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Philippe Melka joins Phantom Creek

We’re thrilled to announce that internationally acclaimed Napa-based winemaking consultant Philippe Melka has joined the team at Phantom Creek Estates. Melka will serve as the consulting winemaker for Phantom Creek’s red wine program working closely with winemaker Francis Hutt.

“I look forward to working with Phillipe with the goal of crafting wines that are among the finest in the world, but that distinctly express the Okanagan Valley terroir,” said Santiago Cilley, CEO of Phantom Creek Estates.  

Philippe Melka has the rare combination of unparalleled talent and good fortune, his first job out of school, was at Bordeaux’s legendary Château Haut-Brion.  From there, he took a position with the venerated Moueix Company and was sent to Dominus Estate in Napa’s Yountville district to study soils in 1991.  Napa Valley soil proved a revelation for Melka.  He set out travelling, dividing time between soil study and winemaking at esteemed estates like Badia a Coltibuono in Chianti and Chittering Estate in Australia.  He returned to France in 1993 to further develop his expertise, this time at none other than Château Pétrus.

Melka has thus been trained and influenced by some of the most notable personalities in the wine business, including Jean-Bernard Delmas and Jean-Philippe Masclef from Haut-Brion, Christian Moueix and Jean-Claude Berrouet from Pétrus, Paul Draper from Ridge, Daniel Baron from Silver Oak, and globetrotting wine consultant Michel Rolland, with whom Melka continues to work on consulting projects.  In 1994, Melka returned to Napa full time, and for the past 20 years, he has served as winemaking consultant for some of Napa’s most highly regarded properties.

 â€œI’m impressed with the biodiversity of the Southern Okanagan, and the distinctiveness of the estate vineyard’s terroir. I am energized to be working with Phantom Creek Estates and share in the team’s commitment to producing outstanding wines from this remarkable new winery.” 

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

Meet the Team: Karin Grosstessner-Hain

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, Karin?

I was born in Linz, Upper Austria and raised there as well.

Did you do a lot of outdoor sports in Austria?

We moved to Ternberg in the Alpine foothills when I was six and that’s a paradise for outdoorsy people like me. Mostly I spent my time, hiking and biking. Further I also played Tennis and I swam every day during summer. Water is my favourite element I would say. Oh and I tried soccer, but they kicked me out as I scored an own-goal in my first game.

What is your favorite traditional Austrian meal?

That’s easy to answer. It’s ‘Eispalatschinken’. You can see I am Austrian as I love a sweet dishes and have them as a meal.

It’s a very thin pancake filled with vanilla ice cream and the toppings are: chocolate sauce, roasted almond slivers and whipping cream. It’s amazing and I could have it for breaky, lunch and dinner any day of the year.

Have you ever been visited by Krampus?

Yes, many times. I guess I was a bad kid. When you are a young adult you kind of hope to meet Krampus because usually it’s the single guys in town that dress up as the scary creature. They scare you first but then invite you for mulled wine.

What drew you to the Okanagan?

The nature, mountains, wine, lakes and the kindness of the people living here. Everyone was super welcoming and friendly when I moved here 2013. It was easy to make new friends and because of the wine industry there are so many people from all over the world living here. So everyone is new and local at the same time.

How did you first hear about Phantom Creek?

It was a job posting for my first position at PCE as an enologist. I love growing and developing things therefore it was a given that I would apply for this job. There was no building yet except for a vineyard shed that we used as our office. One of my jobs was to build up the winery lab from scratch. It was located in the shed kitchen because there was running water. We outfitted the lab with world class equipment that is still top notch located in a building where the sand was blowing through every crack. This was definitely a challenge and now that I see our lab in the new facility it makes me smile how easy it is now to keep the sand out.

What is your position at Phantom Creek?

My current position is assistant winemaker. I was promoted last year and now I have a business card, hihi.

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

I love Riesling with good structure and balanced acidity. As an Austrian you grow up with high acidity in wines. Locally I appreciate a glass of Martin’s Lane Riesling and Tantalus’ Pinot Noir. But I change my mind about varieties according to the time of the year. Worldwide I would say Leeuwin Estate  Art Series Chardonnay, their Shiraz and Fass 4 Gruener Veltliner from Weingut Ott. Very nice example of biodynamic vineyard practices and organic winemaking.

What’s your favorite Falco song?

Jeanny, quit living on dreams….

What would people surprised to know about you?

Hmm…That’s hard because I think I am an open book as I tend to say what I think. Maybe that I really like Nu metal music like Clawfinger and Rage against the Machine.  And before that I really liked New Kids on the Blocks

How do you define success?

By enjoying what you do. Then you are able to give our best.  That way your environment appreciates your efforts, can feel the passion and starts sharing the same believes. That way I am always the most successful.

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Bird-watching in the South Okanagan

The Osoyoos and Oliver region are known world-wide for bird watching. From Haynes Point to Vaseaux Lake, gorgeous species can be seen frequently. Peregrine Falcons, White-headed Woodpeckers, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Sage Thrashers, and Yellow-breasted Chats are just a few of the incredible birds found here. At Phantom Creek Estates, we see some of these beautiful birds flying about.

Adjacent to the Oxbows, the SORCO (South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre) is located. Here, they nurture and rehabilitate injured Raptors (birds of prey). There are multiple conservation projects aimed at protecting and preserving this unique and gorgeous area. We are grateful for to the many organizations determined to preserve these lands and protect the wildlife that call them home.

Below are some suggested bird-watching sites in the area:

Haynes Point Provincial Park

2 kms south of Osoyoos, Haynes Point Provincial Park is the home to Red-winged Blackbirds, Great-horned Owls, Canyon Wrens, White-throated Swifts, and many others. You can walk down the gravel trail for up to 45 minutes, where a “dog swimming area” awaits you and your furry companions at the end.

Osoyoos Desert Centre

A facility dedicated to preserving the natural Desert environment, visitors can walk along the boardwalk and read about the various elements that make up this unique and beautiful area. While visiting, keep an eye out for Golden Eagles, Mountain Bluebirds, Red-tailed Hawks, and Hummingbirds. As it can get very hot, during summer months it is recommended to visit earlier in the day.

Osoyoos Oxbows

An expansive wetland located along both sides the Okanagan River, the Oxbows are home to many species. When here, keep an eye out for Osprey, various species of Owls, Cinnamon Teal, the Yellow-breasted Chat, among many others.

NK’MIP Desert Cultural Centre

At the NK’MIP Desert Cultural Centre, guided and self-guided walks are provided to anyone interested in experiencing the area in its natural state. The walks focus on how the Desert land was used by the First Nations people. Here, you can spot White-throated Swifts, Lark Sparrows, Brewer’s Sparrows, and if you’re lucky, you might even get to the see the elusive Black-throated Sparrow.

Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Centre

On Highway 97, between Oliver and Okanagan Falls, Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Centre boasts a 400-m boardwalk along the lakeshore. Here, you can see Bluebirds, Woodpeckers, Swallows, Western Meadowlarks, and Trumpeter Swans, among many others.

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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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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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