Talk to pretty much anyone in the Canadian wine industry and they’ll tell you Christine Coletta is a force to be reckoned with. She has spent much of the last 30 years helping put British Columbia on the world wine (and culinary) map and the accolades have followed. But meeting Christine in person, her kind and thoughtful demeanor clearly indicates that none of the recognition has gone to her head. And while most people would be contemplating a relaxing retirement plan after such a long and illustrious career, Christine isn’t most people. What began as the purchase of a 10-acre orchard to plant a vineyard and make some wine, has manifested into a sizeable custom crush facility and 4 wine brands.
Christine and her husband Steve Lornie’s original concept for Okanagan Crush Pad was to fill the considerable need they identified within the rapidly growing wine industry in the Okanagan.
It started with the idea that they would use one third of the facility to make their own wine while others would occupy the remaining two thirds. Christine and Steve travelled down to California to explore custom crush models all of whom gave them the same advice: “They all told us it’s a great model to get you up and running but you’re going to want to get out of if as soon as you can because it takes your focus off of your own wines, and it’s tough to manage people’s expectations—particularly people first entering the business.”
While not a completely unorthodox entry into wine, Christine’s journey certainly wasn’t the expected path…or destination. She started in the restaurant industry working part-time when she was 15 years old and stayed in it. She got hooked on building and opening restaurants which led to working with hotels and a career working in hospitality. “Through hospitality I got involved in wine which led to organizing the Vancouver Wine Festival. That evolved into me becoming a buyer and suddenly Vancouver became this amazing wine culture community that I was really lucky to be a part of. Many within that community became the founding members of selling wine in Vancouver so I had to wrap my head around it and get educated about it, and that was really how I first got into learning about wine.”
Then came another unexpected turn, Christine was offered the role of founding Executive Director of the BC Wine Institute. She wasn’t at all interested in it and was contemplating a project in London at the time, but her ex-husband talked her into it. She agreed to a 1-year stint which turned into 9 years.
Owning a winery was also never in Christine’s plans, “When I was in the restaurant business, I was smart enough to never want to own a restaurant! I kind of had the same mindset but one day my husband and I were toying with the idea of retirement. He folded his business and we ended up buying this property which was formerly an orchard. He’s very industrious, I’m very industrious and the next thing you know we’re planting the vineyard. Next thing you know we’re making wine in someone else’s facility. Next thing you know it wasn’t big enough. Next thing you know this place was being built…that’s really how it all happened.”
The design and construction of Okanagan Crush Pad is truly something to behold.
Its modern, state-of-the-art design is even more impressive when you learn it was constructed in just 6 months (Christine did say Steve was industrious!). Steve used the Tilt-Up construction method where everything was designed and built ahead of time, brought to the property where the walls were laid flat on the ground, and then a crane was used to prop them up.
Entering the facility, you’re greeted with an imposing row of concrete tanks imported from Italy, along with several beautiful 800L clay amphorae and smaller concrete eggs, that are dwarfed by a few large format neutral oak casks. Overhead, the second deck holds their stainless steel open top fermenters.
The design is well thought out and it is obvious from the moment you set foot in this facility that they focus on winemaking that uses concrete. In fact, their total concrete tank capacity is now at 114,000 litres. While they do use some oak, they don’t want to add the flavours that oak can impart on a wine. They prefer to work with concrete in order to produce wines that are fruit-forward, and have a fuller mid-palate showcasing what they think works best for wines produced in the Okanagan Valley.
Christine and Steve opened Okanagan Crush Pad in 2011 and the advice of their Californian counterparts held true. Today, they are largely selling their own wine and using the majority of the facility, while also still making a handful of custom label projects. “We didn’t want to be 5,000 cases of this and 5,000 cases of that, so we’ve spread our production over our 3 different brands, and they all represent something quite different.”
Their flagship label is Haywire, which was started pre-Okanagan Crush Pad and named for the wire used for baling hay.
As Christine tells us it’s also an apt description of their unexpected journey into winemaking. The Haywire wines are made from their three vineyards which are all certified organic and all varietal wines made primarily in concrete. The Haywire “Bub” is one of the best examples of sparkling wine coming out of BC and their lineup of wines is a perennial favourite among wine critics and restaurants alike.
The Free Form wines are their natural wines which are all made as low intervention as possible, use native yeast and have absolutely no additives, including Sulphur. Even the labels are made from a more environmentally friendly and natural ‘stone’ paper. Free Form wines are made either in concrete, amphorae or stainless steel. These were the most interesting wines we tasted with Christine as we weren’t familiar with this brand; the Vin Gris was a particular standout (see tasting notes below).
