It is not every day that a winery suddenly—after having already been around for a decade, plugging away making good wine but with little recognition to celebrate—makes you stand up and take notice. But Thornhaven Estates in Summerland has recently done just that. Now, over 10 years into its existence, it is starting to hit its stride with some stunning wines.
Usually when a winery makes the leap from decent wine to real quality, a major identifiable change has taken place in the background. This might be a change in ownership, a new hotshot winemaker brought on board, or a fortune poured into an expensive consultant. Thornhaven hasn’t really done any of these things. Quite simply, they seem to have grown into their own wine style in a natural way.
The perfumed, intense and seductive 2008 Gewürztraminer got a lot of people talking about this winery. This British Columbia gewürztraminer is one of the first to get close to the Alsace, France, model of ripeness, richness, full body and spice. On closer examination of the winery, it is not just the gewürztraminer that is worthy of attention. There is also some very impressive pinot gris and pinot noir on the Thornhaven shelves. So what spurred on this Thornhaven transformation?
The only major change since the winery was established in 1999 was in 2005 when the winery changed hands. But even this sale was from one member of the Fraser family to another, when founder Dennis sold the winery to his cousin Jack. From the 2005 vintage, Jack’s son Jason took over the winemaking duties. Jason had already been working in the vineyards, shadowing Dennis and long-time winemaking consultant Christine Leroux to learn the trade. Neither of these occurrences could be deemed a major stir up to Thornhaven’s direction.
If there are any great secrets to the turnaround in their success, then Thornhaven isn’t sharing. When questioned on the success of their gewürztraminer, winemaker Jason Fraser simply says, “It starts in the vineyard and we just pick on flavour.” Further investigation reveals that they are not in fact doing anything out of the ordinary—no hocus pocus, no magic—just turning good grapes into good wine. In fact, the success of Thornhaven may well be linked to the success of the Summerland terroir, and the fact that the Frasers are starting to understand it well.
All six vineyards that the Fraser family sources from are located around the town of Summerland, and as these vines have matured, and the family has gained experience in how to best extract the flavours from the Summerland soil, the wines have reacted in a positive way. So be it gewürztraminer, pinot gris, or pinot noir, both Summerland and Thornhaven may well be helping each other to stake their claim in the B.C. wine world. And the future looks promising.