Monthly Archives: December 2018

Vintage 2018: In Review

With wild fermentations, it can feel like vintage is going on and on and on, with some lots continuing to slowly but surely ferment. However, with all of our reds being pressed and transferred to barrel, it seems like now is the right time to reflect on the 2018 harvest.

It starts with an exceptional team in the cellar, whose attention to detail and tireless pursuit of excellence is reflected in this year’s wines. To that end, we’re thrilled to announce the promotion of Calli Bailey to Oenologist. A graduate of Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Calli worked harvests in New Zealand and the Okanagan before joining Phantom Creek in August 2017. From the lab to the cellar to, yes, the bottling line, Calli has a relentless work ethic and passion for the industry. Alongside Assistant Winemaker Karin Grosstessner-Hain and Cellar Master Allison MacLeod, our cellar team is equally driven and talented.

We are also fortunate to have a high-quality vintage in the winery. Although it did not follow the typical arc of an Okanagan growing season, the end result was a more moderate growing season than in previous years. Budbreak was a week earlier than average, and continued with unusually warm weather in May, resulting in near record heat accumulation before we hit June.

However, the season cooled considerably into August and September. The latter also almost hit record-breaking temperatures, though maybe for the wrong reasons. It was one of the coolest Septembers on record in the last 20 years. (2010 was cooler by a slim margin.) “Fortunately, October rebounded with favourable temperatures that helped to push Cabernet family varieties over the finish line,” said Karin. Overall, ignoring the roller coaster of temperatures, 2018 had near average heat accumulation for the Okanagan, falling just shy of the 2017 vintage.

“It is easy to just focus on the heat accumulation, but one of the reasons for the high quality of the 2018 vintage is the fact that the weather was cooperative. We had very clean fruit from all of our estate vineyards, and could let certain blocks hang longer if required,” said Allison. “At the same time, the moderate temperatures meant we retained acidity. In some cases, we were waiting for blocks to lose a bit of acidity before picking, which is not always the case in the South Okanagan.”

The challenge in the cellar, instead, was tannin management. “It was easy to over extract too much tannin this year,” said Calli. “We were continuously monitoring our cap management, and made adjustments on a lot-by-lot basis as we tasted through each ferment. As a result, we found ourselves using more punchdowns than pumpovers. And, where we did use pumpovers, we decreased the frequency from 2-3 to 1 per day. The Phantom Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly clone 169, is one of the wines where we just nailed it, and I love the balance between its acidity and concentration.”

The end result, according to Karin, is wines that balance freshness with ripe fruit flavours and moderate alcohol levels. “I find lots of raspberry and black currant in the 2018 reds,” said Karin. “I keep going back to one lot of Cabernet Franc from Kobau Vineyard. It was our first time working with this particular block, and it shows a rich, complex flavour profile that really speaks to the Golden Mile Bench.”

“I think it’s a great vintage, with wines that are very reflective of their respective vineyards,” said Allison. “I’m excited about our Pinot Gris – it’s not even finished fermentation, and it already has amazing complexity.”

The wines may be far from release, but the cellar team will be doing their first blending trials in January. Until then, they’ll be taking a much deserved break over the holidays.

Sorting Through The Certifications: Sustainable

This is the third of a 5-part series of posts covering the most common certifications found on wine labels by guest writer John Szabo MS. Read Part I on Organic Certifications and Part II on Biodynamics.

Sustainable is yet another category of certification, growing worldwide, which takes an even broader view. As the word implies, and like organic and biodynamic farms, sustainably-run winegrowing operations consider the environmental impact of their actions. But the philosophy expands to also encompass social and economic aspects of wine production.

In short, sustainable winegrowing is a comprehensive set of practices that are environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable. Sustainable does not mean organic (or biodynamic), though many sustainable wineries are also organically/biodynamically certified. But water and energy conservation practices are emphasized, along with maintaining healthy soil, and protecting air and water quality, and preserving local ecosystems and wildlife habitat.

Additionally, wineries are encouraged to enhance relations with employees and communities, and improve the economic vitality of vineyards and wineries. Examples of such programs include re-investing a percentage of company profits in community infrastructure, building schools or community centers, for example, or providing medical coverage to employees and their families, or continuing education.

Sustainable viticulture, hence, has been defined as a “global strategy on the scale of the grape production and processing systems, incorporating at the same time the economic sustainability of structures and territories, producing quality products, considering requirements of precision in sustainable viticulture, risks to the environment, product safety and consumer health, and valuing of heritage, historical, cultural, ecological, and aesthetic aspects.”

Strictly speaking, however, virtually nothing that is allowed in conventional farming and winemaking is expressly forbidden, even if reduction is encouraged. Maximums for sulphite additions, for example, follow guidelines for conventional wines.

Sustainable certification schemes exist mostly outside of Europe, where organic/biodynamic certifications are more common. Most new world growing regions have implemented some form of certification, Notably California, Oregon, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and British Columbia, among others. New Zealand, Chile and Sonoma county have even pledged to make their wine industries 100% sustainably certified in the coming years.

For the most part, these are all voluntary certification programs, self-assessed, and only rarely with third-party auditing. Each association provides educational tools to growers and winemakers to increase adoption of sustainable practices and to measure and demonstrate ongoing improvement. Partners from government, academia, and community and environmental groups contribute resources and expertise, and help to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement, and set goals to increase use of sustainable practices.

There is of course significant variation in the details of what is assessed and how from association to association, and how progress is measured. Of all the certifications discussed in this series, “Sustainable” is at once the most comprehensive and laudable, and the most loose and unclear. Since “Sustainable” is not a government-regulated term, the claim from any association around the world can appear on wines sold in Canada.

Detractors of sustainable certification consider it “the easy way out” of full organic or biodynamic certification, a way to greenwash their business without having to adhere to strict regulations. But wineries that take it seriously make a genuine effort to reduce not just their environmental footprint, but also to improve the lives of their employees and communities, while ensuring their own financial survival, which is of course in the interest of employees. A biodynamically and sustainably certified operation would be the ultimate combo.

At Phantom Creek, we are working towards organic and biodynamic certification under the guidance of Olivier Humbrecht MW. Olivier initiated Domaine Zind-Humbrecht’s transition to organic and biodynamic practices in 1997, and is now the President of Biodyvin. Led by the tireless efforts of John Pires and Ryan McKibbon, our farming does not include any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. We have also completed an Environmental Farm Plan as part of our sustainability initiatives.

Master Sommelier John Szabo is the Author of Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power, published in October 2016. When not drinking the essence of lava, he writes for, or can be spotted somewhere around the world researching his next book project.


Don’t miss the remainder of the series by joining our mailing list:

Thank You, Ross

The entire team at Phantom Creek Estates would like to recognize and thank Ross Wise for his tireless contributions over the last 2+ years. Ross’ attention to detail and pursuit of excellence is evident in all of his work, and he has made a lasting impact on Phantom Creek for years to come. We are committed to continuing the high standard that Ross has established, and look forward to sharing the winery’s opening with him in June 2019.

-Phantom Creek Estates