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Canada's top pinot noir comes from Kelowna

SpierHead Winery co-owner Brian Sprout tests a barrel sample of this year
SpierHead Winery co-owner Brian Sprout tests a barrel sample of this year's pinot noir after the 2010 was judged the best of 94 in Canada, putting East Kelowna on the national wine map.
— image credit: Judie Steeves/Capital News

Although it’s known as the heartbreak grape, the pinot noir has turned out to be a thrilling addition to the portfolio of a new little East Kelowna winery.

SpierHead Winery has only been open two years and this is the first pinot noir produced from grapes grown on the former Turton family property on Spiers Road, yet it has just been judged the best pinot noir in Canada in the Wine Access magazine annual awards.

Of 94 pinot noirs entered in the competition, only four received gold medals, with the 2010 SpierHead Pinot Noir on the top of the heap.

“I’m just thrilled,” commented one of the three owners, Brian Sprout, who said he thinks the second vintage is even better than this one. (A Kelowna Secondary school buddy, Bill Knutson, and Bruce Hirtle are the other two owners.)

The grapes were only planted on this site in 2008 and 2010 was the first harvest, so to win such a prestigious honour with it was quite a surprise, he admits.

Each cluster of the grapes was hand-sorted on the crush deck, and that’s the sort of individual attention the fruit receives, because of the winery’s small size. That may be a particular advantage in growing the pinot noir, which has a thin skin and can be especially finicky, Sprout concedes.

But, he said, “It’s like making a salad with flabby old lettuce. You have to have top ingredients to produce good wines. The grapes need to be at the peak of the varietal. Because we’re small, we have the luxury of being able to pick them when they’re at their peak.”

This pinot noir was also judged to be the seventh best in a list of 25 of B.C.’s best wines in the Wine Access awards. The only other local wines to place were the Quails’ Gate 2010 Chardonnay, which was 4th and the Quails’ Gate 2010 Totally Botritis-AffectedOptima which was 5th.

In the sparkling wine category, Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s 1998 Cipes Ariel came 4th.

For SpierHead, this is the 15th award since the winery opened, including this fall’s receipt of the Best New Winery award from the B.C. Wine Awards, as well as a silver medal there for the pinot noir, and bronze medals for its 2010 Pursuit and 2010 Chardonnay.

Sprout said he’s surprised how few local residents visit wineries, but he said almost all his visitors are from out of town.

SpierHead is closed for the winter, but the wines are available through the website (he says he’ll even deliver locally) and at local VQA stores and private wine shops: www.spierheadwinery.com

On the other hand, he figures if every adult in Kelowna tried a local wine over Christmas, what a difference that would make in the local economy and to local grape growers and winemakers.

The picturesque, hilltop winery plans to re-open for the season at Easter with a special event.

 

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com

 

 

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