It’s always fascinating to learn what careers people have had before opting to ‘live the dream’ and start their own winery. Here in British Columbia, the common ones are those who’ve made a mint through a career in natural resources and those who have done well in the financial sector. And then there’s Tyler Harlton.
The guy behind Summerland, British Columbia’s TH Wines definitely has an uncommon tale to tell. He grew up a Saskatchewan farm kid, playing hockey like many a prairie teen. In 1994 he was a fourth-round draft pick by the St. Louis Blues. Following that were a few years playing college hockey at Michigan State and then a few more in the minors. Savvy online sleuths can still find some grainy footage of him from those days.
From there it was onto law school at McGill in Montreal, where he did sommelier studies on the side and worked in the field to supplement his studies. This was followed by a stint on Wall Street in New York City, but that life wasn’t the right fit. Soon after, he found himself in the Okanagan, eventually immersing himself in the world of wine.
This is where we are now with Tyler; he sources grapes from farmers who grow the fruit in small batches. With the massive growth of the British Columbian wine industry in recent years, many of these small-scale growers can’t sell as easily as one might think since most wineries would rather do a big purchase or two rather than cobble together enough fruit for their needs from dozens of growers. There’s some excellent fruit out there, and Tyler works hard to track down the best of what’s available. He refers to his wines as being made ‘by hand,’ and that’s indeed an appropriate way of expressing their style. There’s not a lot of in-winery manipulation or trickery, just an honest take on BC wine country in a bottle. His 2013 By Hand White is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, lending a bounty of orchard fruit and fresh minerality, while his 2012 Cabernet Merlot has a wave of sunny red fruit courtesy of Cabernet Franc, rounded out by Merlot and a dollop of Malbec for some added weight and juiciness. A hint of sage speaks to the Oliver vineyards from where the grapes were grown, while 12 months in French oak perfectly frames the whole show.
These are wines chock-full of integrity, expressive of their terroir. Grab ‘em while you can; you never know when he might pick up and move on to whatever life brings him next. Since there’s no logical next-step after hockey-pro, lawyer, and winemaker – I’m going with astronaut. You heard it here first.
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.