Writer and wine columnist John Schreiner is Canada's most prolific author of books on wine.
Thursday, June 10, 2021
Tightrope gets first certification for sustainable winegrowing
Photo: Lyndsay and Graham O'Rourke
Tightrope Winery & Vineyard on the Naramata Bench marked Earth Day in April with the announcement that it is the first member of Sustainable Winegrowing B.C.
The winery, which opened in 2013, is owned and operated by Graham and Lyndsay O’Rourke. It was their objective from the beginning that the winery and vineyard would be environmentally sustainable.
The seed for Tightrope Winery was planted in the decade that Lyndsay and Graham O’Rourke spent working in bars and restaurants at the Whistler ski resort. The jobs supported their skiing, Graham’s fly-fishing, and their shared meals in fine restaurants. “My wine experience all started with really good wine,” Graham says. “I did not grow up drinking Baby Duck and the box wines.”
Both were born in 1971. Lyndsay, whose geologist father, Grenville Thomas, is a diamond explorer who is in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, has a University of Windsor business degree. Graham, the son of an accountant, grew up near Sarnia and learned to fish during summers in a family cottage on the river. His love of the outdoors led to a University of British Columbia degree in wildlife management.
They moved to the Okanagan in 2003. Immediately drawn to the vineyard lifestyle, they both took Okanagan College courses in grape growing and winemaking. To further improve their skills, they went to Lincoln University in New Zealand for honours degrees in those disciplines. The studies paid off quickly. When they returned, Graham joined Mission Hill for six years as a vineyard manager before, with a partner, setting up his own vineyard-consulting firm. Lyndsay became the winemaker for Ruby Blues Winery for several years before devoting herself totally to Tightrope.
In 2007, the couple bought a 10-acre Naramata Bench property with a million-dollar view over the lake. They planted seven acres of grapes—Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir, and Merlot, with small blocks of Cabernet Franc and Barbera. They made the first 900 cases of Tightrope wines in 2012, using the Ruby Blues winery until they built their own in 2014.
Graham set out to pursue sustainable wine growing not just in the Tightrope vineyard but as a founding director of Sustainable Winegrowing BC. The organization, a project of the BC Wine Grape Council, has developed criteria for practices in the vineyard as well as in the winery.
In its news release, Tightrope says that “the vineyard management plan incorporates practices like lowering water and energy use; and protecting worker health.”
The winery management plan is extensive. Grapes must come from certified vineyards. There must be programs for conserving and recycling water. At least 80% of the energy must come from clean, renewable sources. The waste management program calls for composting the residue from making wine and putting it back on the vineyard. There must be a program for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There must be programs pf social equity in the operation.
“We are committed,” the O’Rourkes write, “to making the highest quality wine in a manner that best supports people and the planet. Sustainability is a path, not a destination.”
Here are notes of four current releases.
Tightrope Pinot Gris 2020 ($21.50 for 675 cases). The wine begins with aromas of apple, peach and pineapple, which are echoed on the palate along with hints of lime. The finish is crisp and tangy. This is a delightfully refreshing wine. 90.
Tightrope Riesling 2019 ($22 for 325 cases). On the nose, the wine has begun to show the classic hint of petrol mingled with orange peel and lime. It is dry and full on the palate, with flavours of nectarine and mandarin orange. The backbone of minerality adds to the lingering finish. 91.
Tightrope Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon 2020 ($22 for 450 cases). This is 77.5% Sauvignon Blanc and 22.5% Sémillon. The fruit was fermented cool for 28 days, preserving the zesty fruit. The wine begins with aromas of gooseberry and fresh grass. These are echoed on the palate along with flavours of lime and green apple. The wine shows the intensity of aroma and flavour seems to typify the 2020 vintage. 92.
Tightrope Rosé 2020 ($22 for 565 cases). This is 75% Pinot Noir, 20% Syrah and 5% Barbera. The grapes were crushed and left to cold-soak on the skins for one or two days. The juice was fermented cool in stainless steel for 30 days. 90.