Monday, August 6, 2018

Free agency and ownership changes in the BC wine industry

Photo: Retiring Foxtrot owners Torsten and Kicki Allander

It would not be a summer without major changes in winemakers and in ownership in the British Columbia wine industry.

The shifting around of winemaking talent this year resembles free agency in the NHL, with wineries adding or replacing bench strength.

The biggest ownership change was the recent announcement that Torsten and Kicki Allander, the founders of Foxtrot Vineyards, are retiring. The new owners of this Naramata Bench Pinot Noir specialist are Douglas Barzelay, an authority on the wines of Burgundy and co-author of a forthcoming book, Burgundy Vintages – A History from 1844, and Nathan Todd, an entrepreneur focused on wine with longstanding ties to the Okanagan Valley.

A Manhattan lawyer, Barzelay is a long time expert Burgundy collector. A decade ago, he was one of the Burgundy collectors who blew the whistle on Rudy Kurniawan’s massive counterfeiting of rare old Burgundies. Todd is a former Calgarian. Interested in producing wine in the Okanagan, he and his family had already purchased an orchard adjacent to the seven-acre Foxtrot vineyard. It is being added to the property, with about 3.5 acres scheduled to be planted to vines next year.

The statement from Foxtrot added: “Gustav Allander (right), the long time winemaker at Foxtrot, will continue to be in charge of viticulture and winemaking and the new owners expect there to be no significant changes at the winery.”

Foxtrot Winery, which opened in 2007, was launched after Torsten and Kicki bought an established Pinot Noir vineyard on the Naramata Bench in 2002. Torsten arranged to have another winery make the debut Foxtrot vintages in 2004 to determine whether a world-class Pinot Noir could be produced.

After three vintages told him the answer was yes, he built a winery and enlisted Gustav, his son, as the winemaker. His daughter-in-law, Nadine, after studying winemaking in New Zealand, also had a hand in Foxtrot’s early vintages. (She is now a winemaker at Time Estate Winery in Penticton.)

The Foxtrot portfolio, which also includes Chardonnay, has one of the most stellar international reputations in the BC wine industry. The winery produces about 2,000 cases a year.

There have been at last half a dozen winemaker changes or promotions so far this year, with more to come.

In June, Andrew Peller Ltd. promoted Sandy Leier (right) to lead winemaker at Sandhill Wines, succeeding Howard Soon who retired last year. Born in Kelowna in 1978, she joined the Calona Vineyards winemaking team in 2006 after earning a chemistry degree at UBC Okanagan. Since then, she has been the lead winemaker for both the Calona and Wayne Gretzky Okanagan labels.

Peller has owned Calona and Sandhill since 2005. The Calona name now has been phased out, replaced by Conviction Wines.

In June, Nikki Callaway (left) moved from Quails’ Gate Estate winery to Laughing Stock Vineyards.

Born in Calgary in 1982, Nikki is the daughter of a physician who worked for many years in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Nikki lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years until she was 14 and had completed elementary school. At that point, her family moved to Dubai so she could complete high school.

She came back to Canada f0r a bachelor’s degree in microbiology at the University of Victoria. She had not mapped out a career path although she was interested in wine. “Dad talked me out of medicine,” she recalls. “He thought I would have more fun drinking wine.”

So she went to Beaujolais in 2004 and picked grapes for two months while checking out French wine schools. She chose the University of Bordeaux and graduated in 2007 with a Diplôme National d’Oœnologue (in spite of a chauvinist professor who kept trying to make her cry).

The winemaking program included hands-on cellar work in French wineries. Upon graduating, she worked about five months in a French winemaking co-operative. Then she went to South Africa to do a crush there before returning to France for another crush at a Loire winery.

She might have stayed in France but she could not get a work visa. So she returned to Canada in 2009 where Mission Hill offered her a four-month job. “It turned out to be four years,” she said later. In 2010, she moved to Quails’ Gate, where she had a major impact by enlarging the portfolio with an array of super-premium wines.

