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What’s a vineyard? Starting out at Wild Goose

by Sipping through the Okanagan, Wine & Food

[Vineyard 1984]
Okanagan Falls

“It was a 10-acre barren plot of land,” recalls Roland Kruger, remembering when he and his brother Hagen answered the call to invest in their late father Adolph’s retirement plan to create a little extra cash.

“It was 1983. I was only 19 at the time and I asked my brother just two questions: what’s a vineyard? And what’s invest?”

The site and timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous for the Kruger family.

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“My dad saw a southern slope and said it would be a perfect place to grow Riesling. Riesling needs all the sunshine it can get.”

Soon after preparing the land at Okanagan Falls, they sourced cuttings of Riesling and Gewürztraminer from Sumac Ridge Winery, propagating them at an Oliver nursery. Three years later, Mission Hill was thrilled to source such high-quality viniferous grapes.

At the time, talk swirled about a free-trade agreement with the United States. For growers like Adolph, that meant competing with low-cost imported American grapes. Making his own wine on-site could make a difference in his bottom line.

“We looked at the regulations at the time and there was nothing for small wineries,” says Roland. “You needed 7,500 cases, 20 acres of land, and a half-million dollars of investment.”

His father would become the spokesperson for the farmgate movement, joining forces with Hillside’s Vera Klokocka and Guenther Lang. They found a sympathetic ear with then-premier Bill Vander Zalm.

“Being from Europe, he understood the concept of small grape growers producing a few bottles of quality wine,” says Roland.

wild-goose-winery-tastingThe license was granted in 1990 and (as licensee number two) Wild Goose Vineyards made history as the first B.C. farm to both grow grapes and produce wine on-site. As a charter member of the BC Wine Institute, they began producing wine under the new standards of the vintner quality assurance (VQA) program.

The late 1980s were a pivotal time for growers, points out Roland. “The pilot program came in where growers we’re paid to pull out their grapes and replace with high-quality viniferous varieties, such as Riesling, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Farmgate wineries licenses were introduced, the BC Wine Institute was introduced and wine standards for wine were introduced. All these things came together and it was the beginning of a new industry.”

Working with partner growers and expanding their acreage, the award-winning Wild Goose Vineyards has grown from its original 500 cases of wine three decades ago to producing upwards of 25,000 cases today with grandson Nikolas Kruger helping with winemaking.

Popular Pinot Gris shines golden

Perhaps it’s the recent rise in temperatures and the sight of my lawn reclaiming its green glory from the snow that has me reaching for crisp white wines. With the promise of Spring in the air, I’m eagerly anticipating the debut of the 2024 varieties soon to be bottled. But for now, I am venturing back for a taste of the 2022 harvest with reviews of two exquisite, award-winning Pinot Gris wines that celebrate B.C.’s most beloved white varietal.

This white grape flourishes here in the Okanagan Valley, offering a duality of styles. Some mirror the crisp and refreshing style of northern Italy’s Pinot Grigio, while others offer the rich, honeyed notes characteristic of Alsatian wines. The first planting of Pinot Gris at Lake Country’s Gray Monk Estate Winery, nurtured by Vienna-born George Heiss, originated from Alsace vines. 

The variety’s adaptability allows it to flourish across diverse sites within B.C. In 2022, more than 1,300 acres of Pinot Gris were under cultivation, with harvest reaching more than 2610 metric tonnes — a value estimated at $7.1 million. The top B.C. white varietal, Pinot Gris, makes up 10 percent of the annual grape harvest in the province.

In the heart of Similkameen Valley, Clos du Soleil’s Whispered Secret Vineyard emerges as a pivotal player in defining the region’s Pinot Gris profile.

Similkameen Valley

In search of an upper-tier Pinot Gris, I head first to a rocky piece of Similkameen land, farmed biodynamically and home to the esteemed Clos du Soleil Winery. Significant winds sweep through the dry Similkameen Valley, naturally protecting the vineyards from pests and diseases. The surrounding mountains and their reflective rocks capture and retain heat, creating a microclimate that nurtures the organic vines long into the twilight hours.  

In 2022, B.C. government approved the BC VQA Similkameen Valley wine label for vintages crafted in the area. 

Clos du Soleil stands out for its commitment to letting the land speak through its wines. 

From their Winemaker Series, the 2022 Clos du Soleil Pinot Gris Whispered Secret Vineyard ($25.90) encapsulates the valley’s essence, offering a fruit-forward and medium-bodied profile that sings with notes of citrus, pear, and nectarine, all underpinned by a texture wine with a long, juicy finish.

A cooler site near the river, Whispered Secret vineyard shows best with white grapes. Cradled by sheer rock and the Similkameen River, it offers an unparalleled terroir that significantly influences its Pinot Gris’s distinctive minerality and vibrant acidity. 

Clos du Soleil has been working with grapes grown in the Whispered Secret Vineyard since 2014, developing a deeper relationship with this vineyard over the past decade. As more time passed, Clos du Soleil became more enamoured with this secret pocket of land. So, when the company was afforded the opportunity to purchase the entire property in the fall of 2020, they jumped at the chance to add it to their already stellar lineup of vineyards.

Winemaker Michael Clark says, “This vineyard consistently produces extremely high-quality fruit that goes into our highest-tier wines at Clos du Soleil.”

Golden Mile Bench

Returning to the South Okanagan, our second Pinot Gris comes from the renowned Golden Mile Bench. Here lies Gehringer Brothers, a winery with four decades of passion and precision in winemaking. Since its inception in 1985, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery has become synonymous with excellence, a reputation upheld by the awards garnished by their wines. 

The 2022 Optimum Pinot Gris ($21.99), a select expression from their portfolio, showcases the mastery of winemaker Walter Gehringer. With aromas of ripe Okanagan peaches and Bartlett pears, this rich golden wine delivers a symphony of flavours and textures, a testament to the winery’s dedication to capturing the essence of the grape and the terroir. 

Both wines were awarded Top Pinot Gris in the 2023 Trends Magazine Top BC Wine Awards: gold to Gehringer Brothers Optimum 2022 Pinot Gris and silver to Clos du Soleil 2022 Pinot Gris.

Pinot Gris, a perennial favourite among wine enthusiasts, deserves its moment in the spotlight. Savour a little B.C. golden in your glass and toast to the upcoming Spring. 

Winemaker Michael Clark with the 2022 Whispered Secret Vineyard Pinot Gris, embodying the essence of the Similkameen Valley’s sun-kissed grapes.
Walter Gehringer, embodying decades of winemaking wisdom, stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the Golden Mile Bench.

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Feature: 30 Years of BC VQA

About The Author

Yvonne Turgeon

A published columnist and features contributor, our publisher Yvonne Turgeon has an editorial career spanning three decades. She loves writing, wine and all things Okanagan (but hasn't given up her Rider green). She is the founder of Thompson Okanagan Trends Magazine and new publisher of Orchard & Vine Magazine. Subscribe to the print magazines.

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