Harvest at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

Clockwise from the top left: photos by Treve Ring

Merlot hanging on the vine

View from new restaurant site – due to open spring 2011

The grape that made them famous

Not chardonnay – gewurz, picked the same morning

A bottle of Merlot 2006

20+ year old pinot noir vines

Tasting in the barrel room – 1100 barrels (we’re not tasting all of them)


How often do you think about where your wine comes from? I don’t just mean where you bought it, but where it began. A vineyard, a vine, a bud, a grape – months of gaining size, flavour, structure, all the while tended to by watchful watering (or not), shading (or not), spraying (or not). Then fall harvest comes and a flurry of hands testing acid vs. sweetness, hedging bets on sunny days vs. storms. Picking, pressing, fermenting, analyzing, resting (the wine, certainly not the winemaker). I was fortunate enough to visit Tinhorn Creek Winery in the midst of all this activity earlier this week, touring and tasting with the people that get those grapes to your glass.

The winery is located south of Oliver in the famed Golden Mile. Named for its rich history of farming that dates back to the early 1900s, Golden Mile is a sweet spot for wine, and home to several quality wine producers. Owned and operated by the Shaunessy and Oldfield families since 1993 (winemaker Sandra Oldfield is in her 17th harvest at Tinhorn), Tinhorn Creek has pioneered many initiatives in the industry that are now commonplace. Like Stelvin (screwcap) closures – they were the first winery in Canada to bottle its entire portfolio with Stelvin. They are also environmental leaders in the Valley, making environmentally sound decisions long before it was the trendy thing to do. From Integrated Pest Management and beetles in the vineyard, to native plant and habitat restoration and land use guidance from the Land Conservancy, to their commitment to Climate Smart practices and becoming Canada’s first Carbon Neutral Winery – if it makes sense sustainably, they’ll do it. Even if it’s painful to be sitting on the tip of the arrow towards change. For example, earlier this year they started using bio diesel in all tractors and installed expensive double walled enviro-tanks to store the fuel.  When you’re the first, and only, South Okanagan vineyard to be utilizing bio diesel, it’s not a cheap or logistically simple proposition. But waiting for the rest of the group to catch up isn’t an option for Sandra and her loyal team.

Together with Sandra, Viticulturist Andy Moon, General Manager Shaun Everest and Chairman/Owner Kenn Oldfield, a group of us toured through vineyards that were just on the brink of harvest. Munching nearly ripe grapes off the vines, I learned that the crop is approximately 18 days late this year – a result of the poor start to summer in BC. Many vineyards are in panic mode, dropping fruit to try and force the vine to feed the remaining grapes, or clipping leaves to try and ripen the grapes with the declining warm days. Tinhorn, however, is sitting pretty. Low yields, aggressive and selective fruit drop early in the year, and nurturing, not stressing the grapes has paid off. The morning I arrived, the Gewürztraminer had already been picked and pressed, and the bins were cleaned and waiting for the next call to action. Sandra and Andrew (the two jokers get along so well they’re referred to as ‘the Sandy and Andy show’) are optimistic and confident that they’ll emerge from this very challenging year victorious.

Tinhorn Creek sources fruit exclusively from its own vineyards: 150 acres of prime land on two very distinct benches and two different terroirs. The 100-acre Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench is planted with a mix of red and white varieties, primarily Pinot Gris, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The 50-acre Tinhorn Creek Vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench is also planted with a mix of red and white grapes, primarily featuring Gewürz.  Tinhorn, and inherently Sandra’s philosophy is that “It’s about the grapes. The more effort you put into your vineyard, the easier it is in the cellar once the grapes are harvested. This is why we use only our estate grapes to make our wines. We know the acreage, the gravel spurs, the sun exposure, the pockets of ripeness in any given block. We feel that is where we are at a big advantage, in that we already have a plan for winemaking long before harvest has started. Let the grapes show you what the wine will be. “

We tried a number of wines throughout the day – standing in vineyards, tailgate-style from the trunk of a vintage ’60s Mustang (sitting in the vineyard), over lunch in the tank room, in the barrel cellar…  Here are my notes:

Gewürztraminer 2009

Soft perfumed floral nose, with, spice, tropical fruit, mineral and red grapefruit finish. Fresh and light. $17.

Pinot Gris 2009

Bright citrus and sweet pear aromas carry through to medium bodied palate of honeyed ripe fruit.  Lovely acid. $17.

Chardonnay 2009

Only white to see oak, almost a quarter of this vintage spent 2 months in new French barrels. The result is a leesy, silky texture and richness, balanced by crisp granny smith apple acid. Lovely balance and refined complexity.  $17.

Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2009

A blend of 44% Chardonnay, 26% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Semillon, 12% Viognier, and 1% Muscat. Medium-full bodied, with notes of citrus, honey, white peach, vanilla and a tinge of green minerality.  Fresh and aromatic, with a rose floral finish. $23.

Oldfield Series 2Bench Rose 2009

Inaugural Rosé, only 103 cases were produced and all reserved for Tinhorn Creek’s Crush Club Members. 46% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Pinot Gris.  Fresh and ever so slightly offdry, with rhubarb, strawberry, lime and raspberry musk.  $20.

Merlot 2008

The variety that the winery is best known for. Dark cherry, raspberry, plum and floral flavours glide into a smooth vanilla finish. $18.

Cabernet Franc 2008

Spicy dark bramble, green herbal and pepper notes and wild dark berry flavours. $18.

Oldfield Series Merlot 2007

Released October 1. The Oldfield Series is only the top wines of the vintage.  92% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Syrah. Lovely plush raspberry, cedar, stewed plum nose leads to a full bodied, rich red with dusty dark berries, earth, cocoa and dark cherry flavours. $25.

Oldfield Series Syrah 2007

Northern Rhone in style, with big pepper, blackberry, herbal aromas and lovely savoury, bramble, leather, currant flavours.  Full bodied and lengthy.  $30.

Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2007

Inaugural release of their Meritage red blend. 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, 29% Merlot. Spicy raspberry, stewed black plum, herbs and vanilla in a full bodied and hefty red.  $30.

Oldfield Series Kerner Icewine 2009

Very pointed apricot, peach oil, marmalade and honey notes. Bright acid up front leads through to an unctuous pear finish.  $30 for 200 ml.

***Scheduled to open in the spring of 2011, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, in partnership with Manuel Ferreira of Le Gavroche in Vancouver, will open a restaurant adjacent to the amphitheatre and barrel cellar.


Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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