After seven or eight years as a virtual winery, Anthony Buchanan Wines opened a bricks and mortar home this summer on Lombardy Place, a stub of a street in Kaleden.
It is the culmination of a journey that began 20 years ago when Anthony Buchanan developed his interest in wines, initially as a consumer.
Born in Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1970, he moved to Vict0ria with his mother in 1980 where he began a career unrelated to wine. “I was a hair dresser for 21 years,” Anthony says. “I got into hair dressing right out of high school. I owned my own business for 11 years in Victoria.”
However, he developed an interest in wine through membership in the Opimian Society, a national wine club. “In 2001, 2002, I started to think about a different career choice,” he told me in an interview. “I have always loved food and wine. I like the social aspect of it as well.”
At first, he set out to be a sommelier, taking the first two levels of Wine and Spirits Education Trust course and the level one course from the International Sommelier Guild. But as he learned winemaking details from these courses, he decided that winemaking had more appeal. He started with a distance learning course in enology from the University of California at Davis.
He got his feet wet by working the 2007 crush at Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars and then got a job at the Church & State winery at Brentwood Bay, where he met Nicolle, now his wife and partner in the winery.
In 2009, he enrolled in the two-year enology program at Washington State University. He and Nicolle moved to the Okanagan in 2010 where he worked initially at the Soaring Eagle Winery, which was in receivership.
“Some people think I have taken the hard way into this business, but it has been good for me,” Anthony says. “I have learned a lot and I have been put into some situations which I think some winemakers don’t experience. By that, I mean a lot of corrective winemaking. I have had to salvage large amounts of wine. Your really learn quite a bit in that process. Then when you are all of a sudden given pristine fruit, the facility and the equipment, it is almost like a dream come true.”
In 2012, he became the winemaker for Eau Vivre Winery in the Similkameen Valley, still one of his consulting clients. He made the first wines for his own label, a Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, in 2014. While nurturing his own label, he was the fulltime winery at Desert Hills Estate Winery from 2016 through 2020.
Desert Hills had been buying fruit from adjoining vineyards near Kaleden which had begun to transition to organic production. When Anthony left Desert Hills, the owners of the vineyards offered to transfer the lease to him. That also gave him the opportunity to convert a large building on the property into a wine production facility with a tasting room, which opened this spring. He is located close to Black Market Winery, which has been open for two years, and to Birch Block Vineyard, a virtual winery that is planning to build in a year or two.
“Now that there are four or five wineries here, people will come to Kaleden for a day,” he says. “Between three and five wineries is pretty much all you can do in a day. We are in the process of doing some signage together as a group, which will make it easier for people to find us. We are talking about possibly doing some events next year, just to get more exposure for the area for people to come to visit. It is a beautiful spot.”
The production at Anthony Buchanan Wines was 1,300 cases in 2021, a year in which the heat dome reduced the volume of grapes. This vintage, the winery expects to produce about 2,500 cases in a facility with the capacity of about 3,000 cases.
“That is where we will cap it,” Anthony says. “It is good for me. I can still do 90% of the cellar work. I am still involved in the vineyard, too, to a certain extent. I don’t want to lose that. The larger you go, the more people you have to hire. We want to keep it small and keep it focussed.”
As a winemaker, Anthony does not hesitate to think out of the box. Two of his largest volume wines have unconventional names, Fubar and Snafu. “The blends are a little bit obscure,” Anthony says. “The Fubar is 38% Gamay, 28% Zweigelt, 23% Merlot, 7% Pinot Noir, 3% Syrah and 3% Muscat. The Snafu is 100% estate; usually between four and six varieties of skin-fermented white grapes. This current one is 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Chardonnay Musqué, 20% Muscat, 15% Sémillon, 7% Viognier and 1% Grüner Veltliner.”
Current releases include a wine which is a blend grapes, apples and dandelion blossoms, all estate grown, and a rosé called La Bise which is a blend of 55% grapes and 45% apples.
“There is definitely a crowd that is looking for these styles of wines,” Anthony believes. “They are a little more rustic. They are a little more farm to table. You are utilizing everything from your property. We also have some apple trees here and the dandelions grow freely here. We don’t take them out of the vineyard. We just keep them.”
