Category Archives: Phantom Creek


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!

Receive our latest blog post in your inbox by joining our mailing list:

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?


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!

Receive our latest blog post in your inbox by joining our mailing list:

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!

Receive our latest blog post in your inbox by joining our mailing list:

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. 


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.


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.

Receive our latest blog post in your inbox by joining our mailing list:

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!

Receive our latest blog post in your inbox by joining our mailing list:

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!

Receive our latest blog post in your inbox 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


Passing the MW Practical Exam

Phantom Creek is thrilled to share that both Winemaker Ross Wise and Marketing Manager Geoffrey Moss have passed Stage 2 of the Masters of Wine study program, and are now one step away from becoming Masters of Wine.

What does it take to pass the MW practical exam? The short answer: a lot of work.

The practical exam features three 12-wine blind tastings, in which candidates provide written answers to questions on grape variety, origin, winemaking, quality, style, and more. This year’s exam featured a diverse selection of wines that ranged from 1999 Dom Pérignon to Yellowtail Chardonnay.

To state the obvious, it is necessary to taste broadly. This means not only tasting often, but also drawing from a range of price points and styles. Any wine that is commercially available is fair game, from everyday sippers to classics like top shelf Bordeaux and Burgundy. It is important to understand and recognize quality – and that means being able to differentiate the exceptional from the ordinary.

The practical exam is about more than just your palate. There is also the “theory of the practical.” You have to know the world of wine inside and out. At a rudimentary level, this means knowing your regions and appellations. You do not want to place Pouilly-Fumé in Burgundy or Pouilly-Fuissé in the Loire. That would be a howler – or a particularly outrageous mistake that would undermine the examiner’s confidence that you are indeed a “master.”

You must also be able to accurately describe the differences between appellations. For example, what are the sensory differences between the communes of the Medoc, from St. Julien to St. Estephe to Pauillac to Margaux? Similar to a lawyer proving their case, you must prove why that 2005 Chateau Rauzan-Segla could only come from Margaux and no other commune. And, of course, you have to know your vintages. How is the 2005 vintage tasting? Is it ready to drink or will it continue to improve in bottle?

It is not essential to get every detail correct every time, but rather to demonstrate that you have tasted the wine accurately. The expectation for wines from less common regions or varieties is to show an understanding of what is in the glass and its place in the larger world of wine. So, you don’t have to zero-in on that Xinomavro from Naoussa, Greece (although it is a nice feather in your cap if you do). But you should be able to describe its quality, style, and commercial potential. For example, where could it be sold and who would buy it?

In the 6+ months leading up to the exam, Ross and I would taste 4-5 days per week. We would each bring a flight of wines, taste, and write full answers under timed conditions (just over 11 minutes per wine). The answers would then go up on a TV screen to review and critique. There was no hiding; if we couldn’t convince one another, then we weren’t going to convince the examiner. It required a substantial amount of time – and wine.

But it’s all worth it now. Now, we’ll move onto the third and final stage of the MW program, the research paper.


Renaming a Historic Vineyard

We always knew we had to change the name of Sundial Vineyard. It had nothing to do with the name itself, but, well, lawyers. After careful consideration, we feel it is only right to respect the vineyard’s rich history by renaming it to Becker Vineyard.

The 52-acre vineyard was initially developed in 1977 as part of the pioneering Becker Project, which demonstrated that traditional European grape varieties could thrive in British Columbia. Led by renowned viticulturist Helmut Becker, chief of the Geisenheim Institute in Germany, the Becker Project trialed more than thirty different grape varieties over eight years. Many of these varieties became and continue to be the Okanagan’s backbone, including Riesling. During a time when the Okanagan was dominated by lesser labrusca and hybrid varieties, the Becker Project spearheaded the industry’s transition to high quality vinifera varieties.

Working by hand on Becker Vineyard on the Black Sage Bech

Becker Vineyard’s potential for late ripening red varieties was later identified by Harry McWatters in 1993. That year, the property was predominantly planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc by Richard Cleave. This would help to change the winegrowing philosophy of the South Okanagan, and proved that Cabernet family varieties could excel here.

