Monday, February 16, 2015

Okanagan winemaking star Stephanie Stanley heads to New Zealand

Photo: Winemaker Stephanie Stanley

One of Andrew Peller Ltd.’s top winemakers, Stephanie Stanley, is leaving the Kelowna winery to begin work in March, 2015, at Wither Hills in New Zealand.

“It is something I have always dreamt of doing,” she says. “When I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I figured out that winemaking is something where I could incorporate science, which is my skill, and my love for travelling and languages. I thought wine can take me around the world.”

Her departure leaves a hole in the Okanagan winemaking talent pool. She joined Calona Wines in 2003 upon graduating from Brock University’s enology program. An honours graduate, she won the President’s Medal as the Brock’s top graduate that year.

When Andrew Peller acquired Calona in 2005, Howard Soon, the senior winemaker at Calona and Sandhill Wines, gave Stephanie responsibility for making the Peller wines in the Okanagan. A few years ago, she also added the same role for making Wayne Gretzky Okanagan wines. Her wines have won three Lieutenant Governor’s awards of excellence (among other awards).

A native of Kelowna, Stephanie discovered her avocation when she took time off from studying college-level science to work six months in a restaurant in Germany’s Pfalz winegrowing region.

“There were wine festivals every weekend, every other weekend,” she remembers. “Working in the restaurant, I just loved the social aspect of it and just loved the whole industry. It brought people together. It was a good lifestyle. I realized there is some kind of science involved in it and that’s where I figured I could apply my science skills.”

Her future intentions include spending a year making wine in Germany, (she speaks the language). She would also like to gain some experience in Alsace.

“My favourite varieties I like to work on are Syrah, Pinot Noir and Riesling,” she says. “And I love Alsacian Gewürztraminer.”

Stephanie’s first exposure to New Zealand winemaking came in 2010 when she spend two months there during the crush. During that time, she and her husband, Bud, toured a number of wineries, including Wither Hills in Marlborough.

She began keeping an eye out for opportunities to work in New Zealand again. Late last year, she applied when Wither Hills posted a one-year job to replace a winemaker on maternity leave. Stephanie was the runner-up among the applicants but Wither Hills was sufficiently impressed to give her a four-month contract as an assistant winemaker and shift supervisor.

It gives her a foot in the door, should other opportunities come along.

She and Bud, who is managing editor for several online magazines, are making a fairly definitive break with Kelowna by selling their house. However, current plans will have them back in the Okanagan in August and perhaps another crush before heading off to other wineries abroad.

“I will be winemaker at large for a while, as long as we can make it work,” she says. “Eventually, I would love to come back to the Okanagan. I love what we have done with the industry here and where it is going.”


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