After 37 years in the wine industry, Howard Soon said it was the magic age for him to retire.
The master winemaker at Sandhill Wines has won numerous awards for his wines, most recently, the Howard Soon Red 2014 earned red wine of the year at the 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships.
“I always say the wine won the award. We have a team of five winemakers, in fact we all taste the wine together,” he said.
The 65-year-old could stay longer, but he wants personal time to spend with his wife. Currently, Soon is the longest serving winemaker in Canada.
“Yes, I could stay longer, but it’s a good time to jump aside. My wife has always put up sacrifices and personal time,” he said.
He has four children, three of whom were born and raised in Kelowna.
Soon started in the industry by working with Labatts Brewery for five years in Winnipeg, before moving to the Okanagan and knocking on the door of Calona Wines in 1980.
He started as a quality control supervisor, before becoming a wine maker in 1989.
“The (wine) perspective is different from beer and I love it, it’s all agricultural,” said Soon.
Wine is dependent on Mother Nature, if you don’t have good grapes one season, you have to wait a year for the next batch, he said.
Soon’s attention to detail and his enjoyment of working with people has allowed him to excel in his position. Wine is always on his mind.
“I think one of my strengths is bringing across ‘what is wine?’ to the public,” he said. “I think I’d like to say I’m an interpreter.”
It’s not about the gold medals, he said, it’s about the taste. As a mentor for younger winemakers, he gives advice and asks them questions, training them to become independent thinkers while tasting wine with them.
“To be a successful winemaker, you have a vision of what you want to do,” he said. “You have to love this work so much, you’d pay to do it.”
Soon said his biggest accomplishment in the industry has been Sandhill’s dedicated single vineyard wines which may have defined “terroir” in B.C.
“Terroir (a French term) is defined as having a sense of place, which means where is the grape grown and you can taste that in the wine,” said Soon.
“His non-interventionist approach has led to countless awards and accolades, including the Founder’s Award from the 1998 Okanagan Wine Festival, the first B.C. winemaker to receive a gold medal at the Chardonnay du Monde in France and most notably a clean sweep at the 2009 Canadian Wine Awards with Best Red and Best White wine of show and best Canadian winery,” reads a Sandhill Wines release.
“I can’t think of anyone who has had a more profound impact on the Canadian wine industry than Howard Soon. For those of us who know and believe that great wines are made in the vineyard, Howard has been our passionate crusader and proof point,” said John Peller of Andrew Peller Ltd.
Soon also has a great love for the symphony and sits on the Okanagan Symphony board of directors. He practices piano once a week. He retires July 24.