Lawrence Herder in memoriam
Photo: Lawrence Herder
Herder, the California winemaker who helped launch many of the Similkameen
Valley’s best wineries, is reported to have died on September 3 at the age of
He was found unconscious during a hunting trip, but not from a gunshot wound. The coroner has not yet determined the cause of death.
Lawrence had been working in vineyards in Paso Robles after
the closure and ultimate sale of Herder Vineyards near Keremeos.
winemaking career in the Okanagan spanned nearly a dozen years, starting in
2002 with a two-vintage stint at the Jackson-Triggs winery and concluding with
the 2013 vintage at Lang Vineyards.
that period, he started his own Similkameen winery twice. He worked for or
consulted with Road 13 Vineyards, Stoneboat Vineyards and Perseus winery in the
Okanagan; with Seven Stones Winery, Orofino Vineyards, Clos du Soleil Winery
and Eau Vivre Winery and Vineyard in the Similkameen. And he started planting a
vineyard just east of Keremeos that, after he sold it, became Kettle Valley’s
Great Northern Vineyard.
in 1967 in San Diego, Lawrence was 14 when he tasted his aunt’s amateur wine at
his family’s dinner table. “I was so enthused with it that I went into the
attic and fired up a winemaking kit we had,” he told me in 2002. He continued
to make wine from both fruit and grapes. “I was quite popular as a teenager,”
he enrolled at Fresno State University to learn winemaking professionally. “Anybody can become a winemaker,” he told me.
“But the advantage of having the training about chemical defects is to know
what to do when something goes wrong.”
working briefly for other wineries, Lawrence established his own winery on a
32-acre (13-hectare) vineyard near Paso Robles in 1995. “You get your MBA on
your first project,” he described the experience. Having committed so much to a
large vineyard, he run out of money just as the vines were starting to produce.
He managed to find a buyer and retreated to Burnaby to help his wife, Sharon,
manage a family-owned printing company.
job bored him and he was soon looking for winemaking opportunities here. When
he had moved to British Columbia, his settler’s effects included most of the
equipment needed to outfit a small winery. He canvassed British Columbia wine regions carefully. “I
looked all over Vancouver Island,” he says. “I
went so far as to write a paper comparing the Cowichan
Valley to Burgundy or to Paso Robles.” His
controversial conclusion: “You’re never going to grow world-class wine on the
Oliver area in the Okanagan had the right soils and climate but the cost of
vineyard land with water rights deterred him. He did not want to overextend has
the Similkameen Valley was underexploited. In 2002, he bought a small plot near
Cawston and planted vines. “I am much more comfortable to start with a small
piece of property and develop the winery’s business,” he said. “My objective is
to show the potential of big, ripe reds.”
Vineyards opened in 2004 with wines made from purchased fruit. The Cawston
vineyard was ill-suited for big red varieties. The vineyard, now owned by Eau
Vivre, now grows primarily Gewürztraminer.
sold the property to Eau Vivre’s current owners in 2007, having found a far
better vineyard site for big reds on Upper Bench Road. Then an orchard, this
rocky terroir became the site of the relocated Herder Vineyards. The large
three-storey house on the property was modified to become both a winery and a
he began to craft the powerful reds that developed a good reputation for Herder
Vineyards. The flagship was a wine called Josephine, a Merlot-anchored blend
first made in 2006. The last release was from the 2010 vintage.
Vineyards was listed for sale in 2013 after the Herder marriage fell apart. Sharon,
now his ex-wife, ran the business for several years while looking for purchasers. Late in 2014, Corcelettes Estate Winery,
which opened the year before on a small Cawston vineyard, acquired the property
and relocated to the Herder winery.
Baessler, the winemaker and co-owner of Corcelettes, briefly considered
rejuvenating the Josephine label but has opted instead for the continued
development of Corcelettes labels already in the market. His prestige red is a
Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend called Menhir.
the rising profile of Similkameen Valley wines is a remarkable legacy of
Lawrence Herder’s time in the valley.