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Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Geology of Phantom Creek

Maybe it should be the Black Sage Benches.

As a glacier retreated north through the Okanagan Valley approximately 10,000 years ago, a large piece of ice was left behind at what is now Vaseux Lake. This, combined with till and sediment, created a dam that resulted in the formation of a natural reservoir, which would later become Skaha and Okanagan Lakes. Streams emanating from the dam filled the south Okanagan with sand and gravel deposits (or outwash) over several hundred years. As a result, the valley floor was much higher than it is today at 550m above sea level.

Outwash Plain

Example of an outwash plain in Godley River Valley, New Zealand

However, ice is not an ideal material for a dam. At least four catastrophic failures occurred, resulting in violent flooding that eroded and cut into the existing deposits. This created four distinct terraces on both sides of the valley, and dramatically lowered the valley floor to 275m. With each flood a new, lower terrace was formed.

South Okanagan Terraces

The star marks the approximate location of Phantom Creek.

Source: Toews, M.W. and Allen, D.M., 2007, Aquifer Characterization, Recharge Modeling and Groundwater Flow Modeling for Well Capture Zone Analysis in the Oliver Area of the Southern Okanagan, BC, page 27.

Today, the Black Sage Bench encompasses two of these terraces. The upper terrace (350-430m elevation) is the third carved by flooding. An outcrop of bedrock sheltered this terrace from further erosion, which explains why it has remained relatively wide. The lower terrace (320-350m elevation) is the fourth and last, and is much narrower in comparison.

The upper terrace, roughly to the east of Black Sage Road, is slightly more moderate with greater sun exposure. In comparison, the lower terrace is closer to the hot valley floor, and produces wines with more weight and intensity. Wines from both terraces are characterized by the distinctive aromatic flora of the area such as desert sage.

Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards

Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards on the Black Sage Bench.

In our case, Phantom Creek Vineyard is located above the valley floor on the lower terrace of the Black Sage Bench. Sundial Vineyard is largely on the upper terrace, closer to the Okanagan Highland foothills. The two vineyards are separated by just over 100 metres, but the resulting wines could not be more different.

Thanks to Audrey Perry for her work in researching the geological history of the Black Sage Bench and Phantom Creek Estates. This article draws heavily from her report.

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Ingo on Tony and Kasey’s Best of Food & Wine

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Ingo was recently featured on Tony and Kasey’s Best of Food & Wine. The full interview is available on their website. Below are some edited excerpts from their conversation:

 

On joining Phantom Creek Estates

On Phantom Creek Vineyard

On Olivier Humbrecht MW

On biodynamics

On our blog, Pressing Matters

Introducing Phantom Creek Estates

Phantom Creek Estates has been over two years in the making.

The journey began with the Bai family’s vision to build one of the leading wineries in Canada. Their search took them to the Black Sage Bench with the acquisition of three vineyards, including the historic Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards. The estate currently grows predominantly Bordeaux reds and Syrah.

PCE_Arch_Plan

A new state of the art winery, designed by Napa firm Backen Gillam Kroeger, will be built on the Sundial Vineyard property beginning in Spring 2017. The winery is projected to open in Spring 2019. The first vintage, now maturing in barrel, was made in a temporary facility on the property in 2016.

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Phantom Creek Estates is led by President Ingo Grady. He is joined by Winemaker Ross Wise, Vineyard Manager John Pires, and Marketing Manager Geoffrey Moss. The team works closely with James Cluer MW, Project Strategist, as well as consulting winemaker Annie Vawter and viticulturist Cameron Vawter.

Be sure to follow this page as we launch Pressing Matters: A Blog by Phantom Creek Estates. The blog is our opportunity to share what’s happening at Phantom Creek and the world of wine at large. With contributions from the entire team, we hope you’ll join in with your own thoughts or questions.

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Pruning 101

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Pruning on a gorgeous spring day with the Okanagan Highland foothills in the distance.

So, why do we prune? To state the obvious, it’s important to remember that a grapevine is a vine. When you find grapevines in nature – and you do throughout Canada and the United States – they’re often crawling up fencing, houses, or trees. This is not what you see when you drive past a vineyard.

Left on its own, a vine will continually grow. This is problematic in a vineyard for a number of reasons. For example, vines will begin to shade one another, resulting in uneven fruit ripeness. Pruning is one of the means by which to limit the growth of the vine.

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Ernesto removing last year’s canes, which will be tilled into the vineyard.

When we prune, we’re removing much of the growth from the previous year as well as establishing how the vine will grow in the upcoming season. This is critical because it is the first chance to set the balance and yield of each vine. On a vine-by-vine basis, we’re determining how many buds to retain, which will determine how much fruit is produced.

To Cane or Spur Prune

Vines are typically pruned in two different ways: cane or spur pruning. The former keeps one or two canes from the previous year, which are tied down to the trellis wire.

Cane Pruning

Cane pruning

Spur pruning retains short canes, or spurs, on older wood called a cordon.

Spur Pruning

Spur pruning

At Phantom Creek, we typically use cane pruning. This is more laborious and time consuming, however we believe it is ultimately better for the health of the vine. With fewer cutting wounds and less old wood, there is reduced potential for disease or virus. Grapevines are similar to people in a lot of ways. Cane pruning also helps to keep yields low and vines in balance.

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Ignacio cane pruning Block 1E, Cabernet Sauvignon, on Sundial Vineyard. Our vineyard team uses electric pruners to save time and prevent repetitive strain injury.

However, we’re not dogmatic. Some vines we may decide are best spur pruned for the upcoming growing season. We are also testing a spur pruning trial on a block of Syrah on Sundial Vineyard. This trial is based on our Vineyard Manager John’s recent visit to Côte Rotie, where he saw winegrowers retaining fewer spurs closer to the head of the trunk. The thought is that this technique may promote more balanced fruit ripeness.

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A spur pruned Cabernet Sauvignon vine on Phantom Creek Vineyard.

As we finish pruning both Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards, it is a sign that spring is (finally) approaching. And we can look forward to budbreak and the start of the growing season in the weeks to come.

Have questions about pruning? Reach out to us on Twitter (@phantomcreekest) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/PCEWine).