Even the “conventional” wines show Anthony’s original touches. His Pinot Blanc – a varietal he believes in under-appreciated – is fermented in a combination of barrels. He has fermented Riesling in an amphora (the winery now has three). In 2021, because he worried about smoke taint, he made a white Pinot Noir to minimize the time the juice spent on the skins. This year, his followers have been asking him to repeat that style.
Here are notes on some current releases.
Anthony Buchanan Grape Apple & Dandelion 2021 ($22.90). Light and fresh, this wine has aromas and flavours of citrus and apple. “The grape portion is predominantly Chardonnay Musqué – about 52%, with 2% Viognier,” Anthony says. “The apple portion is a co-ferment of Pink Lady and Braeburn.” The dandelion blossoms, fermented separately in sugar and warm water, are just 4%. The winemaker says the dandelions add texture and an herbaceous note to the wine. 88.
Anthony Buchanan La Bise NV ($22.90). This rosé is a 55% grape blend (Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay Musqué) and 45% apple (Spartan, McIntosh and Gala). With just 8 ½% alcohol, the wine is light and refreshing with aromas and flavours of apple and raspberry. 88.
Anthony Buchanan Pinot Blanc Lawson 2021 ($24.90). This barrel-fermented wine begins with aromas of Asian pear. On the palate, there are flavours of apple and pear. There is good weight and the finish is dry. 90.
Anthony Buchanan Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 2021 ($31.90 for 56 cases). This wine was fermented in new French oak. The oak flavours are very well integrated, with tropical fruits, ripe apple notes and butter on full display. 91.
Anthony Buchanan Zweigelt 2021 ($32.90). This wine begins with dark fruit and spice aromas. Vibrant on the palate, there are flavours of dark cherry, blackberry and even licorice. 91.
Anthony Buchanan Syrah William Dean 2020 ($37.90). This wine is made with Black Sage Road fruit. Whole clusters were trodden by foot before fermentation; and the wine aged 12 months in oak. Bold and full-bodied, the wine has aromas and flavours of plum, fig and pepper, with an earthy note on the long finish. 92.
Code Winery, which Shay Code and his wife, Harlee Nelson Code, opened just outside Okanagan Falls this summer, is the culmination of Shay’s decades-long dream to get back to the land during a successful corporate career.
The winery, which plans to produce 500 cases this year and probably never more than 1,000 cases, is based on an estate vineyard with five acres under vine. The largest blocks are Pinot Noir and Syrah, with a smaller block of Chardonnay and a modest planting of Viognier.
The vineyard backs against Peach Cliff, the massive landmark towering over Okanagan Falls. From the top of the west-facing vineyard, one gets a view into the heart of the village. It was raw land at the very northern end of Peachcliff Drive when Shay bought the property in 2016. A previous owner sought to continue the Drive’s housing development to this end but was unable to get the necessary permits. The Codes were able to build a home and a wine production facility here because they use the land for agriculture.
Shay was born in 1967 at Imperial, SK. “I grew up working on the farm with my dad and my family. I did that until I was 18, and thought this is crazy. There is more to the world than working on the farm in Saskatchewan. So I went to university. I originally thought I would be a lawyer.”
However, operating a College Pro Painters franchise gave him a taste for business. He got a commerce degree instead of a law degree and spent the next 30 years in corporate jobs in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Most recently, he was a senior information technology executive with IBM.
One of his employers was Xerox Corp. In 1999, he was assigned to host a client in the south of France. He and Harlee, never having travelled to Europe before then, went early and spent a week exploring wineries and restaurants in the Rhône Valley. When the client cancelled, they stayed a second week. This is when Shay became “a big northern Rhône fan.”
“We did not know this was the historical birthplace of Syrah,” Shay says. “We came back home and I started reading as much as I could. My mom bought me an encyclopedia on wine. I started to figure out the difference between the way things are done in Europe and the New World. I totally geeked out. I loved all the complexity.”
