Category Archives: Vineyard

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Chapter 9: Experience

On June 12th, 2020, a wine experience like no other opened its doors.

Experience the immersive magic where Wine, Art, Architecture and Cuisine all intersect to create a sensory experience like no other in the wine world.

It took three years to build. But it will only take you three seconds to appreciate why. Created without compromise to stand beside the finest estates in the world, it is the realization of a dream that is destined to set a new standard for winemaking in Canada.

Our world-class team is committed to ensuring your experience in wine country is one – that lasts a lifetime. Choose between a seated premium tasting in our beautifully appointed tasting room or bask in the sunshine and taste alfresco from our stunning vineyard terrace. Your dedicated associate will guide you through a step by step tasting of our most exclusive and premium wines.

Are you ready to experience the extraordinary? Welcome to Phantom Creek Estates!

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Chapter 6: Balance

“To live a long life, balance is key.” – Philippe Melka

Philippe Melka started his career in Bordeaux working for some of the world-renowned Chateau Petrus and Chateau Haut-Brion.  For the past 25 years, Philippe has been a winemaking consultant for some of Napa’s most highly regarded properties, producing multiple 100-point wines. In 2019, Phantom Creek welcomed Melka as the consulting winemaker for Phantom Creek’s red wine program working closely with winemaker Francis Hutt.

While travelling on Black Sage Road in Oliver, British Columbia, Phantom Creek Estates reveals itself atop the Becker Vineyard. You feel the commitment to excellence right away, and realize that you’re in an extraordinary place.

There is a shared passion and energy when you work with the people who have a love for what they’re doing. That passion is essential as there are no overnight successes in the wine business. The wine industry is challenging, and there is a ton of expertise and many hours of brainstorming to create a glass of wine. “So when I look at a glass of wine, I see all the hard work behind it.”

The hallmark for great red wines is the potential of ageing over the long term. The foundation of great wine is based on a few factors: the acidity, the alcohol, and the tannin structure. These three elements, when blended seamlessly, create an extremely stable wine that will showcase the purity of terroir for years to come.

Wine is a living product; the energy flowing out of the glass is inspiring and has driven Melka throughout his career to continue pushing the boundaries while exploring the art of winemaking and viticulture. Making wines of distinction and sophistication is the goal of the entire Phantom Creek Estates team, and we cannot wait to share that passion with every guest visiting the Estate.

As the consulting winemaker for the red wine program, Melka joins an elite team of wine legends, including Alsace superstar and Master of Wine, Olivier Humbrecht, the consulting winemaker for the white wine program and wine industry veteran Santiago Cilley as CEO.

Welcome to Phantom Creek Estates – – winemaking at its finest.

Chapter 6: Balance

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Chapter 5: Focus

Olivier Humbrecht, France’s first Master of Wine, is the owner and winemaker of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, France. The renowned Estate has been in his family since the early 17th century, and today is one of the world’s leading Pinot Gris and Riesling producers. Currently, he also presides Biodyvin, a prestigious biodynamic certifying body based in Europe.

Phantom Creek Estates white wine program is decidedly Alsatian inspired and includes principal varieties Pinot Gris and Riesling. Both varietals are widely produced in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and come in an expressive range of styles from many producers. Olivier and the team at Phantom Creek are making Alsatian inspired white wines from grapes that are naturally farmed and cared for through every step of the winemaking process. Parcels of selected fruit are gently pressed over many hours to bring out the subtle nuances and complexities from the grape’s skin. The resulting juice is then wild fermented over a period of months and aged in neutral oak Stockinger foudres. Our white wines are balanced, elegant and ready to enjoy now or in the future with proper aging.

It may sound like a simple process; however, As Olivier Humbrecht says, “when you get fantastic grapes from good vineyards, you want to try to use them as much as possible. It needs to be done right from the beginning.”

A great wine, regardless of its colour, concentration or age, should not shrink the palate when you drink, it but rather open it. First and foremost, a wine’s destination is not to be smelled, it’s to be enjoyed. There needs to be a specific structure on the palate, a salinity, and you want to salivate when you drink these wines – you want to feel a certain length. At the core, you want to understand the culture of the wine alongside the beautiful aromatics, which for anyone, is truly the cherry on top of the cake!

