Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Code Winery opens at Okanagan Falls

Photo: Shay Code
Code Winery 924 Peachcliff Drive Okanagan Falls V0H 1R1. (250) 462-6079
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.

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