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Monthly Archives: May 2019

Meet the Team: Ben King

None of what is happening at Phantom Creek Estates would be possible without the incredible team behind it. With our Meet the Team Series, we will be introducing the individuals who are working hard to make all of this possible.

Where were you born and raised, Ben?

I was born and raised right here in the Okanagan Valley, though a bit more Northward than Oliver.  I grew up in Coldstream, a small town beside Vernon. 

What do you love most about the Okanagan?

The abundance and variation of everything. Our mountains, lakes, orchards, forests, vineyards, and cities are so different from each other. It is beautiful and exciting to explore everything.  I have only been away from the valley for a year at the longest and I can’t seem to stay away, it is too nice here.

How did you first hear about Phantom Creek?

I was vaguely aware of the project when Phantom Creek and Becker Vineyards were purchased, and construction started on the new winery.  I mainly found out about it as I was looking for a new jump in my viticulture career.

What is your position at Phantom Creek?

Vineyard Manager of our Kobau property on the Golden Mile Bench.

What inspired you to get into this line of work?

I have always loved working outdoors and grew up working with my father in the woodlands in the Okanagan/Thompson as he worked for the forestry company, Tolko, for the last 30 years.  After completing my degree in 2015, I found agriculture to be especially interesting, focused on it for my graduation project, and chose to move into viticulture as an exciting new industry to explore.

After a hard day of work, what’s your drink of choice?

Bourbon in the winter, wine in the spring and fall, and a craft beer in the summer.

Rolling Stones or Beatles?

Tough Choice, overall likely the Rolling Stones, but there are some killer Beatles classics.

What inspired your haircut?

I wanted a new look soon after moving to the South Okanagan and I owe my haircut completely to Okannogin Barbers in Penticton. It is a joint creation of the owner, Peter, and myself.

If you were trapped on a desert island and you could only bring 3 films, what would they be?

The Fifth Element, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Bad Boys 2.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

My wife and I have been together since we were in high school.

How do you define success?

I define success through finding joy in your work and being able to take care of those you love.

Thanks Ben!

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Meet the Team: Barb Houliston

None of what is happening at Phantom Creek Estates would be possible without the incredible team behind it. With our Meet the Team Series, we will be introducing the individuals who are working hard to make all of this possible.

Where were you born and raised, Barb?

I was born in Hamilton and raised mostly in Winnipeg.

What drew you to the Okanagan?

The beautiful weather, and my brother.

What do you like most about living in the Okanagan?

The weather and the nice people.

I hear you’ve got a cute dog, what should we know about him?

His name is Tequila Willy the Wonder Dog. He’s a rescue dog that follows me everywhere.

How did you first hear about Phantom Creek?

I read a newspaper article and saw winemakers that I know.

What is your position at Phantom Creek?

I am the Senior bookkeeper, even though I’m not a senior yet!

What are some of your favourite local wineries?

I like Backdoor Winery, Serendipity, and Oliver Twist.

Rolling Stones or Beatles?

Both, and Garth Brooks.

If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what three movies would you want to have with you? If you also had a tv, and electricity….  

I would want the entire Survivor series, Grease, and Somewhere in Time.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’ve never drank a cup of coffee in my life.

How do you define success?

Going to bed happy every night.

Thanks Barb!

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Meet the Team: George James

None of what is happening at Phantom Creek Estates would be possible without the incredible team behind it. With our Meet the Team Series, we will be introducing the individuals who are working hard to make all of this possible.

Where were you born and raised, George?

I was born and raised in Paris, France.

What do you like most about living in the Okanagan?

Weather, lake, beach, golf and wine!

How did you first hear about Phantom Creek?

 I spent 3 years watching the construction when I was at Black Hills Winery working next door.

What is your position at Phantom Creek?

VP Finance.

What are some of your favourite local wineries?

 Black Hills, Culmina, and Liquidity. I also love the urban concept TIME is doing.

Rolling Stones or Beatles?

 Stones!

If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what three books would you want to have with you?

1984 by George Orwell, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and a desert island survival book.

What would people surprised to know about you?

I speak 4 languages – French, Spanish, Portuguese, and of course, English. I am top 20 in BC for my age in squash and have been to 60 countries

Of the 60 countries you’ve been to, could you name a few favourites?

I love Brazil, and South American in general, I traveled there when I was 19 years old. Morocco was spectacular. There’s also Iceland, we went there on our honeymoon. Australia was also great, it’s like Canada but with more heat!

You were a tour guide in North Africa, what landmarks did you bring the tourists to?

I worked in Morocco on and off for 3 years. We trekked Mount Toubkal which is the highest peak in North Africa (4,200m). We visited Marrakesh and Essaouira, and did camel rides into the Sahara desert.

How do you define success?

The harder you work, the luckier you get. Success is hard work. No shortcuts. Patience.

Thanks George!

