When Larry Gerelus and Linda Pruegger purchased a 10-acre vineyard in Okanagan Falls, it was 1992 and the B.C. wine scene was quite a different place. They built Stag’s Hollow Winery in 1995, a time when British Columbia had only 32 wineries, wine tourism was a new concept, and the general feeling among consumers was that B.C. wine was nothing special. How things have changed. B.C. wine is now celebrated and respected across Canada and beyond, largely thanks to pioneering vignerons like Gerelus and Pruegger who have paved the way. Eighteen years in, they are continuing to innovate. Their latest project centres on an ambitious set of European grape varieties, including grenache and tempranillo.
It might seem like an odd choice to still be experimenting when the industry is just entering its first phase of maturity, but Stag’s Hollow winemaker Dwight Sick doesn’t see it that way. “I really believe that B.C. wine drinkers love having choices,” he says. “Many are embracing the ‘new’ wines that are emerging from the Okanagan, as they have become bored with drinking the ‘same same’ wines.” That the Okanagan may be able to successfully grow different varieties of grapes and make interesting wines beyond the well-established international classics serves as a reminder that the industry is still young, still finding its way. “Given the extreme variety of microclimates within the Okanagan Valley, we have the flexibility to grow many different grape varieties. It is simply a matter of determining which ones will succeed in which site—hence our experimentations,” says Sick. Experimenting they certainly are; in addition to the grenache and tempranillo, they have also planted marsanne, albariño, dolcetto, and teroldego.
“It is an exciting time to be in the wine industry in the Okanagan, as I think the best is yet to come.”
For Stag’s Hollow, this innovation is largely built on the interests of both the winemaker and the owners. The Rhône varieties are the passion of the winemaker’s, and Gerelus developed a love for tempranillo while searching the world to see what varieties would work in the very unique terroir that is the “hollow” in their vineyard. “The hollow is a large, two-acre depression in the middle of our 10-acre property, shaped like a parabolic mirror facing south on gravel soil,” Pruegger explains. “It gathers significant heat but is susceptible to early frost. Tempranillo, besides being a favourite wine of Larry’s, is an early-ripening variety and well suited to the terroir and microclimate of the hollow.”
Both grenache and tempranillo were planted in 2006, and the wines are now on the market. The 2012 grenache may be the first single-varietal example of this grape released in Canada. And it is delicious, full of the bright, red fruit and softness that the variety is known for. From the 2013 vintage, there is currently tempranillo from three different vineyard sites maturing in the cellar, as well as a small lot of the dolcetto. It seems there are many interesting and exciting wines yet to come.
The winery is basically at capacity, and the Stag’s Hollow team is excited to see how these grapes perform as the vines reach maturity. The plan is to gain a better understanding of how to best express each grape’s character to continue to make better wine. As Sick says, “It is an exciting time to be in the wine industry in the Okanagan, as I think the best is yet to come”.