C. C. Jentsch Cellars 4522 Highway 97, Oliver
Chris Jentsch hails from a family that has been farming in the Okanagan since 1929, but he was pushed into the winery business against his will in 2013. That’s because there was a surplus of grapes over the previous winter and his primary customer, a commercial winery, wasn’t interested in buying his crop.
“I couldn’t give away the grapes,” Jentsch told the Straight by phone. “We had no choice but to process them.”
It also meant refurbishing and retooling his old packing shed to convert it into a winery, hiring a winemaker (Amber Pratt), and obtaining the proper licensing. Jentsch said that in the first year, C.C. Jentsch Cellars produced the equivalent of 14,500 cases, including 11,000 cases of bulk wine to finance the business.
All of this came three years after he and his wife, Betty, lost their house in the Testalinden Creek mudslide.
“When I look back on it now, I don’t know how we did it,” Jentsch said. “It is a true mom-and-pop operation.”
Despite this difficult beginning, C. C. Jentsch Cellars has enjoyed tremendous success in competitions. But Jentsch is still under no illusions about the challenges facing wineries. Growing Malbec grapes, he said, is a “pain in the ass”. And then there are the long hours and all of the marketing that’s necessary to succeed.
The J in his surname is pronounced like a Y, which he’s used to great effect in local radio advertisements. But when he recently attended the ProWein trade conference in Germany, he was delighted to discover that people there had no difficulty saying his surname correctly.
“It’s Yentz, which rhymes with Golden Mile Bench, thankfully,” he quipped.
Signature wine: The Syrah has racked up plenty of awards, and Jentsch said that it’s being presented in master classes around the world. He’s also excited about his Bordeaux blend. “This year we’ve got small lots,” he stated. “What we’re taking is the best barrels out of each Bordeaux variety and if it qualifies—in Amber’s opinion—then we’ll do a small-lot series.”