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Meet the Team: Melanie Rusch

None of what is happening at Phantom Creek Estates would be possible without the incredible team behind it. With our Meet the Team Series, we will be introducing the individuals who are working hard to make all of this possible.

Where were you born and raised, Melanie?

I was born and raised in Osoyoos – my Dad had a 10 acre orchard and my Mom was the Public Health nurse for the town.

What drew you to the Okanagan?

Well, I left when I graduated high school and spent about 15 years in academics. I moved around a fair amount, spending time in Vancouver, Montreal, Baltimore and San Diego.  I left academics in 2013 and worked as a Manager of Public Health with Island Health in Victoria, where I spent about 5 years before deciding to take the plunge, move home and try working in a winery.  I had developed an interest in wine about 10 years earlier while living in San Diego and took a few courses through UC Davis, completing an online certificate in winemaking 2016.

How did you first hear about Phantom Creek?

When I applied for the position – it was the first harvest job I applied for!  The write-up for the position sounded perfect – a small team, focused on quality wines, and a prerequisite love of good coffee.

What is your position at Phantom Creek?

Viticulture Technician

You’ve worked in both the cellar and vineyard at Phantom Creek, would you say that has benefited you in your current position?

Sure!  I mean, I’ve only being doing this for a year and a half, so its great that I’ve had an opportunity to see all aspects of the process, from pruning to bottling.  I still have a lot to learn, but its great to see how the wines progress when you have a good sense of where the grapes have come from and how they’ve grown.

What data is used when working in the Vineyard?

I’ve only been in the Technician position for the last few months, so part of my job is centralizing data we have and expanding what we collect as we move forward.  I’ve been collecting data on things like cluster weights at harvest and pruning weights to help determine vine vigour; I’ll be tracking pests and disease, as well as any nutritional issues, over the season, noting where, when and how much is present.  And I’ll be starting to measure leaf water potentials soon – this assess the stress level of the vines and helps to inform the irrigation needs of the vineyards.

I would love to get your perspective on Organic and Biodynamic farming, is it the future?

This is all very new to me, but I love that our approach here is sustainable, organic and biodynamic viticulture.  And it has been amazing to have Olivier Humbrecht to learn from! 

You took some wine courses at the prestigious UC Davis, what was that experience like?

I took the first couple of courses more for fun.  I enjoyed them so much that I decided to complete the online certificate program – essentially 5 courses covering everything from wine regions and label laws to wine production to viticulture.  The courses were really packed with information and could have been overwhelming, but the instructors were fabulous.  The courses were set up in a way that provided time to interact with both instructors and fellow students, encouraging a fun, informative, group learning atmosphere – not easy to do with online courses!

You have a PhD, tell us more about that.

Yup – I have a PhD in Epidemiology.  I studied Microbiology first, then completed a Master’s and a PhD in Epidemiology.  I worked in the field of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, focusing on sociocultural factors influencing disease and barriers to accessing health services.  I worked with a lot of inspiring and dedicated people over the years and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I always felt a pull back to the Okanagan and the land.      

This would normally be a question about your favourite wines, but I hear you’re a beer fan. Any recommendations?

Ha – yes, you can blame that on my 6 years in San Diego – along with an interest in wine, I also developed a love of well-hopped IPAs.  I don’t like to pick favourites, but you can generally find some Four Winds in my fridge – pretty much everything they make gets two thumbs up from me.  And its great that we’ve got more and more local craft breweries here in the Okanagan!  

What would people be surprised to know about you?

Well, I’m not sure this would be surprising, but I will be trying my hand at growing hops this summer!

How do you define success?

To me, it’s a about continuing to learn and grow from our experiences and sharing that with others.

Thanks Melanie!

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The Black Sage Bench vs. The Golden Mile Bench

Within the Okanagan Valley, there are official (and unofficial) sub-regions that help us understand the geography of the region. For example, Okanagan Falls and Naramata were recently officially approved and have been added to the list. Two of the most prominent regions in the South Okanagan are the Golden Mile Bench, located on the western side of the valley, and the Black Sage Bench opposite it. The two sub-regions may only be roughly 6 kilometers apart, but the differences in soil, climate, and sunlight hours between them result in remarkably different styles of wines. And, of course, how the Okanagan Valley was originally formed plays a large part of it.

The Black Sage Bench

The Black Sage Bench is located on the east side of the Valley, with hot afternoons and long days. It’s not a surprise then, that it’s known for Bordeaux red varieties, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Syrah. With well-draining sandy soils, deficit irrigation allows us to carefully control the amount of water each vine receives, resulting in concentrated, intensely flavoured fruit. However, this often means reduced yields. For example, in 2017, Phantom Creek Vineyard produced less than 2 tonnes per acre. But the results are worth it. 

Terroir

Soil: The Black Sage Bench mainly consists of sand, with small pockets of gravel. With little to no access to water outside of what is provided through deficit irrigation, vines produce less foliage and lower yields, resulting in intensely flavoured grapes.

