Photo: Lyndsay and Graham O'Rourke
Naramata Bench winery, Tightrope Winery came out of the gate strongly this
spring with awards in the first competitions in which it entered its first
showing an individual negotiating a tightrope, evoke the sure-footed confidence
of owners Lyndsay and Graham O’Rourke.
Tightrope is an evocative term for them. “It represents the
balancing act you go through when you make wine, from decisions in the
vineyard, depending on the season, to decisions in the winery and winemaking,”
Lyndsay explains. “All of those variables have to be balanced.”
They avoided place names which, they believe confuse
consumers when there are too many creeks and such on the labels. “I hope that
Tightrope is a name that people will remember,” Lyndsay says. “There is nothing
worse than ‘I had a good bottle of wine but I can’t remember the name’.”
The seed for Tightrope Winery was planted in the decade that
Lyndsay and Graham spent working in bars
and restaurants at the Whistler ski resort. The jobs supported their skiing
along with Graham’s fly fishing and shared meals in fine restaurants.
“The thing about Whistler is that you get spoiled because
there are so many fine dining restaurants for such a small town,” Lyndsay says.
“You get a lot of chance to go out and try nice wines with good food.”
Graham agrees. “My wine experience all started with really
good wine,” he says. “I did not grow up drinking Baby Duck and the ‘box’
Both were born in
1971. Lyndsay, whose geologist father, Grenville Thomas is a diamond explorer
who is in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, has a University of Windsor
business degree. Graham, the son of an accountant, grew up near Sarnia
and learned to
fish during summers in a family cottage on the river. His love of the outdoors
led to a University
of British Columbia
degree in wildlife management.
They moved to the Okanagan in 2003. Immediately drawn to the
vineyard lifestyle, they both took Okanagan
courses in grape
growing and winemaking. To further improve their skills, they both went to Lincoln University
in New Zealand
for honours degrees in those disciplines. The studies paid off quickly. When
they returned, Graham joined Mission Hill for six years as a vineyard manager while
Lyndsay became the winemaker for Ruby Blues Winery in 2009.
Graham’s Mission Hill experience was like a postgraduate
course in Okanagan grape growing. Graham was able to work in 26 different
vineyards from Kelowna
“I also did a lot of the environmental programs and habitat
stewardship programs,” he says. “I brought in a lot of snake training and snake
awareness. I did habitat restoration on areas that needed to be restored with
native plants. I launched the Mission Hill sustainability program and I helped
co-author the BC program on sustainable winegrowing. I am still involved with
that program. I launched Mission Hill’s composting program. When I left, we
were up to about 1,100 tons of compost, re-using the grape waste.”
Since leaving Mission Hill, he has concentrated on his own
vineyard. As well, with a partner, he has launched a viticultural consulting
In 2007, soon after coming back from New Zealand,
the O’Rourkes bought a four-hectare (10-acre) Naramata Bench property with a
million dollar view over the lake. They planted about three hectares (seven
acres) of grapes -- Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Merlot, with
small blocks of Cabernet Franc and Barbera. They made the first 900 cases of
Tightrope wines in 2012, using the Ruby Blues winery. They will build their own
winery in a few years.
Their plan is to continue selling some of their grapes while
keeping production around 1,000 cases a year while the Tightrope brand is
established. They intend that the winery’s production will top out at about
Here are notes the first releases.
Riesling 2012 ($22). The wine begins with aromas of herbs, lime and
pineapple. On the palate, there are flavours of green apple and grapefruit. The
bracing but balanced acidity and the mineral backbone give the wine a crisp,
refreshing finish. Drink it now if you must but it will be even more complex in
a year. 90.
Pinot Gris 2012 ($19). The wine begins with an appealing fruit salad of
aromas – melon, pear, apple – that telegraph the flavours. The texture is full
but the finish is dry. This is a very refreshing and well-made Pinot Gris. 90.
Viognier 2012 ($27). Viognier is a rising star among white wines from the
Okanagan and this wine is an example of why that is so. First of all, it
captures the variety’s wonderful aromatics. There is a riot of fruit and spice
on the nose, including banana, apricot and ripe apple. The palate delivers
those flavours, along with hints of orange and coconut. The texture is full.
The wine has that gossamer spine of tannin which gives Viognier such excellent
focus. The finish is dry and the flavours persist. 91.
Tightrope Winery Rosé
2012 ($19). The winery’s notes quip that Lyndsay and Graham walked the
tightrope on this Pinot Noir rosé. They had not planned to make a rosé but an
early frost nipped some of the vines in a low-lying corner of the vineyard. The
fruit had not ripened enough for a table wine but it was more than adequate for
a rosé. This wine, which has 10% Riesling in it, was judged the best rosé at
this spring’s Northwest Wine Summit competition. The wine presents with an
appealing cranberry hue, with aromas of strawberry and citrus and with flavours
of cherries and even a hint of red liquorice. It has a satisfyingly full
texture with a dry finish. This is an excellent all-round rosé whether you have
a refreshing glass on its own or serve it with food. 90.