Thursday, July 11, 2013

Get To Know... The Stohlers

Photo courtesy of SummerGate Winery
Gillian and Mike Stohler
Vintners, SummerGate Winery
Summerland, BC

Running any small business is difficult and all-encompassing. Running a small business where you must rely on the unpredictability of Mother Nature dials the stress amplifier up to "11". Add to the mix raising four children while staying positive and welcoming to your paying customers (and occasional workforce) takes a special kind of person. I give you the Stohlers, the charming, down-to-earth couple behind one of the Province's smaller wineries, SummerGate, who manage to keep it all together while producing some of the best (and certified organic) white wines on the market today.

Stop-by their winery/house in Summerland for a taste of their pure, un-manipulated, Summer-in-a-glass whites.

Get to know the Stohlers a bit better and get to know SummerGate's wines...

Key wines to try:
Muscat Ottonel

1. What do you enjoy most about making wine?
Being outdoors with nature; or working late into the evening in the winery; hearing the great stories from our customers how they saved a bottle of wine and shared it with friends or family on a special occasion. We’re really glad we’re able to be part of that in a meaningful way. Seeing our repeat customers come back year after year and seeing them be part of our wine making process; our winery production area has basically become part of the tasting room where we’re always happy to invite someone into the tank room for a tank sample.

2. What inspired you to become a winemaker?
Tired of other people messing around with what we’re eating and drinking. I am amazed by the number of chemicals used and additives winemakers put into wines that don’t require any disclosure; from invert sugars (like fructose, glucose) to increase residual sugars, to sorbates as preservatives, to di-ammonium phosphates as yeast nutrients; yuck! We just wanted to create quality wines using the most natural techniques possible; without all the “junk”. Our customers appreciate it too.

3. What causes you the most stress during harvest?
Weather. You almost need to be a meteorologist; plus many of our loyal harvesters are actually really good customers coming in from Vancouver or other areas so it’s hard to plan in advance when you will pick. Sometimes even day-of you wake up see the clouds on the horizon and have to evaluate to “go” or “no go”. We’re very careful not to pick wet fruit; inadvertently it waters down the juice!

Being a small winery and not knowing for sure if there is enough tank capacity for the pressed juice was a problem for us this past year. A few anxious moments and a few calls later and we had secured some rented tanks which turned into an order for about 4800litres more capacity with local Ripley Stainless – I have a video coming which shows the tanks being created from a flat piece of steel into the three-dimensional tank!

4. What is your favourite and/or least favourite wine cliché?
Making wine is effectively a lot of good old fashioned farming; so my favourite is “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine”; after a long day of work in the hot fields I head for the fridge and pull out a beer!

5. Away from the cellar and vineyard, what’s your greatest passion in life?
Family; growing a business and growing a family is what we are doing hand in hand.

6. After a long day of work in the cellar, what do you turn to for refreshment?
Howe Sound Brewing Beer

7. If you could take credit for one other BC wine on the market today, which would it be and why?
Tough one; Gehringer Brothers Riesling (consistent award winner; and great value) or something like Gray Monk; from a business point of view and costing model I love that their properties and infrastructure are paid for in 1960’s and 1970’s dollars and what a wonderful price point for their wines $12-$15. This is where our entire industry needs to be but makes it much tougher on the small guys who have to pay $100k per acre plus start-up costs and much of the equipment has a 100 year payback life cycle or more ; i.e bottling lines; thank goodness for Artus Mobile Bottling.

8. Of the wines in your portfolio, do you have a favourite food pairing to go with one of the wines?
Pan Seared Bay Scallops, or black pepper crusted pacific northwest halibut with our Muscat Ottonel (or as you said once just a pair of sunglasses and sunny patio) Sweet Chili Currie with the Kerner; Cedar Plank Sockeye Salmon with a bit of Soy Sauce with the Riesling

9. What do you think will be the next big trend in BC wine over the next few years?
Probably see some more consolidation of smaller wineries as interest from Chinese investors continues and who will then produce and export product (especially ice wine) to that market. The virtual winery concept scares us a bit because we’re seeing saturation for BC wines already in the market; I think this will put downward pressure on prices but at the cost of quality too. From a tasting perspective, more cooler climate, aromatic styles will prevail; watch for some great Gewurtz, Muscat, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay from Summerland!

10. Screwcap or cork? What’s your preference?
Has to be screwcap for whites for sure; I came across a study a while back from Ontario where the some white wines were bottled under screwcap and some under cork and after two years put in front of a panel of judges for blind tasting; the screw capped whites were still lively and crisp; full of aroma and flavour; the cork wines were flat and flabby. Some exceptions could be Chardonnay. Our style is fresh and crisp and aromatic; so SummerGate will always be screwed! (lol!)

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2013

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