About this time, he went through a personal exercise to decide what else he wanted to do besides business. “I figured out through that that I wanted to be back on the land, the thing I wanted to get away from when I was 18. I wanted to combine my love of wine with farming. That was twenty-some years ago. I laid out a plan that I would eventually have this.”
Even while looking for an Okanagan or Similkameen property, the Codes almost ended up developing a winery in Oregon. “In fact, we had bought a place in the Willamette Valley,” Shay says. “The deal fell apart on inspection. That was in 2012.”
“All our family is here in Canada,” he continues. “We thought maybe we should cast our eyes to the Okanagan again. We continued to poke around; just about bought a place near Keremeos.”
A search of real estate data bases one Sunday afternoon turned up this Okanagan Falls property. “It had been for sale for a decade, I think.” Other grape growers looked at the property but did not make a bid because only five of the 13 acres are plantable. “The fit for other folks in the industry wasn’t here,” Shay reasons. “It was ideal for us: a nice homesite with a view. We did not want a vineyard much bigger than five acres.”
He began planting in 2017, choosing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay because other Okanagan Falls producers have succeeded with those. He planted Syrah because he has been enamoured with the variety since that trip to the Rhône. One Okanagan Falls winemaker discouraged the selection since Syrah and Pinot Noir don’t flourish side by side in France. Then Shay discovered that Painted Rock Winery on the Skaha Bench had a successful Syrah block – about 10 km north of Okanagan Falls. The two vineyards have similar exposures.
Shay, who continued to work for IBM until last year, turned for professional vineyard and winemaking help to Dylan and Pénélope Roche, the proprietors of Roche Winery in Penticton. Code’s three previous vintages were made at the Roche winery, with Dylan doing much of the winemaking while coaching Shay in the cellar. The Code winery’s 2022 vintage was made at the Okanagan Falls property with Shay taking a larger role in making the wines.
Code Winery propagated its vines with cuttings from nearby vineyards. There are four clones of Pinot Noir: 115, 777, Pommard 90 and one that Shay calls Ancestor 01. He describes it as “an unknown clone that might be the happiest of the clones in our terroir.” The cuttings came from nearby Meyer Family Vineyards where the clone grows in that winery’s Old Block.
At Code, each clone goes into its own small lot bottling so that consumers experience the difference in taste and aroma of each. As well, a field blend of the four clones goes into the winery’s estate blend. The labels are embossed with the genetic code for Pinot Noir, in what is also a play on the surname of the owners.
“This is my family's name (dating back to at least mid 1600s in Wicklow, Ireland,” Shay says. “Given our rather unique family name and our intent on focusing on clonal-small lot wines, our branding and design consultant [Adam Kereliuk from Measured-Mothered] came up with the idea to do a riff on "Genetic Code". Hence you will see this concept threaded through our branding, including the label, which is embossed with the genetic code building blocks of the Pinot Noir plant.”
Here are notes on the Code wines currently available.
Code Chardonnay 2020 ($32). This is an unoaked Chardonnay with excellent fruit expression. There are aromas and flavours of apple and citrus. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 91.
Code Estate Pinot Noir 2020 ($34). A blend of three clones, this is a silky-textured with. It begins with aromas of cherry and raspberry that are echoed on the palate. The finish is long, with a note of spice. 91.
Code Clone 777 Pinot Noir 2020 ($34). This is an intense wine with dark cherry aromas and flavours. The texture is luscious and the finish is long and satisfying. 93.
Code Syrah 2019 ($34). This full-bodied wine begins with aromas of dark fruit, deli meats and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of dark cherry and fig mingled with hints of pepper. 93.
Few Okanagan wineries have a location as easy to find as Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery: beside Highway 97 at the northern entrance to Osoyoos. This is a winery you can’t miss!
Nor should you. As the current releases indicate, the wines are well-grown and well-made.
Here is what the winery says about itself on its website:
For Mohan Gill and his family, the opening of Bordertown Vineyards and Estate Winery in May 2015 was the culmination of a lifetime dream. The Gills built their reputation with over 20 years of experience as growers, supplying some of the Okanagan’s best fruit to a select few wineries and winemakers. Their sun-drenched Osoyoos vineyards are the best place to grow a wide varietal of grapes and are some of the most highly regarded in British Columbia.