Phantom Creek uses casks or ‘foudres’ from the famous Stockinger family to gently age their white wines. If the ultimate goal is to produce a wine that has the right characteristics, taste and all the personality of the vineyard, it requires the perfect container to do so. The cask allows the wine to take the energy from the Earth and the environment. The wine, yeast and the bacterias within it need that influence inevitably providing structure and quality that is very important for white wine.

What’s truly important when you taste wines from the tasting room at Phantom Creek Winery is to focus on the wine. How do you feel about it? Which wines do you remember the most, and why? Even if just one wine resonates and sticks with an individual, it likely hit them where it should, and they’ll remember that wine for a long time. Wine tasting is like listening to great music. It requires training the taste buds and brain to remember what you taste. Enjoy the ride!

Sip and savour at Phantom Creek Estates!

Chapter 5: Focus

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Chapter 3: Character

The tradition of winemaking has been passed down through the Humbrecht family from father to son since the late 1700s. Olivier Humbrecht, France’s first Master of Wine, is the current owner and winemaker of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, France.  Phantom Creek Estates marks the first and only winery consulting project for the famed winemaker

Olivier is the President of Biodyvin, the prestigious biodynamic certifying body based in Europe. Biodynamics is a philosophy and method of sustainable farming that requires meticulous attention to detail, in turn, yielding exceptional, energetic wine. By farming biodynamically, we minimize off-farm inputs while developing integrated solutions for pest and weed management, maximizing vine nutrition and site biodiversity.

Understanding the energy of a grape-growing region is so important; this especially rings true for the South Okanagan, where the environment is bold, big, intense, beautiful, and vastly extreme. The landscape of the Okanagan embodies power and energy with its dramatic mountain ranges giving way to vast lake districts.

The goal for every vineyard, which is well taken care of, is to produce high-quality grapes on a regular basis, revealing the true character of the place. Setting up a vineyard so it can produce for the long term comes down to how well the site is built-up to produce something remarkable. You are the caretaker of the vineyard for your children or whoever will look after it in the future. So, you try to give it to them in a better state then you received it.

When you make wine, you’re making a cultural product. It is not just a beverage with alcohol in it. Wine must show the characteristics of a place. It’s in the way the vine explores the soil, getting every inch of the environmental aspects through the climate and vineyard composition that showcases the authentic taste and flavour of the wine. It can take hundreds if not thousands of years to build up good soil. If done correctly and well, it can truly make a winery or vineyard last the test of time and produce something remarkable.

“Making great wine is the result of a team effort and is also a reflection of the culture and the people who work the land. The team at Phantom Creek is doing something that has never been done before. It can’t be understated how hard it is to develop a new vineyard. In France, we know where all the great vineyards are. In a new region, you don’t know yet where all the great vineyards are – you have to discover by yourself.”

“My goal for Phantom Creek is to see the vineyards grow into a beautiful environment that is alive with a great ecosystem paired alongside great people working on it.” – Olivier Humbrecht

Welcome to Phantom Creek Estates!

Chapter 3: Character

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Chapter 2: Natural

Phantom Creek Estates is rooted on vineyards with a deep history. Led by the vision of the Bai family and the tireless efforts of the vineyard team, our Estate vineyards are farmed organically and biodynamically.

On the lower terrace of the Black Sage Bench, the historic 10-acre Phantom Creek Vineyard (est. 1996) is planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec as well as late-ripening Bordeaux variety Petit Verdot.  In 2017, we extended this heritage with new plantings immediately North and South totaling 33 acres.

The 51-acre Becker Vineyard (est. 1977) that surrounds the winery is planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon, with small blocks allocated to Syrah, Carmenere, Chardonnay and Semillon.

The 45-acre Kobau Vineyard (est. 2005) on the Golden Mile Bench is planted to Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Viognier and is historically known for producing world-class Syrah.

Evernden Springs Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley has been in development for two years. Consulting white winemaker, Olivier Humbrecht Master of Wine and owner of Zind-Humbrecht, says, “This site shows incredible potential to grow expressive single vineyard Pinot Gris and Riesling.”

