Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lawrence Herder in memoriam

Photo: Lawrence Herder

Lawrence 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 49.

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.

His 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.

During 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.

Born 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 laughs.

Ultimately, 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.” 

After 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.

The 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 island.”

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 resources again.

But 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.”

Herder 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.

Lawrence 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 tasting room.

Here, 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.

Herder 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.

Charlie 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.

Nevertheless, the rising profile of Similkameen Valley wines is a remarkable legacy of Lawrence Herder’s time in the valley.


darren v said...

Sad news. He made excellent wine. A friend has one last bottle of Josephine 2008 which we'll raise a glass to Lawrence.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Very sorry to hear this news, John. Lawrence was not only a colleague, but also a friend. He made excellent wine and could also play the drums fairly well...will miss the laughs and blind tastings. Condolences to his family and kids.

Milly Sinclair said...

So sad. Lovely man, beautiful wines, great legacy.

Unknown said...

Thank you John for the beautiful article on my dad. If anyone is able to contribute I am raising funds to go towards his funeral in California.https://www.gofundme.com/2p8qmcc Any help would be greatly appreciated!!

Unknown said...

Im so sorry to hear this news he was a great mind and wine truly missed all the best to his Kids at this hard times RIP How do I get money to the KIDS

Unknown said...

OMG, I am so out of the loop. I just found out tonight and opened a 2002 from my vineyard that we made together as well as a 2007 that Lawrence and Sharon gave me as payment for grapes. LOL
Great people, great stories, thank you John for your post and Thank You Mr Lawrence Herder, RIP.
Roger Hol
(Oh and I am still making the co-fermented blend that we started together in 2002 that we called RR - Rejuvenation Red oh or what he choose to call Josephine)