One has to be brave to be different. This is especially true in the wine world, where consumers tend to be conservative, often sticking with what they know. To get better, though, an industry needs to push boundaries. It needs pioneers, and Okanagan Crush Pad is bravely going ahead, exploring new territory, making wines that reflect the place they are grown, while utilizing hands-off techniques that build real character.
At first glance, this might not sound revolutionary, but when you consider the lengths many winemakers go to in order to make their wines fit into a narrow definition of normality, what Okanagan Crush Pad is doing is a substantial and brave attempt to help take British Columbia to the next level. The reality out there is that most wines are very commercially made, with adjustments of sugars and acids, and additions of many products to achieve consistency. While these are often good, the level of manipulation means that they will never be great representations of the place they were grown. It takes something more for a wine to show complexity, and that means not hiding behind tricks. All the best wines of the world are a true reflection of where they are grown, rather than the deft hand of a winemaker.
Okanagan Crush Pad, through house brands Haywire and Narrative, is not afraid to test these limits. “We want our wines to be 100 per cent reflective of what the Okanagan gives us,” says co-owner Christine Coletta. This means a very minimalist approach: wild fermentations and innovative techniques like using concrete tanks and relying on the flavour you get in the grapes with good organic farming. You won’t find new oak or any flavourings or additives that change the taste of the wines—these are about texture as well as complex and evolving flavours. If B.C. is going to compare its wines favourably with the rest of the world, its offerings need to be distinct.
If you look at who is behind Okanagan Crush Pad, it is no surprise that this winery is helping to pioneer the next phase of the B.C. industry. Coletta has seen the market grow from its diaper stage to where it is today, and probably understands its trajectory better than anyone. Coletta and her co-owner (and husband) Steve Lornie were smart to hook up with international consultant Alberto Antonini. Antonini is not one of those consultants who comes in with a set recipe and turns out plush, rich wines, but is driven instead by making wines that reflect place. Antonini encouraged Coletta and Lornie to buy new virgin land to plant and to convert the existing vineyards to organic. He also brought in soil guru Pedro Parra and got rid of anything in the cellar that would alter the expression of sense of place in the wines. Winemaker Matt Dumayne is the man on the ground embracing these ideas and turning them into reality.
The biggest challenge, not just for Okanagan Crush Pad, but for all those helping to push the industry in the field of natural winemaking, is getting the message across to the public that what they are doing is worth trying. Consumers believe wine to be natural, real, and honest; however, this is often not what they get. Times are changing, though. “It is like eating conventionally-raised chicken when you have never tasted organic, naturally-raised chicken,” says Coletta. “Once you have it, you can’t go back.”
Find your new favourite bottle—read more wine stories here.