The Narrative lineup is made predominantly from grapes that they buy from contract growers throughout the Okanagan Valley which can change from year to year.
It allows them to source different varieties that they don’t grow themselves that look good depending on the vintage. Finally, they just launched their 4th brand Bizou & Yukon, named after their two Great Pyrenees dogs that watch over the property’s herd of sheep. This whimsical homage to their faithful four-legged fur babies is made up of three wines that are all blends: a Rosé they call Pinkie made from several varieties and vineyards, a Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Gris blend they call Savvy Gris, and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend called Savvy Franc.
Okanagan Crush Pad’s extensive lineup of wines across all brands not only highlight the diversity of wines that are able to be produced in BC’s Okanagan Valley, they also spotlight the talent of their Head Winemaker Matt Dumayne. Originally from New Zealand, Matt has been making the wines at Okanagan Crush Pad since 2013. He honed his winemaking skills working with Grant Taylor and his résumé includes stints at some of the top wineries in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the Napa Valley in California. Christine tells us that one of the things she appreciates most about Matt’s personality is that he never says no to pretty much anything they throw at him. Clearly a good fit given how energetic his bosses are and likely a big reason their collaboration works so well.
The first vintage for Okanagan Crush Pad in 2011 produced 13,000 cases. A big first vintage by any winery’s standard and that production has today grown to a substantial 45,000 cases. To really no one’s surprise (except maybe Christine’s), it seems any notion of retirement will have to wait.
2017 Narrative Pinot Blanc
This wines was fermented with native yeast and raised in concrete tanks. Flavours of melon and honey get support from firm citrus notes and medium+ acidity, that provides nice balance. There are good textural qualities here. Hints of golden delicious apple come up on the finish.
Very Good+ $23
2017 Haywire Pinot Gris
From their estate Switchback Vineyard. Yellow apple flavours mix lemon zest and medium acidity to create a fresh, crisp wine with good length. Almost Alsatian in style, this was raised in concrete and fermented with indigenous yeasts. Good body matches off against the acidity. We would be tempted to have the Pinot Blanc with appetizers and the Pinot Gris with dinner.
Very good/Excellent $25
2018 Free Form Vin Gris
Free Form is their label that comes closest to the natural wine paradigm. Despite the name, this is actually 100% Pinot Noir. If you look closely there is a trace of pink in the hue of the wine, but is essentially a still Blanc de Noirs. Whole clusters are gently pressed and this gives the wine a nice herbal streak. Plenty of minerality and acidity give a juicy sensation to the wine. Flavours of apple skins and cranberries round out the profile.
Very good/Excellent $27
2018 Haywire Gamay Rose
Notes of red apple and hints of rhubarb framed by juicy acidity. Whole clusters of Gamay are macerated for a few hours and gently pressed. Refreshing cocktail wine that is just right fr a hot summer day!
Very Good+ $23
2018 Haywire Gamay
Raised entirely in concrete, this is not your typical Gamay as the earth and mineral components command as much presence as the fruit. The cherry notes are almost reminiscent of red nibs but they are surround by eathy tones which keeps things serious.
Very Good+ $27
2016 Haywire and Banks Pinot Noir
Dark cherry flavours and dusty mineral notes are carried on an elegant medium body. The medium+ tannin provides just the right amount of structure. Baking spice notes round out the finish. Still youthful, this could put on weight over time.
Very Good+ $30
2017 Free Form Cabernet Franc
Fruit for this wine was destemmed and fermented with native yeasts in a combination of clay amphorae and large oak puncheons. 8 months of skin contact results in robust and tannic raspberry and black cherry flavours. The leafy characteristics that some Cab Franc display are in the background and support the fruit in just the right measure. Clove and brown spices infuse the long finish.
Very Good/Excellent $45
2017 Narrative Cabernet Franc
With this wine those leafy and herbaceous notes sit more in the foreground but not in a distracting way. Dark fruits of raspberry and plum with hints of blackberry coming through on the spicy finish. The tannins are firm and suggest further development to come. The nose is complex with black fruits, baking spices, and forest floor. Very complex!
16576 Fosbery Rd
Summerland, BC V0H 1Z6
The Okanagan Crush Pad 2020 season will open June 10.
Hours are 11am to 5pm daily.
Regular service will resume fully on June 20.