There is a constant growth in the number of new wineries in BC. One winery that I started to hear about this year is 1 Mill Road Winery, located on the Naramata Bench. They recently reached out to me for an interview. I was delighted to speak with Ben Bryant, co-owner and winemaker for 1 Mill Road. Below is my interview with Ben. I have not yet tasted their wines. If you have, please post your reviews of their wines in my comments section below. Enjoy the interview.
Your winery is new to me. Can you give me some history about you and 1 Mill Road?
I’m originally from Australia. I came here because I believe in the future potential of the Okanagan. 1 Mill Road was always a brand, a niche business, and it was making varieties we love in Pinots. The opportunity was presented and we explored it and take the opportunity to invest in the valley thru the acquisition of David and Cynthia (Enns’) winery, 1 Mill Road. They did a good job in setting up the brand and what it means, so it is a great platform to take and evolve to what can and likely will be the next phase of the brand. We will still focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We will stay in that varietal family. For 2022 we made a few single vineyard Pinots, a single vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé, and a single vineyard Chardonnay. Our intent is to continue to work and evolve down that path and capture the uniqueness of site through the wines and the season of course.
The original home block vineyard we have a long-term lease over so we farm it, but we wanted to keep that property as it was the genesis of the brand and coincidentally it is where Cynthia and David live. They are looking over what we are doing. It is a completely decoupled business from what was LFNG. In 2017-18 they (Cynthia and David) divested LFNG but kept the 1 Mill Road vineyard and made a new winery. We now acquired that whole business including winery equipment.
Why choose Pinot Noir? Syrah and Riesling do well in BC, and Australia is not as well-known for Pinot Noir as it is for Syrah (Shiraz).
I think there is a healthy and selfish interest. You drink certain wines and love making certain wines. I love making Australian Syrah and Syrah from here. But I think it stems back to what I like to drink more than anything else. We tend to drink light to medium-body wines. From a style preference, Pinot is variety and expression, there is a uniqueness as there are in other varieties, but there is a personal challenge in making great Pinot. Chardonnay falls into that same wheelhouse.
How is your current harvest going? Any challenges or surprises?
Vintage 2022 challenged a lot of people as it was cool early for so long. When the heat came, everything exploded and now we have cold. A very compressed harvest time. Harvest is about 2.5 weeks later than in the past. In general, I am happy with the wines, brightness in acidity, and restrained flavour profiles, from how we managed the fruit. One Pinot is under 13% and the other is just over 13% which for me if you can do this and get phenological ripeness it shows you grew well and the season has played to your favour, instead of having to hang for longer and wait for phenological ripeness. I am excited by these wines.
2022 will be your first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir rosé. How/where did the Chardonnay come from? Why Chardonnay?
The Chardonnay is coming from an East Kelowna vineyard near Tantalus. That vineyard will hopefully be with us moving forward. Our aim is to keep sourcing and making a volume of Chardonnay and Pinot. Hopefully a dry red Pinot from that property in the future. It all comes down to how the grapes are grown. If you look at the Home Block vineyard, we lease it, we run it, and we grow it as we want. When you are working with growers you want to work with the growers that have the same mindset. You must have the ability to work together to deliver the fruit you need.
Are you using organic viticulture and winemaking, or other methods?
We are very happy to go down the organic path, but the more important thing to me is the vineyards we are partnering with or leasing that we are growing in a sustainable manner. We are more or less going in an organic path but if we get in a tight spot and need to do something, we are able to do that without jeopardizing our longer-term certification, e.g. organic. We are firm believers in the Sustainable Winegrowing BC platform which the Home Block vineyard is certified under the SWBC. Ideally, we would like all the vineyards we are working with, in that certification model.
With the climate in the Okanagan, I don’t think it is too hard to be organic, at least from other people I’ve talked to.
