For nearly 30 years the Cipes family have been at the forefront of the organic winemaking movement in the Okanagan Valley with Summerhill Pyramid Winery. Long before receiving organic certification in 2007, their Kelowna winery had been the hub of some of the area’s most forward-thinking grape-growing and winemaking, which has shown in their wines.
There are aspects to Summerhill’s operations that one simply doesn’t find in any other B.C. winery. First and foremost, of course, is the winery’s pyramid, in which many of their wines are aged and where it’s said they benefit from the energy of the pyramid. It’s a quiet place where visitors (and they get many) are encouraged to disconnect from the wired world, take a moment and reflect – to connect with themselves in a way the hustle and bustle of the world sometimes doesn’t allow.
I visited Summerhill in 2011 and will admit to having been skeptical of some of what they were doing – not so much the organic and biodynamic winemaking practices (they received biodynamic certification in 2012) as the whole pyramid thing.
But in touring the vineyards, the organic garden that services their Sunset Bistro and the winery with Summerhill CEO Ezra Cipes – including the pyramid – I got a feeling as to how it all comes together, and really picked up on the passion he and his family have for the region, the wines they make and the ways in which they tend to the land.
Once I tried the wines, I was sold. Despite the hustle and bustle of busloads of tourists flocking to the winery on that summer day, there was a balance to their reds, whites and sparkling wines – the latter of which are especially commendable – that brought the whole experience together.
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Some of the more memorable wines I’ve tried from Summerhill in the more recent past include:
This Merlot comes from three certified organic vineyards located in the south Okanagan Valley. It shows lovely raspberry, plum, ash, black tea and leather notes on the nose that almost harken back to Bordeaux. On the medium-plus bodied palate the raspberry and plum flavours work well with the earthy, peppery notes; the fruit’s still front and centre but there’s some decent complexity as well as modest tannin. ($24.95, 13.2% alc./vol)
This wine is a perpetual favourite when it comes to B.C. bubbly – in fact it was among the top performers at the 2015 B.C. Wine Awards, where it proved to be a knockout among judges (of which I was one). The nose on this organic Riesling/Chardonnay/Pinot Blanc blend shows complex notes of red apple seed, melon, pear, lemon zest and a slight herbal/reedy note. On the light-bodied, super-crisp palate there’s plenty of lemon, red apple and pear notes, with light bread dough notes countering the light-plus acidity and adding depth. A consistent winner. ($26.95, 12.5% alc./vol)
A brilliant pink in colour, this sparkling Cabernet Franc offers fresh floral, raspberry candy, ripe cherry and strawberry aromas. There’s good complexity on the palate of this light-plus bodied, almost-off-dry traditional method sparkler thanks to three years en tirage (in contact with lees), with doughy, honey, red berry and spice notes coming through on the palate and bringing plenty of length on the finish. ($44.90, 12.2% alc./vol)
Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson is the wine columnist and literary editor for the Winnipeg Free Press. He’s on Twitter and Instagram at @bensigurdson.