The Gills are known for their integrity, attention to detail and impeccable farming skills. Passionate about wine, they turned their dream into a reality by building a family-owned and operated state-of-the-art winery in the heart of Osoyoos wine country.
Bordertown wines use top 100% estate grown fruit for wines that highlight the very best of the varietals that flourish in the south Okanagan. Wines are produced by proprietor Mohan Gill, overseen by the expertise of accomplished consulting winemaker Daniel Bontorin, who is helping us develop the Bordertown style, which places an emphasis on fresh fruit flavours.
We’re nestled in the heart of Osoyoos, a border town that has long been celebrated for rich soil and brilliant sunshine. We’re a new generation winery that strives to showcase the distinct regional characters of Osoyoos fruit. We’ve made our home in Osoyoos, a winegrowing region that provides us with the diversity to grow 14 varietals in unique growing conditions. Coupled with Osoyoos’ extended days of heat and sunshine, we think we have wine growing Nirvana.
Here are notes of six Bordertown wines currently available or about to be released.
Bordertown Pinot Gris 2021 ($19 for 580 cases). The wine begins with fruity aromas – apple, pear and citrus. The palate is refreshing, with crisp acidity and flavours of apples and citrus. 90.
Bordertown Living Desert Red 2019 ($27 for 750 cases). This is a blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 34% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Merlot. The wine begins with aromas of blackberries, cherry and spice. Generous in texture, the palate delivers flavours of dark cherry, black currant and chocolate. 91.
Bordertown Malbec 2019 ($40 for 770 cases). Malbec is distinctive in its perfumed fruit aromas: blackberry, raspberry, cherry. The savoury palate delivers flavours of cherry, plum and spice. 92.
Bordertown Merlot 2019 ($25 for 1,000 cases). The wine, which was aged 12 to 18 months in French oak, begins with aromas of blueberry, cherry, raspberry and spice, all of which is echoed on the palate. Firm, ripe tannins frame the flavours. 91.
Bordertown Petit Verdot 2019 ($35 for 224 cases). Dark in colour, this wine begins with the classic aromas of the varietal – plum, blackberry and a hint of graphite. The palate is firm with long, ripe tannins. Flavours of black currant mingle with spice, tobacco and an underlying hint of sweet fruit. 91.
Bordertown Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($45 for 440 cases). Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of black currant and dark cherry. These are echoed on the palate, along with notes of leather and herbs. The texture is firm. The wine calls for cellaring. 93.
Stag’s Hollow Winery released these six wines in two lots during the past month or so. I would guess the two Renaissance wine were held back a month or so until winemaker Keira Lefranc thought they were ready.
I nominated the winery’s Renaissance Merlot as the collectible Stag’s Hollow red in my 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries.
“Renaissance is the name we have given to our premium wines,” I quote the winery’s explanation. “The decision for what wines can be assigned to the Renaissance program is made in the cellar, based on the quality of wines in the best barrels from a vintage. Not necessarily made every vintage, our Renaissance wines are made in small lots only, and are meant to be tucked away in your cellar for two to five years.”
When I was researching wines for that book, Stag’s Hollow had not begun to make its mark with consistently top flight Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. The winery had a long history with Merlot, however. Larry Gerelus, the owner at the time, and Dwight Sick, the former winemaker, took me through an extensive tasting of Merlot wines beginning with the 1999 vintage. That tasting was a convincing case for the age-ability of the winery’s Merlots.
If I were to research a sequel to Icon, Pinot Noir and Syrah might well be recommended.
Here are notes on the wines.
Stag’s Hollow Blanc de Noirs 2021 ($25 for 80 cases). This is 100% Pinot Noir. The wine has made several vintages of a white (actually blush) Pinot Noir with fruit from young vines. The winery’s notes hint that, from now on, the fruit will go into estate Pinot Noir. The grapes were pressed whole cluster and the juice was separated quickly from the skins, presumably as a precaution against picking up any smoke affect that might have been on the skins. This wine begins with delicate fruity aromas. On the palate, notes of wild strawberry mingle with slight minerality. The finish is dry. 91.
