Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tyler Harlton winds down TH Wines

Photo: Vintner Tyler Harlton

Tyler Harlton, one of the Okanagan’s most interesting Garagiste winemakers, announced in November that the 1,300-case 2019 vintage was his final one.

He will still sell the 2019s and the remaining 2018 wines in his Summerland winery. But when they are gone, the TH Wines brand will disappear. He is not selling the brand.

“For now, my focus will remain on the winery, and operating the tasting room next season,” he said in his mid-November announcement. “At some point in the new year, I’ll think about what will come next; I hope to pass on the [winery] space if the right set of hands comes along.” 

His announcement continued:

“The past couple of years I have felt the pull of some other work in food and farming, which has been out of reach owing to the work at the winery. I’ve taken risks to build skills that afford me amazing opportunities, and it’s time to put those skills to work on a new project, as yet to be determined. I’m proud that we’ve pushed BC Wine in a positive direction.

“Many on this list know me personally, and for those who do, the transition won’t come as a shock. I grew up on a family farm in Saskatchewan, and whatever runs in the blood of prairie farmers starts early. Since I was old enough to climb onto the tractor and grab the wheel, I’ve had farming and the land on my mind. It feels natural for me to move on. Work lies ahead.”

I profiled Tyler, who made his first vintage in 2011, in the 2014 edition of John Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.

In 2007, during his final year at McGill’s law school, Tyler Harlton had a semester in Paris. On most weekends, he took the train to a French wine region, rented a bicycle, and explored wineries and vineyards, even helping to pick grapes. He had taken courses in wine appreciation but the French experience was life changing. “Seeing the vines in France really connected with me,” says Tyler, who was born in Saskatchewan in 1976 and grew up on a wheat farm. “I had that in my background. The wine industry is sophisticated and popular but at the same time it has an agricultural tradition.”

When he graduated in 2008, he decided to article with a Penticton law firm, attracted in part by the Okanagan’s wine industry. In short order, Tyler decided against a career in law and became a picker and then a cellar hand at Osoyoos Larose Estate Winery. He moved to the cellar at Le Vieux Pin in 2009 and to Dirty Laundry Vineyards in 2010 while planning for himself a holistic agricultural lifestyle including a winery.

“I rent land and grow ground crops and I sell at farmers’ markets and to local restaurants,” he explains. “My idea is to have a sustainable lifestyle where I get to grow food and make wine. My idea is to be working with vines at the same time as I am growing food. The farming season slows down in September and that is when the grape picking starts. I would like to live an old-fashioned lifestyle doing the things that I love – growing food and making wine.”

He crafted a strategy allowing him to open a winery with limited capital. For a processing facility, he leases about 139 square meters (1,500 square feet) in an industrial building next to Ripley Stainless Ltd., the major supplier of tanks for the wine industry. He has handshake agreements with two growers in the south Okanagan for top quality grapes. And he operates the winery under a commercial license that, unlike a land-based winery license, does not require him to be based on his own vineyard.

In time, the demands of the winery consumed so much of his time that he stopped growing other food products.

In a recent interview, Tyler told me: “I have got to the point where I think the wines have good flavours and clean flavours. For me, the next step in this direction would be moving more into farming and vineyard purchases. And that in the Okanagan now is not feasible. Land remains very expensive and it doesn’t look like it is going to be changing.”

Tyler says that the winery is profitable. “It would be a nice scenario to see it passed onto someone who shares my values,” he continued. “I am going to focus on the winemaking and running the business until the new year [2020]. Then that is the time to start to have visits with people who are interested in doing this, and just see where that goes. I would not be selling that label or the name, TH Wines. But as far as access to grapes, access to a license, to a building lease, t0 equipment … that would be a nice thing to pass on.”

And he is looking for a different challenge.

“The reason I have been successful at winemaking is that I have taken on challenges and I have been very interested in growth,” he told me. “I feel I am at that point again where it is time for a challenge in growth. And I just won’t be doing it with the winemaker’s cap.

“This winery was a romantic notion. I honestly thought if you made beautiful wine, it would sell itself. I didn’t realize that within this industry, we spend a lot of time selling. I am fine with that; I have embraced that. The next thing I want to do, I’d like it to be food and farming.”

Several of his 2018 wines are currently be sold to the TH wine club. If they are not all snapped up, they will be offered to other consumers on-line or through his wine shop.

Here are notes on current releases.

TH Wines Roussanne 2018 ($34.99; wine club only). This crisp, dry wine begins with floral aromas mingled with stone fruit and herbs; these are echoed on the palate. 91.

TH Wines Viognier 2018 ($27.99). The aromas of peach and apricot bound from the glass. On the palate, there are flavours of apple, apricot and peach. One remarkable feature of this wine is that the alcohol is 11.9%. This is a more refreshing white than typical Viognier wines. 91.

TH Wines Malbec 2018 ($N/A). The alcohol is 12.8%, accentuating the lean and bright profile of the wine. It has aromas and flavours cherries with a hint of pepper on the finish.

TH Wines Pinot Noir 2018 ($39.99). The wine begins with aromas of spice and cherries which are echoed on the juicy and silky palate. The finish lingers. 92.

TH Wines Cabernet Franc 2018 ($39.99). Herbal and brambly on the nose, the wine has bright flavours of blackberry and black cherry, with a savoury finish. 92.


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