Photo: The new Rainmaker winery on Black Sage Road
Rainmaker Wines is a paradox: when it opened its tasting room last year, it was a new winery on Black Sage Road but also a winery principals have almost two decades of experience in the BC wine industry.
The explanation is simple. This is the second winery to be operated by Kim Pullen and his son, John, - or perhaps the third – since they sold Church & State Wines in 2017. While the smart new facility for Rainmaker Wines was being built, they kept a foot in the wine business with Second Chapter Wine Co., located on Tinhorn Creek Road.
A former tax lawyer, Kim got into the wine business in 2004 by buying the failing Victoria Estate Winery near Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island. When his consulting winemaker advised against transporting Okanagan grapes to the island, Kim leased a packing plant near Oliver for the production wines for the renamed Church & State Winery. He also began developing vineyards. Subsequently, the winery added an attractive winery and tasting room on Black Sage Road.
The winery certainly succeeded. It was producing 35,000 cases a year by 2017 when Kim sold it to Sunocean Wineries and Estate, a Vancouver company owned by a Chinese businessman and his daughter.
“It was a great experience,” John Pullen (right) says, “but I think we are happier at a smaller size, focussing on the wines that we do.”
The architecturally-smart Rainmaker winery is “the first cellar completely of our own design from the ground up,” John says. The aim is to produce no more than 7,000 cases of premium wine each year. However, the cellar has been designed shrewdly so that it could be expanded to a capacity of 20,000 to 25,000 cases a year. Caroline Schaller, the winemaker who moved last year from Osoyoos Larose to Rainmaker, works in one of the most efficiently laid-out cellars in the Okanagan.
Rainmaker’s wines are all grown in the winery’s four vineyards. The Pullens kept two when they sold Church & State; and they have developed or expanded or purchased two more, for a total vineyard acreage of 22 acres. Two are on the Golden Mile and two are on the Black Sage bench.
The Golden Mile vineyards include the Rattlesnake Vineyard, which grows Merlot, Malbec and Viognier. Kim began planting it in 2005. The Second Chapter Vineyard was planted more recently with Cabernet Franc. The former is just below Hester Creek Estate Winery and the latter is on Tinhorn Creek Road.
The Rainmaker winery is surrounded by the Rainmaker Vineyard, some of which was planted for the Pullens in 2009. It grows Roussanne, Viognier, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon along with more recent plantings of Tempranillo, Chardonnay Musqué and a little more Syrah.
Roussanne, which had been a component of a Church & State white Rhone blend called Trebella, gets to star on its own at Rainmaker. The winery has a concrete egg in which to ferment half the Roussanne. The other half is fermented in French oak barrels and the two lots are blended.
The Pullens also purchased Joseph Boutin’s Gravelbourg Vineyard in the south Okanagan. It is an exceptional Chardonnay vineyard from which they purchased fruit when they owned Church & State. The vineyard was available because Boutin was ready to retire. The vineyard had been named for Boutin’s hometown in Saskatchewan. The Pullens, who have no Saskatchewan connection, have renamed it the Craftsman Vineyard.
Each wine in the Rainmaker portfolio has been assigned a nickname. “We have given each of our wines an identity,” John says: “That gives each wine a personality in our minds that we can build a style around.”
Here are notes on some of the wines in the Rainmaker portfolio. (Some, including a sparkling wine, a Malbec rosé, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon, were sold out when I visited the winery last fall.)
Rainmaker Roussanne 2019 “The Activist”
($30). This golden-hued wine has aromas of stone fruit mingled with honey. On the palate, there are flavours of lemon, ripe pineapple and guava. 91.
Rainmaker Viognier 2019 “The Changemaker”
($30). The fruit is from the Rainmaker Vineyard. The wine shows appealing aromas and flavours of citrus, pineapple and nectarine. Six months in French oak have polished the texture. 91.
Rainmaker Chardonnay 2020 “The Craftsman”
($30). Aged nine months in French oak, the wine is slightly buttery, with spicy notes of citrus and peach. 91.
Rainmaker Syrah Viognier 2019 “The Modernist”
($40). This wine is 75% Syrah and 25% Viognier. It was aged nine months in French oak. The high percentage of Viognier lifts the fruity aromas and flavours of the wine. Dark cherry and fig flavours lead to a slightly peppery finish. 91.
Rainmaker Syrah 2018 “The Motivator”
($40). The fruit for this wine is from the Rainmaker vineyard. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak. Rich on the palate, the wine has aromas of dark fruits leading to flavours of dark cherry, figs and spice. 92.
Rainmaker Malbec 2018 “The Risk Taker
” ($40). This wine was aged 22 months in French oak. Spicy on the nose with hints of cedar, the wine is rich in texture and has flavours of black cherry, blackberry and plum. 92.
Rainmaker Malbec Syrah 2018 “The Architect”
($40). The blend is 65% Malbec, 35% Syrah, aged 20 months in French oak. The wine begins with floral notes on the nose, leading to flavours of dark cherry and blackberry. There is an appealing note of pepper on the finish. 92.
Rainmaker Cabernet Franc 2018 “The Titan”
($40). This wine, which was aged 18 months in oak, is described by the winery as “a wine for the bold side of us.” It begins with aromas of brambleberries and spice. The flavours show bright red fruit – black currant mingled with cherry. 92.