Canadian Winery Spotlight: Summerhill’s Organic Wines

I’m not one of those people who gets overly dogmatic over the various methods of farming grapes or making wine. We hear words like organic, biodynamic and natural being thrown around commonly, and in the sommelier world, the world I come from, you will find many who have latched on to one or all of those philosophies. I always think it's important to recognize that while there is virtue in making wine along these respective lines, by no means do they guarantee a good wine; I’ve certainly had excellent and awful examples of all of these methods. Of course, when we’re talking organic, it certainly is a lofty and respectable way of doing things – really, who wants to use pesticides and herbicides if they’re not necessary? But, if I have two great quality wines in front of me that are exactly the same except one has been farmed organically and the other used chemicals along the way, of course I’d prefer the organic option. A combo of organic farming and a well-made wine can certainly be ideal.

By no means though, am I vilifying non-organic methods. If there is a considered attempt to do things naturally, but at some point in the vintage it’s not an option, I get it. I had a winemaker say to me one time, “These vines are like my children, and if one of my children gets sick and I’ve done everything naturally possible to get them healthy with nutrition, exercise and so on, and they’re still sick, yes – I will give them medicine. Basically, the same philosophy applied to my vines.” The winemaker continued on saying, “No, of course I’m not going to over-medicate – but if push comes to shove, I have no issue with employing necessary methods to ensure the health of my vines.”

At Summerhill Pyramid Winery in the Okanagan Valley, push hasn’t come to shove, and this hasn’t been due to a spate of good luck or chance. One of the aces up their sleeve are three of the most important words in many aspects of life: location, location, location. Due to our very hot (and brief) growing season, and the semi-desert arid climate, their vineyard issues like mold, mildew and fungal diseases are way less common compared to other parts of the world, and fortunately pests aren’t too much of a problem either. Since 1986 they have been tending their vineyards for optimal health, using biodynamic treatments and innovative methods to deal with potential issues. The biodynamic aspects of the property creates a biodiversity that fosters an ecological balance that is integral in staving off unhealthy intrusions. You can learn more about their methods and philosophy on their website right here.

The benefit of all of this is a more of a natural reflection of Okanagan terroir. Where I think Summerhill’s wines really shine are in the diverse sparkling program and in their aromatic white wines. Their proximity to Lake Okanagan mixed with a short growing season makes for lofty natural acidity, while the mineral-rich soils gleam in the glass. A few good starting points to get to know Summerhill’s personality are the legendary traditional-method Cipes Brut, the charismatic peach and tropical fruit-laden Ehrenfelser, and their fresh and citrusy Gewurztraminer. All of them a good way of tasting the Okanagan, and healthy farming, in every sip.


Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. He’s not half as fancy/boring as that sounds. He Tweets and Instagrams @KurtisKolt.

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