The Road to Organic for Okanagan Crush Pad

Okanagan Crush Pad facilities

Okanagan Crush Pad facilities

I first met owners Chrstine Coletta and Steve Lornie in May 2011, when they were unveiling the concrete eggs they acquired to ferment a line of their wines at Okanagan Crush Pad (OCP). Jump forward 4 years, and you will see that they have followed a long, slightly windy road, that has brought them to where they are today; celebrating the organic certification of their Switchback Vineyard in Summerland.

The Okanagan has a marvelous climate for organic grape growing.  It’s arid, with hot days and cool nights.  Very little chance for mold and mildew to flourish, as wetter grape growing regions of the world.  With this climate advantage, making the switch to organic should be an easy step, but sometimes you first need some convincing.

That arm twisting gently came from Alberto Antonini, an Italian oenologist and winery consultant who works with many wineries around the world.  He was hired by OCP in 2010, where he pointed out how organic grape production helps lead to making wines with a sense of place.  This idea of “sense of place” or “Every wine has a story“, has become an ongoing theme for OCP.  In the summer of 2011, Christine Coletta took up Antonini’s idea of organic grape production, and decided to convert their Switchback Vineyard.

Chicken coop in the Switchback vineyard

Chicken coop in the Switchback vineyard

Going organic in the Switchback Vineyard is part of the story, but hand-in-hand with it, is better understanding the terroir in the vineyard and how to take advantage of it with the vines.  This piece of the puzzle comes from a Chilean terroir consultant, Pedro Parra.  How do you know that you planted the most appropriate grapes for your vineyard?  What kind of soil do you have?  What kind of rock is beneath the soil? Limestone? Granite?  All these questions can help a winery select the grapes that do their best in a particular terroir.  Pedro had pits dug scattered throughout the vineyard to expose the structure of the soil.  In addition his team used a magnetic soil mapping technique to help determine the extent of the different soil types. These first steps to “mapping out” the type of soil in the vineyard led them to create a farm plan for the 5 unique zones they identified, which included grape clone and root stock selection, trellising and pruning, etc.

Theo in the vineyard

Theo in the vineyard with his trusy whippet

In addition, the vineyard was also taken off it’s artificial diet and supplemented with organic nutrients.  Steer manure, green manure (vineyard cuttings and ground crop mowing), seeding clovers, vetch, oats and triticale beneath the vines, allowing sheep, chickens, ducks and miniature donkeys to roam the vineyard, and adding worms were all used to improve the soil, and thus to improve the vines and grapes.  The man in charge of the vineyard on a daily basis is Theo Siemens, who I have met a few times at OCP.  He was quite proud to show us some of the soil pits that they had dug, as well as discuss the soil.  The Switchback Vineyard has been farmed organically since 2011, and finally received it’s official organic certification on August 17, 2015, with both Antonini and Parra in attendance. Congratulations!

Is there more organic grapes in the future for OCP? Yes.  Their second vineyard site they launched in 2012, is the 312 acre Garnet Valley Ranch vineyard, also located in Summerland.  It again made use of Parra’s scientific mapping techniques to identify unique zones or terroirs within the vineyard.  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling will be grown at this site.  In addition, OCP has met with their contract growers to explore the idea of them also going 100% organic.  Three of their growers agreed, so over a 4 year period, all OCP wines will come from organically produced grapes.

A Vertical of Haywire Pinot Gris

The Switchback Vineyard has evolved from it’s first plantings and traditional agricultural approach, to it’s newly organic certified approach.  I fortunately was able to taste the Pinot Gris made from this vineyard since it’s inception, and thought that it would be interesting to see my notes for those different vintages.  How has the organic approach affected the aromas and flavours of the grapes?  Besides the differences in the soil, there could also be a wider variety of indigenous yeasts on the grapes, which would then go into the fermentation process to help produce the nuances in the wine.

  • Haywire Pinot Gris 2013

    Haywire Pinot Gris 2013

    Haywire Pinot Gris “Raised in Concrete” 2013 – Ripe pear skin colour in the glass.  It has a medium intensity nose with more stone fruit and lesser amount of pineapple, and a hint of lime.  Dry with a nice light acidic prickle on the tongue.  Quite mouth filling, almost oily feeling.  The acidic prickle gives way to a round smoothness mid palate, and then back to the acidity again on the finish.  I get more pears, followed by peach, pineapple, a hint of lime and some almonds, or yeast.  It has pepperiness on the finish, along with acidity/astringency, and pears on the finish.  This is a slightly bigger version than you may normally expect from this grape.  Enjoy the acidic prickle and roundness play on this wine, together with the stone fruit flavours.

  • Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2012 – Medium Bosc pear skin colour in the glass.  Medium intensity nose that is moving from youthful toward developing.  intriguing aromas in the glass of over-ripe, or dried, pears and apples, together with dried herbs.  With the 6 hrs of decanting, I picked up more pears on the nose. Smelling the wine the next day, it almost reminds me of a dry Tokaji.  On the palate, the wine is dry (to slightly off dry) with medium acidity, but quite round and a bit heavier mouth feel.  It also had an acidic prickle on the tongue like the Canyonview Vineyard Chardonnay.  More complex flavours of dried apricots, peaches, and apples, blossoms on the mid palate, almonds and butter, and honey toward the finish.  Medium plus length with again pepperiness, honey, some bitterness, and mouth watering acidity.  The wine had a lighter mouth feel after 6 hrs decanting, but the flavours were all still there. A very complex wine, that I think could make some interesting food pairings.  A very intriguing wine to share with your guests. Maybe try with roast pork with apples, smoked salmon, or a light blue cheese?
  • Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011. Darn missed this one! I checked the web and found another person that reviewed this vintage, so I present it here to fill in my review. “Mineral, smoky, spicy nose leads to a palate of grapefruit, lemons and herbs, with some tangerine, too. Very attractive fresh style that’s beginning to open up. A bit pithy.” from http://www.wineanorak.com/canada/Okanagan_3_haywire.htm
  • Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2010.  Light straw/lemon colour. Light flowery, peachy nose. High acidity with citrusy and some stone fruit flavours.  Quite dry and a long length. Very nice. Also a bit of sweet spice to it.Look for the 2010 to evolve a bit and be a bit rounder like the 2009 which I also tasted. Chicken or seafood would be nice with this Pinot Gris.
  • Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2009. Light lemon colour.  Apple,citrus and peach aromas. Lower acid, rounder mouthfeel compared to the 2010 vintage.  Peachy, flowery, and a bit of spice. Fairly long length.

I see that over the years my reviews became longer for these wines, so I am not sure if it is because I am more verbose now, but it could also be that there is more to talk about in the wines.  In 2009 and 2010 I basically mention peach, flowers and spice.  In 2012 and 2013 there is the peach and blossoms, but I am also getting pears, apricots, apples, almonds and pepperiness, so it could very well be that the organic approach is putting more health into the soil, which is then translating into more flavours and aromas in the wine glass.  Cheers!

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Some people prefer red wines. Some only like Cabernet Sauvignon. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I met many great wine makers. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.