Amy Richards, Director of Farming at Phantom Creek Estates, has been fortunate enough to work in many different wine regions around the world in her 20 years as a viticulturist. To her, nothing compares to the Okanagan Valley. With a high latitude, long days, warm to cold climate changes, the Okanagan has proved to show many different aspects of viticulture, making it a truly unique wine region. 

Our vineyard team is fascinated by the diversity of soils throughout all our vineyard sites. By analyzing the soil, you see the story of the farming process and how the vines grow and react to their environment. Each of the estate vineyards has a unique combination of local climate infused with the sites micro-climate, vineyard soil type, layered with the varieties that are planted. Through these natural elements and irrigation, we are supporting a unique set of circumstances – called terroir. At Phantom Creek Estates, farming is done naturally to express that terroir as purely as possible.

We farm all our vineyards following organic and biodynamic principles, eliminating the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers, rather relying on traditional methods using organic compost and cover crops for weed control and soil health.

These measures support a balanced and healthy ecosystem in each of the estate vineyards, allowing our team the opportunity to get the best grapes possible while taking care of the land. Integrated pest management is a critical part of managing the vineyards. We use heritage breed chickens in our vineyards as they consume cutworms and other pests that are great for chickens but harmful to vine health. Our chickens are part of the ecosystem and do their part to support healthy vineyards, all while naturally fertilizing their workplace.

Amy’s one message to the Phantom Creek Estates visitor is that we farm naturally. Natural farming is a choice you make when you decide to be stewards of the land and commit to purely expressing the terroir of your vineyards. At Phantom Creek Estates, we believe, ‘What goes into the land, goes into your glass.’

Welcome to Phantom Creek Estates.

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Biodynamic Farming: Cover Crop

Organic farming is a prerequisite for biodynamic certification. However, biodynamics is much more prescriptive than organic certification. We are strong proponents of biodynamics because it codifies good farming practices. The aim is not just to forgo chemical pesticides and fertilizers, but also to foster a self-regulating ecosystem. This means minimizing any and all interventions in the vineyard.

Our transition to organic and biodynamic farming means more work by hand in the vineyard. To eliminate the use of herbicides, we use hand hoeing for weed control. However, certain plants, known as “cover crops” are kept and allowed to grow naturally. Cover crops are a natural source of nutrients, which can be tilled into the soil during growing season. Grapevines have low nutrient requirements, so we are careful to ensure that the vines are not overstimulated. By analyzing leaves from each individual block, our vineyard managers can precisely determine nutrient requirements block-by-block, and vineyard-by-vineyard. Rather than eliminating the surrounding vegetation, we want our vines to co-exist in harmony with the natural environment around them.

Yarrow, or Achillea Millefolium, for example, grows plentifully in vineyards in the South Okanagan. It has been used as a part of healing remedies for centuries and helps to loosen the soil where it grows, allowing the roots of other plants to penetrate the soil more easily. According to our Vineyard Manager, John Pires, “Yarrow is also good for preventing Cutworm; it is our friend.” Cutworms are the larvae of various species of night-flying moths and the Yarrow drives them away, preventing the Cutworms from eating and damaging vines.

Canada Bluegrass is another species of plant used as a cover crop. Also known as Poa compressa, Canada Bluegrass grow well in dry, well-trafficked areas. The roots of Canada Bluegrass have creeping root stalks that have soil-binding characteristics, which make them very useful for erosion control. It requires a lot of sun to grow, which makes it perfectly suited for the Black Sage Bench.

White Clover, or Trifolium repens, is also found in our vineyards. It is a good companion to the other surrounding plants as it has the ability to fix nitrogen, meaning that it converts the metabolically useless di-nitrogen into useful ammonia. Much like Yarrow, White Clover has historically been used in medicinal treatments and is grown and cultivated for many purposes.

Just as our winery is coloured to blend in with its surroundings, our vineyards coexist with the flora and fauna of the South Okanagan so they can work in unison. This helps to keep the surrounding environment healthy and balanced, and our vineyards more sustainable.

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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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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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