ shacks while the rest became an unofficial dump.

Senator Ross Fitzpatrick bought the ranch in 1994. He recalled its glory days, having visited there with his father, a packing house manager who bought some of Greata’s fruit. The senator decided to plant about 32 acres of grapes, figuring that grapevines would flourish where peaches formerly had thrived.

The senator had entered the wine business in 1986 by buying struggling Uniacke Estate Winery in East Kelowna and re-launching it as CedarCreek. As that winery moved into its second decade, it needed the grapes that Greata Ranch could supply. (Subsequently, CedarCreek has developed two vineyards as well near Osoyoos.)

 The opening of a boutique winery at the ranch in 2003 was thrust upon the senator when the tourists began peeling off the nearby highway, driving through the vineyard to knock at vineyard manager Merle Lawrence’s door, looking for wine. The tasting room, with its bucolic lake views, remains a favourite stop for wine tourists, particularity since the highway was widened and a safe turn-in lane was created.

The 2006 foray into making reserve wines for Greata Ranch was intended to be a sweetener in the proposed Greata Ranch Vineyard Estates. Buyers of units in the estates would also have preferred access to the wines. About 800 cases were made in the first year, with the long term plan calling for a 5,000-case winery. The project stalled when the real estate development stalled.

While the condominium project has not yet been revived, there are plans now to put caves under the tasting room for maturing sparkling wines. As well, Darryl has begun crafting wines for Greata Ranch that are not just an echo of what CedarCreek is doing.

“We will transform the little winery under the wine shop into a little sparkling cave and release the wines under the Greata label,” Gordon says. “It will give people who drive by Greata more reasons to stop.”


At April 9, 2013 at 1:39 PM , Blogger We love wine said...

Glad you added the history


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