Weekend Wine profiles Oliver’s Hester Creek Estate Winery

Hester Creek winemaker Rob Summers with Marie Hebrard
Winemaker Rob Summers (r) with Marie Hebrard of Hester Creek Estate Winery

During the 2010 Games we saw an opportunity to expand our horizons as far as subject matter, including adding some new writers at CityCaucus.com whom we'll be hearing from in the days ahead. The Games gave us an opportunity to celebrate what makes BC special, and that included some great people, delicious food and celebrated winemaking.

BCWineLover.com – a blog established in 2007 – is a place to share news and profile several of BC's wine personalities, to describe our province's many wine destinations, and of course to revel in the many fine wines produced in our region. As a regular wine traveler to the Okanagan, Similkameen, and occasionally the Fraser Valley and Gulf Islands, it's important to us that we let our readers know the best places to discover, and what pleases our palate.

CityCaucus.com will now feature a weekly segment cross-posted on BCWineLover.com called Weekend Wine. Given that we're nearing the end of a long weekend, my first WW post features Oliver's Hester Creek Estate Winery. Located approximately 5 km south of Oliver and 16 km north of Osoyoos on the desert slopes known as the Golden Mile Bench, the winery was purchased in 2004 by businessman Curt Garland. Since this acquisition the vineyard has had new plantings and drip irrigation has replaced old overhead systems, reducing water consumption by as much as 70%.

Social media is increasingly used as a platform to promote small independent wineries like Hester Creek, and it was a pleasure to be invited along with other bloggers to meet winemaker Rob Summers and sip a few of his wine selections. Summers has worked most of his life making wine. He hails from the Niagara wine region, and has been Hester Creek's winemaker since 2006.

The first vineyards were planted on the site in 1968 and were one of the earliest plantings of European grape varieties in the South Okanagan Valley. Previous land owner Joe Busnardo had brought dozens of varieties to try, including some from his native Italy. One of the original varieties planted by Busnardo, Trebbiano vines are now over 40 years old and remain to this day. Another grape variety legacy Summers describes as a "mystery Merlot" – just one of his challenges as he works to improve the quality of fruit grown on the site.

Since purchasing the property Curt Garland has made three significant business decisions. The first was to rename the winery Hester Creek, after the stream that borders the property. The second was to hire Summers as winemaker. The third major change to the property was the addition of “The Villa”, six luxury guest suites at the western edge of the property.

The view from the winery looking across the Okanagan Valley is stunning, as it is with neighbouring facilities such as Gehringer Brothers and Tinhorn Creek. Last September they opened a new 4,000 square foot guest centre complete with a large tasting bar, retail area, wine library, demonstration kitchen, executive lounge and barrel room. We can vouch for their hospitality, which is especially important when you're visiting with a child in tow.

Another inviting detail of Hester Creek are the prices of their wines. While you rarely find rock bottom prices for BC wine, good value for under $20 is what Hester Creek provides. All their non-reserve labels range from around $14 to $18. The Trebbiano is varietal is a favourite, possibly because no one else in the Okanagan produces it in large quantities. The wine is not overly aromatic, and has a fresh crisp acidity which would pair well with many cheeses, a tepenade dip or a barbequed garlic prawn.

Summers describes Hester Creek's reds as "approachable," as in don't bother cellaring these wines for long. It's widely known that most wine is drunk not long after it's purchased, and Hester Creek makes wines with this in mind. Their Cabernet-Merlot blend is their biggest seller (often topping the sales charts at local VQA wine stores), and it is a big, round mouthful that would pair well with elegant fare such as burgers and pizza.

Hester Creek's 2008 Merlot is also another fruit forward, bold tasting wine with soft full tannins, and a hint of spice provided by a small percentage of Syrah grapes blended in.

Summer's long term strategy is to develop a red blend and white blend, priced in the $18 range. The winery is expecting a good response from summer travelers to their new facility, carved carefully into the desert slopes.

I asked Rob if he missed his native Niagara, and how he'd compare the Okanagan to Ontario. "I get asked that question a lot, and I usually respond with the same answer, which is to say that I'm here. The Okanagan is where I've moved my family, and where I'm helping to grow a business. I hope that's a clear signal of my confidence in BC's wine industry."

– post by Mike. Weekend Wine returns April 10th. For additional BC wine news, interviews and tasting notes visit BCWineLover.com.