Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Black Hills names new winemaking team


Photo: Winemaker Ross Wise

Reports have begun to circulate within the B.C. wine industry that winemaker Ross Wise will leave Phantom Creek Estate Winery to join Black Hills Estate Winery at the end of the year.

My contacts tell me that the change has already been announced internally at Black Hills, which is probably why the news has leaked before an official announcement. It is hard to keep a lid on such a momentous appointment.

Black Hills Estate Winery has succeeded as a producer of consistently fine wines for two fundamental reasons.

First, the vineyard is very good. The founders in 1996 planted the right varietals in a good piece of dirt just off Black Sage Road. Viticultural practices there have been, and continue to be, sound.

Second, there has always been a steady hand at the winemaking tiller, with none of the churn one has seen elsewhere. Senka Tennant made the wines from 1999 through 2007. When the founders sold the winery, she was succeeded by Graham Pierce who made succeeding vintages until moving this summer to Time Winery in Penticton.

Last summer, Black Hills changed ownership for the third time, which Andrew Peller Ltd. acquired Black Hills. I believe Graham left for personal reasons unrelated to Peller, since he still consults to Black Hills.

The winemaker changes at Black Hills will raise eyebrows. The head winemaker beginning in December will be Ross Wise. He comes to Black Hills after finishing his third vintage at Phantom Creek Estate Winery, which is scheduled to release its first wines next year.

The winemaking this vintage at Black Hills will be handled by Elaine Vickers. The former winemaker for Blasted Church Vineyards, she joined Black Hills in February on a one-year contract when Black Hills enologist Tamara Feist went on maternity leave.

Elaine will work and report to Craig McDonald, the Ontario-based vice-president of winemaking at Peller. She will also be working with consultant Graham Pierce.

(I assume Graham has time to consult because there are two winemakers at Time. The other is Nadine Allander, who moved last year from Poplar Grove Winery.)

The bottom line is that Peller has taken steps to keep quality and practice consistent at Black Hills, while hiring a new head winemaker who can raise the bar. Ross’s Phantom Creek wines, which I have now tasted twice, are excellent and will turn heads when they are released.

Some background on the winemakers taking Black Hills forward.  

Photo:  Winemaker Elaine Vickers

Born in Ontario in 1976, Elaine Vickers lived in Abbotsford during her high school years and then got a master’s degree in molecular biology at the University of Victoria. On graduation, she moved to a job at Vancouver General Hospital while pursuing another passion: playing Ultimate Frisbee.
Her interest in winemaking began when she worked at a winemaking store while she was an undergraduate. After moving to Vancouver, she worked weekends in a wine store and began taking Wine & Spirits Education Trust Courses. After job shadowing another winemaker, she changed careers.

In 2009 she went to the University of Adelaide for a graduate diploma in enology. She returned to Canada in 201o, working the harvest at the Jackson-Triggs winery in Oliver and then joining the cellar team at Blasted Church.  She became head winemaker there in 2014 and moved to Black Hills early this year.

New Zealand-born Ross Wise joined Phantom Creek in September, 2016, as the fulltime winemaker. A 2005 enology graduate of Australia’s Charles Sturt University, he started his career as a vineyard supervisor at Felton Road Winery in Central Otago, and moved on to the cellar at the Grove Mill Winery in Marlborough before coming to Canada in 2006.

He became an assistant winemaker at Flat Rock Cellars in Ontario, becoming the winemaker there in 2009 (after two vintages as assistant winemaker back at Grove Mill).

In 2012, he launched his own consulting firm, making wines with several Ontario wineries, including Rosewood Estates, Keinte-He Winery, The Organized Crime Winery, Icellars Estate Winery and The Good Earth Winery. The opportunity to make ultra-premium wines in the Okanagan drew him to Phantom Creek, and now, to Black Hills.

In addition to all that, he is well into his studies to become a Master of Wine.


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