Meet Jeff Del Nin of Church and State Wines

Eat’s Wine Chain- La Frenz winemaker Jeff Martin passes the glass to Jeff Del Nin at Church and State Wines 


left: Winemaker Jeff Del Nin of Church and State Wines. right: Coyote Bowl interior

Quick Stats:

  • Born and raised in Thunder Bay, ON.
  • Master of Science, Chemistry, Queen’s University. Graduate Diploma Oenology, University of Adelaide, Australia.
  • Winemaker –Barossa Valley Estate,  Bedell Cellars, Burrowing Owl, Winemaker Church and State Wines since 2009 Vintage.
    • Varietals: Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay (5 clones) Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir.
    • Emerging focus on French varietals from the Rhone Valley (Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.)
    • Known for his scientific approach, passionate enthusiasm and taking nothing for granted in the pursuit of making wines that display great character and personality, with powerful concentrated flavours and a soft, textured mouthfeel.
    • Church and State Wines has achieved  a growing list of awards including double Gold for Quintessential, which has reached the upper echelons of Canadian wines and most recently took Red Wine of the Year for their 2009 Coyote Bowl Syrah at the 2011 Canadian Wine Awards.


EAT: How did you become a winemaker?

JDN: After finishing my Masters degree in chemistry at Queens University in Ontario, I travelled to Australia for a six month holiday and fell in love with my now wife, Pamela, as well as the big fruit driven Aussie style of wines. As time went on, I became so obsessed with wine that I decided to try winemaking as a hobby for a little fun and additional knowledge. I enrolled in a college course for amateur winemakers and from the very first day I knew this was going to be my new direction in life! It was a perfect fusion of my technical chemistry background and my ever-expanding passion for wine. In a leap of faith, I quit my engineering day job to work a harvest in the Barossa Valley. I loved the experience, and so I decided to enroll in the renowned winemaking program at the University of Adelaide, where I graduated at the top of my class. The die was cast and there was no turning back!


EAT: First BC wine?

JDN: In 2001, I traveled through BC on a big Vancouver-Banff-Jasper-Prince Rupert-Victoria tour. We stopped in Kelowna for the night and I ordered a local BC Pinot Gris with dinner.  I don’t remember the producer, but the wine was very good. The memory of that wine touched off a chain of events that years later saw me relocate to the Okanagan Valley as a winemaker.


EAT: Epiphany wine?

JDN: 1996 Scarpantoni Block 3 Shiraz from McLaren Vale and 1996 Buller and Sons Calliope Shiraz from Rutherglen.  I am doubtful that better wines have ever been produced anywhere on the planet. These wines demonstrated clearly to me that there is a magical quality to wine that can captivate and fascinate like nothing else I have experienced.


EAT: Wine experience that has influenced you as a winemaker?

JDN: My first vintage was at the famous Shiraz producer, Barossa Valley Estate. The chief winemaker, Stuart Bourne, took me under his wing and shared an incredible amount of his knowledge with me. This helped put me on the express path to becoming a winemaker because I was able to contextualize all of the knowledge I picked up subsequently in university. I knew how everything fit together in ‘the real world’. Although I have adapted for Canadian conditions, I still employ many of Stu’s techniques in my winemaking. I try to follow his example and openly share my knowledge with young winemakers that come to work with me from all over the world.


EAT: Favourite grape varietal? 

JDN: This changes from month to month, but Syrah is always a favourite of mine, and the Malbec that we are producing at Church and State has been extremely impressive over the last two vintages. Unfortunately, we don’t yet produce enough Malbec for a varietal offering.


EAT: Favourite wine region outside of Canada?

JDN: McLaren Vale in South Australia.


EAT: Favourite home-cooked meal and Church and State wine pairing?

JDN: Without doubt, crab bisque paired with Church and State Chardonnay.


EAT: Dead-man walking last wine request?

JDN: Rutherglen rare Muscat and Tokay.


EAT: Best thing about living in the Okanagan?

JDN: Cherries galore!


EAT: Favorite Cocktail?

JDN: Bombay Sapphire gin martini. My martini’s are unsurpassed.


EAT: What beer is currently in your fridge?

JDN: Cooper’s Sparkling Ale 


EAT: What were the last restaurants you ate at?

Hillside Winery and Bistro on the Naramata Bench was outstanding, as was the Vanilla Pod in Summerland.


EAT: Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

JDN: Penfolds Magill Estate: Aged Grange by the glass!!!!


EAT: Wine competitions? 

JDN: It is always nice to see one of my wines do well in a competition, and we have been on a hot streak lately, racking up some nice reviews and competition results including Canadian Red Wine of the Year. While I take my winemaking very seriously, I am much less concerned about reviews, or competition results. The only true test of wine quality is whether or not consumers enjoy it and continue to purchase your wine year in and year out. (Quintessential – one of Canada’s top Red Bordeaux Blends; 2009 Coyote Bowl Syrah – Red Wine of the Year 2011 Canadian Wine Awards )


EAT: Last wines you recently tasted or enjoyed?

JDN: I taste many wines each month, always striving to see if there are producers or regions that we can learn from. I am currently enthralled by the Riesling wines from the Mosel in Germany. How do they get such intense flavours with only 8.5% alcohol? Believe me, I have asked many German winemakers and grape growers and nobody knows. It is one of many mysteries in the wine world!


EAT: What do you think about the controversy in the wine world regarding escalating alcohol levels in wines?  Are wines becoming too alcoholic?

JDN: Consumers in the new world enjoy very ripe, soft, fruit-driven wines  and those ripe flavours only develop with long hang times and higher levels of sugar. More sugar gives higher alcohol, and higher alcohol produces bigger, more impressive wines in the mouth (at least up to a point). Some producers have taken this approach too far, with wines coming in at alcohol levels between 15-16%. The wines are often too alcoholic and end up being perceived as hot and unbalanced, especially as they age. It is important to keep in mind that too little alcohol is just as bad as too much. There are many European wines with 12.5% alcohol that are thin, green, and utterly undrinkable.


EAT: Do you think that the Okanagan should be known for one or two varietals?

JDN: There are far too many microclimates in the Okanagan Valley for us to be known for one or two varietals. The diversity makes us one of the most interesting and exciting wine regions to visit.


EAT: Anything new?

JDN: Church and State are currently pulling out and replanting a few of our vineyards to increase our exposure to Malbec, which we have found to be an excellent performer, even in very cool vintages. Furthermore, our detailed investigations into soil types on our Coyote Bowl property has identified a plot of land that we think is going to make outstanding Pinot Noir.  We are planting 4 new clones in 2012, so stay tuned!


 EAT: Your vision for the future of Church and State wines?

JDN: We now have a fantastic team in place across the whole company, and I am very excited to be working together with Michael Mauz, our Geisenheim-trained vineyard manager. So, my vision of the future is continuous improvement in all aspects of viticulture and winemaking, so that we will consolidate a position in the top echelons of BC and Canadian wine producers. As I said, stay tuned, as we are just getting started!


EAT: BC winemaker that you are currently taking note of? 

JDN: This winery is making some really nice wines. No matter how late I seem to be driving past, this winemaker is always there working like a Trojan! …….


To be continued in the next WineChain



Written By:

We get many people writing guest articles for us, as well as past contributors. This is the Guest ...

Comments are closed.