Meet Meet Winemaker Chris Tolley of Moon Curser Vineyards

“Winemaker Adrian Cassini at Cassini Cellars passes the glass to Chris Tolley at Moon Curser Vineyards.”


Chris Tolley at Moon Curser Vineyards


Quick Stats:

  • Born in Ottawa and raised in Montreal.
  • Engineering and Computer Science Degree, University of Calgary. Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology, Lincoln University, New Zealand
  • Cellar-Rat: Chris and his wife, Beata fell in love with wine, packed up their established careers and bought a vineyard. They’ve been cellar rats in their own vineyard since 2004 and they have never looked back.
  • Varietals: Tannat, Tempranillo, Carmenere, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Petit Verdot , Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Chardonnay and Arneis.
    • Reputation for being a rebel in the vineyard, working with varietals not previously grown or rare to the Okanagan.  Proven that varietals such as Tannat, Tempranillo, Carmenere, Marsanne & Roussanne can make award-winning Okanagan wines.
    • Moon Curser Vineyards has become the independent darling of the Okanagan wine scene.


How did you become a winemaker?

By chance. I enrolled in the International Sommelier Guild course in Calgary because I enjoyed drinking wine and wanted to learn more. At the time Brad Royale was teaching the course and his passion for trying new varietals proved to be a big influence. After completion of the first course, I was completely hooked and along with my wife enrolled in the WSET program where we both completed the three courses leading up to the Diploma level. We decided that owning a winery was a dream we wanted to pursue seriously. We left our jobs in Calgary and moved to New Zealand where we both completed the one year Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln University. In 2004, we bought an old cherry orchard with a fruit stand in Osoyoos and the next year we planted our first vines. In 2006 we opened our winery.


First BC wine?  Burrowing Owl Chardonnay


Epiphany wine?  Orlando St. Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon  because the wine shows what a winemaker can do brilliantly to such a BIG Australian couch wine.


Favorite grape varietal? 

Dolcetto- which means little sweet one in Italian and we just planted this year.


Favorite wine region outside of Canada?

Piedmont, Italy


Favorite home-cooked meal wine pairing?

Massaman Curry which is a special occasion curry dish from Thailand with Blue Mountain Winery’s Pinot Blanc. (We have some cases stored in our cellar.)


Favourite Moon Curser wine and pairing

Our Syrah with a Rack of Lamb.


Dead-man walking last wine request?

Any one of the First Growth Bordeaux wines at its peak. (Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion or Chateau Mouton Rosthschild)


Best thing about living in the Okanagan?

The wine!


Favorite Cocktail?

Tom Collins


What beer is currently in your fridge?

I don’t have any beer in my fridge because my favorite beer is Guinness and it has to be on tap.


What were the last restaurants you ate at?

Benja Thai Restaurant in Keremeos.  Dolci Deli  and Campo Marina in Osoyoos.  Also my wife and I just had a very wonderful meal at Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek Winery in Oliver to celebrate our 20th Anniversary.


Favorite restaurant anywhere in the world?

La Toque in Napa.


First Restaurant to carry your wines?

Vanilla Pod Restaurant  in Summerland and now located at Poplar Grove Winery  was the first restaurant to carry our wines and has remained a loyal customer.


What other restaurants carry your wines?

You can find our wines at Edible Canada and Bao Bei 

both in Vancouver.


Last wines tasted?

Last night, we enjoyed with our friends Severine Pinte who is the winemaker at Le Vieux Pin  and her husband Mike who works at Road 13 Vineyards  a 2000 Pio Cesare Barolo and a 2006 Cavallotto Barolo.


Special wine memory:

Upon graduating from Lincoln University, eight of us from the program went to a private dinner at Cloudy Bay Winery  to celebrate. It was a very special evening.


You have established a reputation for planting varietals not known in the Okanagan and succeeding. With the varietal success stories such as Tannat and Tempranillo, what have been some of the challenges? What varietals have failed?

In 2006, we planted a plot of Corvina which didn’t even get close to ripening. We ripped it out and replaced it with Viognier. Syrah can be a challenge in the vineyard – we are always losing plants and we lost a lot of vines in the 2009 freeze. It has taken us until 2012 to re-establish our Syrah vines. Also, Tempranillo is an early grape which needs a lot of heat and 2011 with its late summer was a tough year. We had to drop a lot of fruit to ensure the quality. The challenge in the vineyard does pay off in the bottle.


Any varietals you would like to grow but can’t due to the Okanagan climate?

My wife loves Riesling but our vineyard is not suited to this varietal. However, the valley’s micro-climates do allow this varietal to excel in other parts of the Okanagan. We are both fans of Okanagan Rieslings including Summerhill Pyramid Organic Riesling, 8th Generation and Similkameen’s Orofino.


You are not afraid to experiment with blends and even your single varietals often have a slight twist. How do you base your decisions?

Tannat is traditionally blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. I decided to experiment and blended our Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon and then with Syrah. In a blind-tasting, both my wife and chose the Tannat/Syrah blend and it is now our top selling wine “Dead of Night”.  I also thought that the toastiness and tones of coffee and spice found in Hungarian Oak would be a good match for our Syrah and I have been experimenting with aging our Syrah in both French and Hungarian Oak.


Why the name change from Twisted Tree to Moon Curser?

Our focus when we opened the winery was on the wine and that remains our focus. As our winery grew, we realized that marketing our wine was important and we worked with Bernie Hadley-Beauregard from Brandlever to help us. We have been pleased with the name Moon Curser which reflects the history of the Osoyoos area when miners would try and smuggle gold into the Unites States. Our passion and focus remains making good wine and ensuring what is inside the bottle is our very best.


With so many wine competitions, which ones do you focus on and why?

As a small winery, we choose our wine competitions carefully. Having done well in Canadian competitions including the All Canadian Wine Championships and the BC Wine Awards, we have recently been focused on choosing competitions where our wines can compete on a world stage.  Our premium wine, Dead of Night, won gold medals at the 2011 Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition, the San Francisco Wine Competition and in 2012 a gold medal and best of class at the Pacific Rim Wine Competition.


Can you find wines outside of BC?

Yes our wines are in very small quantities in both Ontario at the LCBO and Alberta in private wine stores.


Anything new?

Last year we went to Italy to investigate white Nebbiolo, also known as Arneis, which means little rascal because it can be a difficult varietal to grow. We decided that it would be worth planting and we expect our first small vintage in 2013.


Your vision for the future of Moon Curser?

We are very focused on the varietals we are currently growing and the wines we are making. However,   there may be room for just one more varietal in the future. I have always wanted to grow Touriga Nacional which is often considered to be one of Portugal’s best red grapes.


BC winemaker that you are currently taking note of?

This winemaker picks varietals that matches the climate and only grows what is suited to the vineyard…


Moon Curser Vineyards

3628 Highway 3 East

Osoyoos, BC,

T: 250.495.5161








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