Stag’s Hollow Merlot 2020 ($27 for 374 cases). The fruit is from the winery’s west-facing Parsons Vineyard on the Skaha Bench. The vines were in their third leaf in 2020. The wine begins with aromas of blackberry, blueberry and cherry which are echoed on the palate. There is a touch of grip here, suggesting the wine will benefit from being decanted. 91.
Stag’s Hollow Syrah 2020 ($30 for 305 cases). There is 8.3% Viognier in this wine, co-fermented with the Syrah. It begins with aromas of violets. The palate is generous, with savoury flavours of black cherry, fig. A hint of black pepper carries through on the long finish. 91.
Stag’s Hollow Dolcetto 2019 ($25 for 467 cases). This wine presents in the glass with an electric purple hue, leading to aromas of cherry mingled with notes of spice and earth. Dry on the palate, the wine has flavours of cherry and blackberry with a tangy cranberry note on the finish. 91.
Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Pinot Noir 2020 ($42 for 100 cases, 36 magnums). Each clone in this wine (667, Pommard and 115) was fermented, pressed and put into French oak separately. The wine was blended after aging 13 months in barrels. The wine begins with aromas of cherry, strawberry and spice. The palate is silky with flavours of cherry and pomegranate. This elegant Pinot Noir dances across the palate to a long finish. 92.
Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Syrah 2020 ($42 for 100 cases, 48 magnums). The Syrah fruit is from a long-time Stag’s Hollow grower, the Amalia Vineyard which is on the Osoyoos West Bench. There is 4.9% Viognier in the wine from a Penticton vineyard. The wine was aged 18 months in French oak (30% new). This superb wine begins with aromas of pepper and dark fruits. On the palate, the wine has flavours of cherry, fig and deli meats with spice and sage on the long finish. 94.
Perhaps no grape reflects its terroir more vividly than Pinot Noir. That helps to explain the dramatically different characters of two vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs just released by winemaker Grant Stanley at SpearHead Winery in East Kelowna.
Canadian-born and New Zealand-trained, Grant is among the most dedicated exponents of Pinot Noir in British Columbia. Once when he was the winemaker at Quails’ Gate (he was there for 10 years), he told me that he thinks about Pinot Noir 90% of the time.
He joined SpearHead in 2017 as general manager and winemaker.
The two vineyards represented by the current releases are SpearHead’s Saddle Block Vineyard in East Kelowna and the Golden Retreat Vineyard in Summerland.
The Saddle Block was the original planting by SpearHead, beginning in 2008. It gets its name from the site where the shape is reminiscent of a saddle. Here, the winery has four Dijon clones (777, 667, 115 and 828) along the Mt. Eden clone, associated with California.
This is an undulating vineyard with both northern and southern exposures. The soil is glacial loam with alluvial deposits of fine silt, sand and gravel. The warmer soils aid in ripening the fruit. The soils are also well drained, which promotes the formation of smaller berries. Small berries mean more concentrated flavours.
Golden Retreat, from which SpearHead began purchasing fruit about 2013, is owned by a meticulous grower named David Kozuki. He has three Dijon clones (667, 115 and 777) along with the Pommard clone. This south-facing vineyard overlooks Okanagan Lake. The soil is sandy loam, with gravels at root depth.
For the single vineyard wines, the winemaking is similar. Each clone is hand-harvested separately. Ninety percent of the grapes are destemmed and cold-soaked for five to seven days before fermentation. The wines, which ferment spontaneously, spend a total of 16 to 21 days on the skins. The wines are then aged in French oak (25% new) for 13 months.
Here are notes on the wines.
SpearHead Saddle Block Pinot Noir 2020 ($38 for 443 cases). This is a rich and full-bodied Pinot Noir with aromas of dark fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of plum, blueberry and chocolate mingled with savoury and earthy tones on the finish. 93.
SpearHead Golden Retreat Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 ($38 for 506 cases). The wine begins with aromas of dark fruit mingled with spice and toasted oak. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry and plum, with a touch of forest floor on the finish. The wine should be decanted or cellared for several more years. 91.