It takes a certain business savvy to patiently search out a vineyard property, studying and rejecting many along the way, waiting until the right one comes along, the one with potential to make great wine. That was in 2004 and the man was John Skinner. In 2007, he saw the first wines released from his new winery, Painted Rock.
“Every property I looked at had some problems,” says Skinner. “I didn’t want to inherit anyone else’s headaches.” It was eventually a stunning property on the eastern shore of Skaha Lake called the Blackhawk that ticked all the right boxes for Skinner, who wanted unplanted land to start a vineyard and winery project from scratch. The land was owned by Hillside Estate at the time, but they weren’t able to develop it and Skinner was able to buy the property.
It was a successful 25 years as a stockbroker that gave Skinner the business sense to know how to take on this wine project. With no experience in the wine business, other than as a long-time wine collector, Skinner did a lot of talking, and listening, asked lots of questions and hired the right people. To avoid the headaches he found in so many other properties, he hired viticulture consultant Val Tait to get the vineyard right, and French consultant Alain Sutre to provide guidance on the vineyard and expert advice to winemaker Gavin Miller. Winemaker Frank Gigliotti also advised on the making of their first vintage.
Skinner owns 60 acres at the site, with 25 acres of vineyard planted on tight seven-foot-wide rows with three-foot spacing between the vines. The sloping aspect and western exposure provide ideal conditions for ripening a wide range of varieties. Skinner settled on the Bordeaux varieties plus chardonnay and syrah. Two clones of each variety have been planted for complexity.
In addition to the winery, there are also bold plans for the rest of the land; the Skinners intend to build an inn on their family vineyard. Another 30 acres adjacent to the property, which Skinner co-owns separately with a partner, has been earmarked for a high-end vineyard community development. A tasting room, by appointment only, will open in 2010 with timing of further developments depending on the rebound of the economy.
The rest of what surrounds the land is mostly unusable rock, but even it still serves purpose. After a two-and-a half year search for a suitable winery name, Skinner stumbled onto some pictographs bordering the vineyard site. A visit by an anthropologist dated the picture of a fish drying rack at approximately 400 years old. And so, the name Painted Rock Estate Winery was born.
With the first two vintages released in 2007 and 2008 at just 2,800 cases each, the wines are difficult to find. The 2009 vintage was still only pushing 5,000 cases, so in 2010 you will still have to get on the mailing list or visit top restaurants to taste the wines. Perhaps not surprising for a project that was so well organized from the start, the wine is very good. And with the right plan in place, Painted Rock looks set to become a serious brand of wines for many years to come.