As I waded through emails and other messages upon returning home from a week and a half of Argentine travel, an update from Okanagan wine country rose to the top as particularly notable news.
After 30 or so years of organically farming their estate vineyard (the last half-dozen using Demeter-certified biodynamic practices), the Cipes family of Kelowna’s Summerhill Pyramid Winery have just released their first certified biodynamic wines.
While most appreciate organic farming as eschewing the use of synthetics in herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, and so on, biodynamics offers the theory of operating a farm as its own ecosystem. This involves operating not as a monoculture, but a balanced farm with animals to assist with compost, pest control, and other aspects, plus cultivating various flora components to create balance and harmony.
Demeter is the globally recognized entity establishing and certifying biodynamic standards, and its Canadian arm adds the following to the above general criteria on its website:
“A variety of regenerative farming techniques are used, including crop rotation, composting, interplanting, careful treatment of livestock to ensure both longevity and quality, and seed saving. In addition, influences from the moon and other planets are taken into account. In essence, the farmer becomes the conductor of an orchestra, working with nature, recognizing weaknesses in the farm and working to strengthen the whole farm organism.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah—it can sound a little mystic and fantasy-oriented, but there is science behind all aspects. The moon thing sounds a little wacky, but just as we know the moon affects the tides, the same science advocates various vineyard treatments be done only at the proper phase of the moon, when plant potential, absorption, and development are at an optimal level.
While Summerhill’s estate vineyard has been operating biodynamically for years, their wines are only just beginning to be certified. The delay on this part of things is due to the winery being British Columbia’s first to go this route; Demeter’s B.C. chapter was wading these same waters for the first time too.
I was curious about the requirements for the Demeter certification of a wine, since most of its criteria are centred on vineyard practices. After I reached out by email, coproprietor and CEO Ezra Cipes obliged by sharing a small pile of the paperwork they had to navigate. Criteria include things like minimal sulphur use, avoidance of plastic vessels for storage, and use of only Demeter-certified or organic egg whites in fining a wine. The latter is irrelevant to Summerhill Pyramid Winery, as all their wines are vegan.
This direction is not an easy one to take; shortcuts aren’t an option. It’s particularly challenging when a winery like Summerhill is the first out there striving for this certification and quality, without a road map. On the upside, other British Columbian wineries wanting to tread this path will now find it ever so slightly established.
May I be among the first to offer a hearty pat on the back to the Cipes family, who were pioneers in British Columbian organic wine decades ago. Their pioneering ways have continued, which can only be for the greater good of our local industry.
The following wines are available winery-direct, and will soon be in various private stores around Vancouver for a couple bucks more.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2017 Summerhill Vineyard Grüner Veltliner
A rarity around these parts, this Austrian variety takes to the Okanagan’s penchant for mineral- and acid-driven wines well. Salty sea air on the nose leads to muddled lemon, quince, and a distinct peppery note, with a touch of bitter almond on the finish. A wine likely to fascinate alongside smoked fish, rich cheeses, or a host of Asian dumplings.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2017 Summerhill Vineyard Riesling
The Cipes family’s Riesling from their estate’s 40-year-old vines is a winner year after year, and the 2017 edition knocks it out of the park yet again. Concentrated Granny Smith apple, lime, and pink grapefruit are kissed with honey and graced with a rub of fresh sage. Just a touch off-dry, it’s a no-brainer with Thai curries, Korean barbecue, Buffalo wings, or, really, Netflix and comfy sweatpants.