Tucked up against the Okanagan Highland mountains, the steeply sloped topography of Becker Vineyard means it basks in the Okanagan Desert’s afternoon sun while also capturing the last rays of sunset. The vineyard’s higher elevation, on the upper terrace of the Black Sage Bench, results in a more gradual growing season in comparison to Phantom Creek Vineyard. The wines are richly concentrated, but maintain a sense of vibrancy and freshness.

We can’t wait to share our first vintage of single vineyard wines from the historic Becker Vineyard with you. Join the wait list for our wine club by clicking here.

A Journey Continues

Acclaimed Canadian wine writer Anthony Gismondi recently revisited Phantom Creek to see first hand the latest progress at the winery. With a camera crew in tow, Anthony toured our newly acquired vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench as well as the burgeoning construction site. In the cellar, he enthusiastically tasted “the impressive pinot gris and…the much vaunted syrah from the original Phantom Creek Vineyard site on Black Sage Road.” The stunning footage is now available to watch here:



Read Anthony’s full article at Gismondi on Wine.

Olivier Humbrecht MW joins Phantom Creek

We are pleased to announce a long-term collaboration with Olivier Humbrecht MW of Alsace’s Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. Phantom Creek is Olivier’s first and only winery consulting project.

Olivier Humbrecht, France’s first Master of Wine, is the owner and winemaker of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. The renowned estate has been in his family since 1620, and today is one of the world’s leading Pinot Gris and Riesling producers. Olivier initiated the winery’s transition to organic and biodynamic practices in 1997. He is now the President of Biodyvin, a prestigious biodynamic certifying body based in Europe.


As we expand our portfolio to include Pinot Gris and Riesling, two of British Columbia’s signature grape varieties, Olivier will be instrumental in helping to select and develop vineyard sites that have the potential for excellence.

“Having visited three times already, I know the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys are capable of producing exceptional Pinot Gris and Riesling with great vineyard character,” said Humbrecht. “With the ambition of ownership and the skilled team at Phantom Creek, I am enthusiastic about what we can achieve.”

Working closely with Winemaker Ross Wise, Olivier will have an integral role in Phantom Creek’s white winemaking program. Our state of the art winery, including an Alsatian inspired foudre room, was designed with Olivier’s input.

Olivier will also guide our transition to organic and biodynamic farming practices. Our 67 acres of estate vineyards on the Black Sage Bench, including the historic Phantom Creek and Sundial Vineyards, have been farmed according to organic practices since 2017.

“We believe organic and biodynamic farming will result in the highest quality fruit from our estate vineyards,” said Ross Wise. “As the authority on biodynamic farming, Olivier is an indispensable source of knowledge.”

Our inaugural wines will be released in Spring 2019, coinciding with the opening of the winery.

Inaugural Sparkling Wine Harvest

We are kicking off the 2017 vintage this week with our inaugural sparkling wine harvest, beginning with Pinot Noir from East Kelowna. The harvest began with a celebratory toast led by Ingo Grady.

Celebratory Harvest Toast

Toasting the start of vintage

The 2017 vintage got off to a slow start after a cool, wet spring. However, warm summer temperatures quickly accelerated the pace of the growing season. This, combined with cool nights, resulted in fruit reaching optimal ripeness with balanced acidity.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir from East Kelowna for sparkling wine

Ross Wise says, “It is shaping up to be a very good sparkling wine vintage. Tasting the fruit, there’s a combination of exceptional balance and purity of flavour.”

Sorting Table

Karin, Ryan, and Calli on the sorting table

Grapes for sparkling wine are typically harvested early to retain crisp acidity.  Our sparkling wines will be made in the time-consuming traditional method, with prolonged aging in bottle. The first sparkling wine release is anticipated in 2020.

We will begin our harvest for white and red still wines over the coming weeks. Stay tuned by joining our mailing list:

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


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.


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.


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.

Receive the latest updates from Phantom Creek Estates by joining our mailing list: