There’s nothing dull or ordinary about Kamloops’ first commercially available wines.
Winemaker Michael Bartier — responsible, says Thadd Springs Vineyard owner Ed Collett, with putting “the magic in the glass” — spoke about the qualities of a good wine to Kamloops community and business leaders during a recent celebration of the first bottles of Harper’s Trail.
He calls it terroir — a wine of place. That place is the north bank of the South Thompson River, what the Okanagan industry considers no-man’s land for vineyards.
“I thought Kamloops was brutally cold in winter and brutally hot in summer and inhospitable for grapes,” said Bartier, who makes wine at Summerland’s Okanagan Crushpad.
But the first Harper’s Trail wines, from vines planted in 2008, are premium wines that reflect the climate. The South Thompson River is a thermal sink that shields grapes from extremities of hot and cold.
Bartier said when he talks about wine to those in the industry the buzzwords are “extreme, on the edge and adversity.
“That’s what makes good wine.”
And Harper’s Trail, with its extreme north climate, has all of those. The pioneering vineyard now has 7.25 hectares of grapes planted. Its first grapes were bottled and labelled last year for a Shuswap winery. This summer marks the first time a Riesling, rose and field blend white have been available with the Harper’s Trail label.
The names of the vineyard and the wine label carry the history of the valley. Thadd Springs Vineyard bears the name of Thaddeus Harper, who ran cattle here in the 1800s. The Harper’s Trail has the same inspiration.
“You’ll find nothing else in the world like this,” Bartier said, adding the wines have a “chalky, minerally” quality from the limestone that is mined next door.
“Those are almost a distinguishing feature of a world-class wine,” he said in an interview.
The winery’s products are now available at a number of local private liquor stores.
“We’re over the hump,” declared Collett. “We’ve had our challenges with winterkill until we put certain processes in place.”
Collett, a worldwide mining equipment supplier, and his wife Vicki are pioneering commercial winemaking in the Thompson Valley.
Together with Lillooet’s Fort Berens Estate Wine, the Colletts are challenging perceptions of climate to grow grapes in this province.
Through industry knowledge and experience, measures taken at Thadd Springs to protect delicate vines include mounding, planting grass through rows and operating large fans that move air during the chilly fall.
“It takes three or four years to get a good root base and produce good grapes,” Collett said.
Several people who attended the celebration this month said the wines will bring a cachet to the valley far beyond the simple purchase price of bottles.
“It’s an opportunity to showcase a local wine from our hometown,” said Tourism Sun Peaks president Christopher Nicolson.
“It’s exciting and brilliant.”
Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar said availability of local wines “is the last piece of the tourism puzzle.”
And Kamloops Coun. Donavan Cavers, a caterer who was also at the celebration, said consumers are increasingly asking for local products, whether beef or wine.
The vineyard plans to expand, both in vines and in real estate development along the river in future years.
Collett said it expects to produce about 580 cases of wine this year and between 2,300 and 3,000 next year.