We finally visited Vanessa Vineyard, located in B.C.’s picturesque Similkameen Valley, west of Osoyoos. We’ve been fans of the winery’s esteemed winemaker Howard Soon for years. And while we have tasted three vintages of his outstanding Meritage red blend, we had never stopped by the winery, where he played a key role from the beginning. What a treat! All of Howard’s wines are impressive, and we also had the pleasure of meeting owners Suki and Desha Sekhon.
Rugged mountains surround B.C.’s arid Similkameen Valley and maintain heat long after the sun sets. As well, significant winds help keep vineyard free of pests and disease. According to Wines of British Columbia, the Similkameen Valley is the organic capital of Canada, with small farms dedicated to creating quality produce, delectable foods and award-winning wines. There are 15 wineries in the valley. We are happy we reserved time at Vanessa Vineyard.
Vanessa Vineyard Story
In addition to tasting magnificent wine, we had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa owners Suki and Desha Sekhon during our visit. They are both warm, friendly and passionate about their wines.
Suki is President and CEO of commercial real estate leader CRS Group of Companies. Desha is the CRS Director of Strategic Development, and also overlooks marketing initiatives for Vanessa Vineyard. Dedicated philanthropists for several B.C. non-profits, they also championed Ronald McDonald House at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Suki entertained us with so many stories. (We discovered that we went to the same high school in Vancouver.)
First, he and Desha purchased 220 acres of grazing pasture in 2006. They named the vineyard Vanessa, which is Greek for butterfly, in tribute to the beautiful butterflies that covered the rock-strewn land.
Next, renowned B.C. viticulturists, the late Robert Goltz and Richard Cleave, faced the challenge of planting vines on 75 acres of the sloping, rocky terrain. Workers quickly installed irrigation lines so the vines could survive the heat.
Meanwhile, the rocks absorb the heat, which enables the fruit to develop complex flavors and minerality that are distinctive to Vanessa’s wines.
Initially, Vanessa Vineyard sold their high-quality fruit to a select few B.C. wineries. Then, in 2012, the Sekhons “aspired to produce the best red wines in the country,” asking Howard Soon to begin crafting small quantities of premium red wine.
Further, the elegant Vanessa tasting room opened in 2017, just a 19-minute drive from Osoyoos.
Howard Soon, Vanessa Vineyard Master Winemaker
For over four decades, Howard has been a leading winemaker in Canada. Since joining the B.C. wine industry in 1980, Howard earned innumerable awards and accolades. In 2019, the Order of Canada awarded him as their first winemaker “for his leading role in shaping, expanding and elevating British Columbia’s wine industry.” He officially became Master Winemaker of Vanessa Vineyard in 2017 – the same year the winery’s tasting room opened. However, he was involved with Vanessa since its beginning, overseeing the planting of the vines with viticulturists Robert Goltz and Richard Cleave.
Nathan Goltz, Vanessa Vineyard Estate Manager
A fourth-generation farmer from Oliver, Nathan “brings a strong history of innovative agricultural techniques to Vanessa Vineyard.” He continues the legacy of his late father Robert Goltz, and the Goltz family, who have been leaving a footprint in the Okanagan for many years. In honor of Robert Goltz, Howard created Goltz Legacy 2019, a special blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Syrah (40%). Vanessa has not yet released this pretty, rich blend, but Suki treated us to an early taste, and its potential is already spilling out of the glass.
Vanessa Vineyard Wines
Vanessa’s premium red estate wine features subtle minerality from the rocky vineyard, which is the winery’s signature. Howard ages all his reds 18 months or longer in the barrel, and then another 18 months in the bottle. So you won’t taste young wine available at so many other wineries in North America. In addition, Vanessa planted grapes only for red wine, with the exception of a small amount of Viognier. The only other white wine in Vanessa’s current lineup is V Series Sémillon and Riesling, which is privately sourced through Howard Soon.
Credit for all the wine photos in this article goes to our friend Chuck Kinzer, a professional photographer.
2021 V Series White Blend ($30 CAD)
Howard uniquely blends 70% Sémillon and 30% Riesling into 2021 V Series, which won a silver medal at the 2022 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada. Aromas of white peach, apples and citrus mirror the palate. Light and refreshing, it pairs perfectly with seafood or hearty salads. But since it is full-bodied with vibrant acidity, it also stands on its own without food. We loved it and brought a bottle home.
2021 Rosé ($30 CAD)
2021 Rosé is a complex, dry blend of 100% estate-grown Syrah (56%) and Merlot (44%). With minimal extraction from the skins, the color is pale pink, almost a light orange. This rosé opens with strawberries and stone fruit on the nose, and citrus and berries on the palate. The vineyard’s trademark minerality is evident throughout. Although the alcohol content is high for a rosé (14.1%), it’s balanced by crisp acidity.
2017 Right Bank ($45 CAD)
Ah, there’s nothing like a right bank Bordeaux blend! Vanessa’s 2017 Right Bank shines with Merlot (65%), Cabernet Sauvignon (18%) and Cabernet Franc (17%). All the clones used in this beautiful, complex blend are from France. On the nose, we found scents of cherries and red berries, mirrored on the palate along with blueberries, minerality and a hint of spices. While we prefer Cab-based blends, Right Bank 2017 is also a winner.
2016 Meritage ($45 CAD)
Howard blends 48% Cabernet Franc, 28% Merlot and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon into this elegant Meritage. Aromas of plums, raspberries, licorice, spices, coffee and herbs echo the palate. The 2016 is the third vintage of this powerful, structured Bordeaux-style red wine that we’ve tasted. Its high alcohol content (15.3%) is well integrated and balanced with good acidity. Pair it with prime rib or any grilled meats. But decant it to really appreciate its rich flavors.
2018 Cabernet Franc ($60 CAD)
Speaking of powerhouse reds, 2018 Cab Franc is a benchmark expression of the Similkameen terroir. Plums are prominent on the nose, as well as aromas of cherries and mesquite. On the palate, we found flavors of raspberries, more cherries, and hints of licorice, coffee and smoke. Unlike many Cab Francs, this one does not have green notes. This is velvety, complex and a standout. Bring out the barbecue!
2012 Syrah ($41 CAD)
Vanessa sold out of the current 2018 Syrah, but Suki opened the 2012 library wine instead. Amazing. As mentioned, Howard ages all his reds 18 months or longer in the barrel, and then another 18 months in the bottle. Therefore, this 2012 Syrah – the first Vanessa vintage, by the way – wasn’t released until 2015. Add seven more years to date, and this wine has the wow factor. Howard co-fermented Syrah clone 100 from Côtes du Rhône with 6% Viognier. Aromatics of plums and cedar lead into flavors of dark fruits, white pepper and hints of dark chocolate, licorice and spices. This superb Syrah is balanced, complex, concentrated, dense and structured. Pair it with short ribs, spaghetti or barbecued meats, or drink it without food on a cozy night by the fireplace.
Summary: Vanessa Vineyard
In conclusion, be sure to add Vanessa Vineyard to your list when you next visit beautiful British Columbia wine country.
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Margot and Dave