Heather Courtney: Growing the Okanagan’s wine industry

She is the general manager of O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars in Lake Country

Editor’s note: In 2020 it should be no surprise that more and more woman hold positions of power. Whether it’s business, politics, sports or the non-profit sector, woman continue to achieve new milestones. This story is part of a series of stories highlighting 16 women in Kelowna who are leaders in their fields. You can read all of their stories in our annual publication called Women in Business in the Feb. 28 issue of Kelowna Capital News.

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Twenty years ago, Heather Courtney had no idea that she wanted to begin a career in the wine industry.

Fast forward two decades later, and she’s now the general manager of O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars in Lake Country.

While Courtney said moving to Vancouver from Powell River helped to advance her career in hospitality, and one particular moment helped to spark her passion for wine.

“During a wine tasting at a Delta hotel, I remember I tried a Riesling wine and it really stood out to me,” said Courtney.

“As I tried more varietals, I realized there was more to it than just red or white wines. Further, into my career, it became more of a fascination that led to pairing wine with food.”

She later moved to the Okanagan from Vancouver to have more job opportunities in the wine sector.

Since Courtney joined the O’Rourke winery in her new role last summer, she’s helped to grow the business to nearly 60 employees during peak season. Courtney is also helping to open a second 100-acre winery under the O’Rourke name at Carrs Landing in Lake Country, which is slated to open in the next few years.

Even with all her experience, Courtney admits there have been some challenges operating the world-renowned O’Rourke winery.

“Being out in the far end of the valley in Lake Country, our colder climate white wines do much better,” she said.

“The challenge is that people have an expectation that you can make any kind of wine anywhere in B.C.”

Another challenge for Courtney has been getting people to visit the winery from surrounding areas.

“We’re in between Vernon and Kelowna and sometimes people think its too much of a drive to visit us.”

When it comes to working in the wine industry, she said there are a few tips she’s learned over the years to be successful.

“Hospitality isn’t just a nine to five. Sometimes you don’t get off until 1 a.m. when you host a conference. You have to take care of yourself and to not overdo it when working those hours,” said Courtney.

“You also have to be passionate about your work. I love taking care of guests and taking care of my staff.”

Courtney said the O’Rourke winery has also helped to produce more female leaders in the industry.

“We actually have two female winemakers on our team, including Nikki Callaway and Stephanie Stanley.

“We’re very female strong which is pretty cool.”

Callaway holds a Master in Enology from the Universite de Bordeau in France and has worked in a variety of wine regions in the country. Stanley holds a Bachelor of Science from Brock University and has worked at various wineries in the Okanagan.

When the second O’Rourke winery opens up it will grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.


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