Quails’ Gate has just announced that Ross Baker (left), who had been Nikki’s assistant since 2013, has been promoted to winemaker.

“A native of Kelowna, Ross completed his Bachelor of Science in Wine at the University of British Columbia Okanagan,” the winery said. “Ross previously worked at Villa Maria Estates in Marlborough, New Zealand and also held positions locally at both Red Rooster Winery and Kettle Valley Winery.”

Quails’ Gate also announced the appointment of Kailee Frasch in the role of Oenologist. Kailee started at the winery in 2016. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, and a Certificate in Grape and Wine Technology from Brock University.

As well, Quails’ Gate is finalizing the appointment of a director of winemaking operations. That individual will oversee both Quails’ Gate and the Stewart family wineries in Sonoma.

On the Naramata Bench, Jacqueline Kemp (left) moves from Moraine Vineyards to take over in September as the winemaker at Therapy Vineyards. Now 42, Jacq  was born in New Zealand. Because her father was a New Zealand diplomat, she grew up in Europe, primarily in Belgium, and was exposed to European wine regions.

At university in New Zealand, she did an honours degree in animal and human nutrition before recognizing that wine was her passion. In 2000 she got a winemaking degree at Lincoln University. Her career in New Zealand started with highly-regarded Sacred Hill Winery in Hawkes Bay and continued with the equally highly regarded Akarua Winery, a notable Pinot Noir specialist in the Central Otago region on New Zealand’s south island.

She came to Canada in 2008 when Chris Carson, now her former husband, was recruited by Meyer Family Vineyards at Okanagan Falls. Initially busy raising her family, she also consulted with several wineries before joining Moraine in 2012.

Moraine’s owners, Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov, have just announced that Dwight Sick (right), formerly of Stag’s Hollow Winery, is the new Moraine winemaker. He takes over just as Moraine completes its new 15,000-square-foot production facility.

Born in Edson, Alberta, Dwight developed an interest in wine during 19 years as a flight attendant. After accepting an Air Canada retirement package, he came into the Okanagan wine industry in 2004 as a cellar hand at Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, quickly developing into one of the valley’s most accomplished winemakers. He joined Stag’s Hollow in 2008.

successor at Stag’s Hollow is Keira LeFranc (left). The winery offers this biographical note on her. “Keira LeFranc grew up in the Okanagan and got her start in the wine industry in our tasting room as her summer job in 2012. Showing an interest in the cellar side of things, after completing a science degree in 2013, she jumped at the opportunity to join our vintage team on the crush pad in 2013.

“Now more passionate about wine and winemaking, Keira spent 2 years training and working as a Sommelier in Australia however she discovered she missed getting her hands dirty in the cellar. So again, she joined our vintage crew in 2015, and then left to complete a Postgraduate Diploma of Wine Science in New Zealand. We are happy to have her back permanently, working hard in the cellar to help create our wines.”

In July, Graham Pierce (right), the winemaker at Black Hills Estate Winery since 2008, moved to Harry McWatters’s Time Estate Winery in Penticton. There, he teams with Nadine Allander, who was also promoted to winemaker from assistant winemaker.

Born in Vancouver in 1971, Graham came into wine through an early career in food service. He came to the Okanagan to work at the Summerhill winery restaurant. When an interest in wine took precedence, he became a cellar hand at Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery. There, he was mentored by Dr. Alan Marks, then the winemaker, before immersing himself in winemaking courses at Okanagan University College. Graham came winemaker at Mt. Boucherie in 2003, moving to Black Hills five years later where he succeeded Senka Tennant.

Nota Bene was already a cult wine when Graham took over there. Even so, several of his major winemaking decisions raised the bar further with Nota Bene. One was increasing the barrel-aging of the blend from one year to 18 months.

Black Hills, which was acquired last year by Andrew Peller Ltd., expects to announce its new winemaker within a few weeks, capping a busy summer for winemaker appointments in British Columbia.


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