It’s not that it is hard to go organic. There are times when it would be nice to do other things when you are in that model. It is not overriding the organic status. This year is a good example. There was a leaf hopper pressure in the valley. In that mindset, there is a chemical you can apply for leaf hopper, but they build up resistance quickly. Same with mildew, you normally use organic treatments, but there may be times you need to do a little more. I don’t want to be locked into a position, but the overarching principle and foundation has to be in sustainable wine growing.
What Pinot Noir clone are you using at 1 Mill Road and do you have a favourite clone?
The Home Block clone is all 115. The other vineyard we used this year is multi-clone. There are 115, 667, 777, and Pommard clones. I produced that wine (from the other vineyard) altogether so you get different layers and expressions and the underlying complexity of wine than just using one clone. In time we may do a single varietal clone from this vineyard.
Is there sparkling wine in your future?
It is in the thought process. We would want Pinot Meunier to come into the fold. If I find a vineyard growing quality Pinot Meunier, I would love to do a dry Pinot Meunier as well. It can be stunning.
Do you make wine for yourself, the public or the critics?
A good question. At the end of the day I make wine that I like to drink, but I am also cognizant of who we are making wine for. I focus on a path of uniqueness and site expression, so with that comes challenges yearly. It is about making the best wine from that site from that season, so you may have to do things differently each year in order to make a balanced wine. For me, wine should be enjoyable when you bottle it and that same wine can be cellared for 5-10 years and it will age gracefully and grow. I am not someone who is high octane drink now, or high acidity so you have to cellar for 15 years before it is drinkable wine. It is all about balance, and uniqueness of expression. I have zero interest in making a California or a Sonoma Coast Chardonnay in BC. The intent is to make a BC Okanagan site expressive wine. That is the same goal for our Pinots.
How are you producing this first vintage of your Chardonnay?
100% whole cluster, straight to barrel on poured solids, inoculated and wild ferment, and use of larger barrels. I am not using the traditional sized barriques (225 litres), we are using 500+ litre barrels, 100% French oak, new and used barrels for fermentation. About 15% new barrels and up to 4-year-old barrels. We use the same approach for our Pinot Noir wines.
There are many wineries fermenting in concrete now in the Okanagan; will you try using it?
Maybe concrete in time. It is not high on my agenda. It is more oxidative in how it works. I’d rather use large oak barrels in the first few years to get ourselves going. What will dictate going into concrete is the grapes we are working with. If I think that they will benefit from fermentation and maturation in concrete then we will go down that path, but it is not an immediate priority. I’d rather evolve our oak aspect and focus on the vineyard and phenological ripeness.
Is great wine made in the vineyard or in the winery?
It is a combination of both, but you set yourself up for success by growing great fruit. I have a perspective that if you have really good fruit then 90% of your hard work is done, and then the remaining 10% is nurturing your fruit through the fermentation process.
Do you have any winemaking heroes or people you admire?
Not necessarily admire. I’ve surrounded myself with many people and tried to learn from them wherever they are around the world. I have more aspirations toward brands that people have built, like Craggy Range in Hawkes Bay I think has done an amazing job in terms of how they position themselves as a producer, a brand, their winemaking philosophy, and that their wines are spectacular. That is where I draw my inspiration. Antinori is another example, with so many generations of history, and the wineries across the country are all unique, different, and special.
How do you see 1 Mill Road 5 years from now?
That is a really good question. Honestly, we want it to really stand for provenance and absolute quality in the Okanagan. We want to focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We want a position where our brand is sought after and we release the wines multiple times a year. I have no aspiration to be a 5,000 – 10,000 cases winery. I want to be focused in the 2,000-3,000 case range. And be really known for amazing quality wine that speaks volumes for the brand and for the region.
Where Can I Buy Their Wines?
1 Mill Road does not have a tasting room so you need to purchase the wine online, from wine shops, or at restaurants. If you would like to try their wines, the 1 Mill Road Vineyards Home Block Vineyard Pinot Noir is available at select Everything Wine stores. You can also order their range of Pinot Noir wines via the 1 Mill Road Vineyards website.
This URL from the winery shows all wine shops and restaurants that carry their wines.