John Skinner
December 22, 2013 | John Skinner

The gamble is on the dirt


When my wife Trish and I first decided to get into the BC wine business it was in the late 1990’s when the quality of wines coming out of the region started to show some real improvement. The majority of BC wines produced pre 90’s were largely hideous. The vinifera program that was introduced by the BC Government in response to the free trade agreement with the US paid vineyards to pull out the high volume, low quality fruit producing vines and plant vinifera sourced from high quality nurseries. It was a smashing success and to give credit where credit is due, a bold and wonderful move by a business oriented government.
When we decided to buy a winery I began making trips to the Okanagan to check out wineries for sale and very quickly realized the more I learned the less confident I was that we were going to take the plunge. I quickly learned of a study the BC Government made of all the micro-climates in the Okanagan and their potential to produce premium wine grapes. It’s an enormous tome, probably 5 feet across when opened and it rates all the micro-climates on numerous criteria. Every time I considered a specific property I would first go to this study. Each page would be a map of an area and a title like “Soil” or “Heat Units” and the area in focus would be colour coded ….green being the best. I decided early in this process on one simple focus. We wanted to be 100% estate, find the best property and apply the most aggressive mandate. If you own a 9 out of 10 you will only ever, at best produce 9 out of ten. That was our mindset.
After several years of looking I became quite skeptical that we would ever find the 10 out of 10. I was constantly looking at properties then referring to the study only to discover some insurmountable negative. Either that or the property was very good but planted with varieties that were, in the opinion of my consultant, simply unsuited to the terroir.
At the end of my rope in late 2003, flying home from Penticton, I sat beside Cynthia Enns of Laughing Stock. I explained my dilemma and without missing a beat she said, “You need to talk with Art Cobham” and went on to explain that Art was in the middle of many of the winery transactions and really had his finger on the pulse. So I called Art. What a character, we spoke for about a half an hour when at the end he said “I’ve got the perfect property for you”. He explained that it was owned by another winery and bank rolled by a Calgary oil man. Again I went back to that tome, and for the first time in this long journey the property then referred to as “the Blackhawk” stood out page after page in glowing green (class 1). The game now changed for me. I had not considered starting a vineyard winery from scratch but when I looked at the potential it was a no-brainer. We would be able to benefit from all the new knowledge that incidentally was very generously shared by the likes of Senka Tennant, who at the time owned Blackhills, and Ian Sutherland of Poplar Grove.
We were investing with one simple goal, to produce the best wines that this beautiful piece of terroir, with its unique site influences like Skaha Lake and the amphitheater of rock, could produce. That was the gamble and continues to be. If we apply the same mandate to this glorious property as the best wineries in the world do … good can we be????


Roy & Evelyn Fondse's Gravatar
Roy & Evelyn Fondse
@ Dec 28, 2013 at 5:02 PM
Spectacular Winery!!!! We were so fortunate to have a wonderful experience visiting your winery and also getting a personal tour from you at the end of September (on your official opening day). The Feng Shui is something we have not experienced in any winery and we have visited well over 100! We thank you for the experience and hope to see you again in the very near future. Bon Chance!

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John Skinner
@ Dec 30, 2013 at 10:24 AM
Thank you Roy & Evelyn for your kind remarks. I am very glad that you came to see us and look forward to seeing you on your next visit. Happy New Year!

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