Climate: Considered Canada’s only “pocket desert,” the Black Sage Bench averages around 2040 hours of sunshine per year with less than 20 centimetres of rainfall. The average temperature during the summer is 29 degree Celsius, making it warmer than the Golden Mile Bench.

Light: The Okanagan is known for getting more sunlight hours than almost any other wine region in Canada. And, as it is west facing, the Black Sage Bench receives an exceptional amount of sunlight. For example, the steep aspect of Becker Vineyard receives approximately 16 hours of sunlight in the peak of summer.

Signature Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah

The Golden Mile Bench

On the opposite side of the valley is the Golden Mile Bench, British Columbia’s first official sub-appellation. Although nearly due west from the Black Sage Bench, the soil and climatic conditions are dramatically different. Located on the western slopes of the valley, the Golden Mile Bench perfectly captures the radiant early morning sunrise. However, Mount Kobau shades the sub-region from the extraordinary warmth of the summer’s late afternoons. This, combined with complex, gravelly soils, results in exceptional, structured wines that balance ripeness with fresh acidity.

Terroir

Soil: Gravelly Sandy Loams (rich soil made from a combination of sand, clay, and other organic materials)

Climate: Even though the Golden Mile Bench receives less sunlight hours than the Black Sage Bench, it still collects plenty of sun. This level of sun, mixed with cooler afternoons, provides the grapes with an environment to ripen fully while also retaining acidity and freshness.

Light: As the Golden Mile Bench faces East, during the summer it receives sun from the moment the sun rises to when it sets behind Mount Kobau in the evening. Though the Golden Mile Bench doesn’t receive as much sunlight as the Black Sage Bench, it receives more than enough to ripen Bordeaux red varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Signature Varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay

Which Bench is Better?

There’s no right answer – it all comes down to personal preference and style. The wines from the Black Sage Bench can be rich and opulent, whereas the Golden Mile Bench produces mineral-driven, structured wines. In short, both benches have the potential to produce delicious, outstanding wines.

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Meet the Team: Bill Doerr

None of what is happening at Phantom Creek Estates would be possible without the incredible team behind it. With our Meet the Team Series, we will be introducing the individuals who are working hard to make all of this possible.

Where were you born and raised, Bill?

I was born in Tonasket, raised in the Columbia Basin in Quincy.

What drew you to the Okanagan?

My family.  My mom was a Canadian citizen, she was born and raised in Beaverdale and Keremeos.

How did you first hear about Phantom Creek?

I was working on this vineyard when Mr. Bai purchased it for Phantom Creek Estates and I’ve been working here since!

What is your position at Phantom Creek?

I’m a tractor driver and planter.

How long have you been driving tractors and planting?

 Seven or eight years.

Have you planted or driven tractors on different benches in the valley?

Just the Black Sage, I know it very well.

I hear you’re a wine guy, what are some of your favourites?

Lang’s Foch, Burrowing Owl’s Chardonnay, they’re all good!

How long have you had that mustache?

Since I got out of the service, I’ve had it since Vietnam. I Immigrated up here in ’71, so since then.

Rolling Stones or Beatles?

Both. Can’t pick, they’re classics!

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’m a pretty ordinary guy. I guess my time in the Marine corp. could be surprising, I was purifying water in Vietnam. Luckily never had to fire my weapon.

How do you define success?

Enjoying what you’re doing.

Thank you Bill!

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Meet the Team: Wei Liu

None of what is happening at Phantom Creek Estates would be possible without the incredible team behind it. In the Meet the Team profiles, we will be sharing words and thoughts from the people behind the scenes making it all possible.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Tunli and raised in Pandian, China.

What drew you to the Okanagan?

I heard many good things about Canada over the years. And when I decided to move to Canada, we got a friend in this area, so it’s really a no-brainer.

What do you like most about living in Penticton?

Lakes, sunshine, fruit and nice food!

How did you first hear about Phantom Creek?

I applied to work here shortly after this project started. At that time there was only one employee here. So I learnt about the owner’s vision from the interviews.

What is your position at Phantom Creek?

I am a Translator & Admin Assistant.

What’s it been like following the progress at PCE over the last 3 years?

It’s surely exciting to see the pieces gradually coming together and taking shape, especially for a project in such scale.

Being on a small team, you’ve also helped work harvest and helped in the vineyard. What have those experiences been like?

Those are really special experiences, definitely helpful for my translation job, as I got more hands-on knowledge of the cellar and vineyard. Moreover, being on a small team, we were working really closely together, which helped build good team chemistry right from the start.

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world?

World wise, I really like the Pinot Gris from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

Although my wife is also Chinese, we actually met and knew each other in UK during our studies.

How do you define success?

Success is the result of successive well-planned actions.

Thank you Wei!

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