Photo: Summerhill's Eric von Krosigk and Ezra Cipes
Summerhill Pyramid Winery may have an identity crisis.
“We have so many vineyards and so many wines that it is hard
for us to just drive one message on one wine,” Summerhill president Ezra Cipes
acknowledged during a recent conversation.
During that meeting, we were discussing one of the winery’s
latest releases, the Summerhill Vineyard Riesling 2013. One of several
Rieslings in Summerhill’s portfolio, it is a wine of excellent quality. It is
made with grapes from vines planted in 1978 – the same year that the vines
producing Tantalus Vineyards
In contrast with Summerhill, Tantalus is focused on three
varietals – Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. At Summerhill, on the other
hand, winemaker Eric von Krosigk just does not pass up opportunities to make
yet another wine to be sold by Ezra, who seems to share his enthusiasm.
Summerhill was launched in 1991 by Ezra’s father, Steven,
primarily as a sparkling wine producer. Its identity as a maker of best-selling
Cipes Brut and other sparklers clearly has overshadowed Summerhill’s table
wines and Icewines.
Ezra’s strategy now is to elevate Cipes into a brand
standing almost separate from Summerhill, except for the fine print on the back
label. This might give Summerhill’s table wines better visibility.
“I don’t think you can be known for everything,” Ezra says. “If
you are going to be known for sparkling wines, it is hard to be known as well
for aromatic wines and red wines and Icewines.”
The winery’s portfolio is divided almost equally among those
four groups of wines. Its biggest selling red wine, about 1,000 cases a year,
is Summerhill Baco Noir.
The winery adds to its glorious confusion with a
proliferation of speciality and single vineyard labels. These include several
premium reds released in the Robert Bateman Artist’s Series (a portion of the
proceeds from these wines goes to the Bateman Foundation). These are
barrel-aged reds with a structure that makes them wines for long-term cellaring.
Another example is the Syrah and the Sangiovese released
under the Spadefoot Toad Vineyard designation (both sold out at about $50 a
“We picked up a grower, Ron Firman, starting in 2010,” Ezra
says. “He has Spadefoot Toad Vineyard [near Oliver]. He is one of these
super-passionate growers. He has two acres or something like that. He tends it
like a garden. And he breeds spadefoot toads for pest control. He makes very
concentrated, intense wines.”
Recently, Summerhill released 82 cases of a 2009 single
vineyard Zweigelt grown in the Eidse Brothers vineyard, not far away from the
Summerhill winery in East Kelowna
. The object
here was to craft a unique wine from a varietal little known in the Okanagan.
This wine was actually aged 42 months in neutral oak. It is being sold for $30
a bottle. Since that is scarcely enough to generate a profit, this is another
wine that may have been a labour of love for the winery.
Summerhill’s interest in red winemaking is not trivial. It
has about 900 barrels in its cellar. The
winery, after doing winemaking trials with four small oak fermenters, has added
nine 10,000-litre casks, both for fermenting and storage.
“It will definitely change the style and direction of our
red wine program,” Ezra says. “There will be less oxygen infiltration. The
ratio of wood to wine is quite a bit less, so it will be a more fruit-driven
Here are notes on an eclectic cross-section of Summerhill
Cipes Brut NV ($26.95).
This is the winery’s flagship sparkling wine (about 5,000 cases a year) with a
cuvée of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. It is crisp and tangy with
flavours of lemon and lime emerging from the lively bubbles. 91.
Cipes Rosé NV ($26.95).
The cuvée is Pinot Noir and the juice was left on the skins long enough to
produce a vibrant cranberry colour and to extract flavours of raspberry,
strawberry and red currant. The wine has good weight and a long finish. 91.
Cipes Blanc de Noirs
2008 ($34.90). One of the winery’s offerings to compete with Champagne, this is Pinot
Noir without skin contact and with extended aging on the lees before being
disgorged. It is a delicious wine with a creamy texture but a crisp finish. The
flavours are complex, with hints of nuts and brioche as well as citrus and
Cipes Ariel 1998 ($88).
The price reflects the extended bottle aging of this wine. The flavours are
rich, with hints of nuts, brioche and spice, along with tastes of dried fruits.
The texture is creamy and the finish is dry. The cuvée is Pinot Noir (59%),
Chardonnay (40%) and Pinot Meunier (1%). The winery made 500 cases of this.
About half of that still is resting on the lees, to be disgorged as sales
Gewürztraminer 2013 ($19.95). This is a wine with herbs and spice aromas
and flavours of grapefruit and grapefruit rind. Balanced to finish dry, the
wine is rich on the palate. 88.
2013 ($19.95). This wine, with 32 grams of sugar per litre, is a juicy
off-dry interpretation of the varietal. The flavours are lush with tropical
fruit including ripe pineapple and peach. For my palate, I would prefer a drier
wine. Having said that, this is one of Summerhill’s more popular wines. As Pope
Francis might say, who am I to judge? 87
Vineyard Riesling 2013 ($30). While there is also some residual sugar here,
the racy acidity gives this wine a crisp and tangy finish. It begins with
honeyed citrus aromas, leading to intense flavours of lemon around a spine of
minerality. A touch of petrol has begun to emerge in this complex wine. Don’t
hesitate to cellar this for two or three years. 90-92.
($19.95 but sold out). This is Summerhill’s Mosel
style Riesling – light and lively, with refreshing flavours of lemon and lime.
The bracing acidity nicely balances the residual sugar. 90/
Organic Cabernet Franc 2010
($45 for 214 cases). This is one of the reds
with a Robert Bateman label (painting of a Swift fox). The grapes were from a
vineyard in Okanagan
. The wine was aged
32 months in American and French oak. The wine is bright and brambly, with
aromas of blackberry and red currant and flavours of sour cherries and black
currant. The wine still has plenty of grip and needs to be decanted for
drinking now if you don’t have the patience to cellar it. 87-89.
Organic Merlot 2010
($45 for 335 cases). The grapes are from vineyards at
Kaleden and Okanagan
. The wine has been
aged 31 months in French and American oak. It begins with aromas of blackberry,
blueberry and black currant jam. There is a core of sweet fruit – flavours of
cassis, plum and cherry. The texture is elegantly polished. 90.
Organic Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2012 ($50 for 450 cases). This wine is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30%
Syrah, aged 16 months in French and American oak. It begins with aromas of mint
and black currant. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, coffee,
tobacco and graphite. The tannins are firm but ripe. The wine is drinking well
now but also is age worthy. 90.
Summerhill Pinot Noir
2011 ($26.95). The wine has a lively ruby hue. It begins with aromas that
are smoky mingled with spice and cherries, leading to flavours of cherry and
strawberry on a layer of earthy or “forest floor” notes. Even though the wine
was aged 18 months in barrels, the texture still is firm. 88.
Summerhill Syrah 2010
($28.95). The label says this is made with transitional grapes. That means
grapes from a vineyard on its way to being certified organic. Dark in colour,
the wine begins with the classic aroma of black pepper. On the palate, there
are bright but also earthy flavours of plum and black cherry with a brisk shake
of black pepper on the finish. Twenty months aging in French and American oak
barrels have given this wine a polished texture. 89.