Off The Grid Organic Winery

Off The Grid Organic Winery

For more than 100 years, farmers in the Paynter family have worked the same plot of land in West Kelowna. Today, brothers Nigel and Travis Paynter, along with their wives, Sheri—one of a growing group of female winemakers in the region—and Hayley (plus numerous family members who are employed full time) practice sustainable farming on the land to grow grapes that are made into premium, organic wine.

The Paynter’s founded Off the Grid Organic Winery, which is certified through the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society, in 2015. Now producing about 2,500 cases of wine per year, Off the Grid was the sixth winery in BC to have both its grapes and wines certified as organic. But producing amazing organic wine is just one facet of Off the Grid’s existence.

True to its name, Off the Grid is committed to its sustainability efforts in all aspects of its operation. The wineshop was built out of straw bales, which offer double the insulation value compared to a standard build, and has solar panels on the roof to power the wineshop. Its unobstructed views of Okanagan Lake and permaculture-in-action operation make it a must-stop destination for tourists and wine enthusiasts.

In addition to wine tastings, locals and visitors alike are also welcomed for yoga classes, live music, and fundraising events for the BC SPCA. A visit with the winery’s flock of rescue animals, including goats, who can explore and play up on the wineshop roof, sheep, and chickens, round out the guest experience and their grazing also helps eliminate weeds.

When asked about the future of the business, Nigel says his goal is to keep the winery and vineyard going for another 100 years.

“Success for us is being able to educate people on sustainable farming practices, and of course, selling out of wine.”

“The wine industry in the entire Okanagan has been so welcoming. Every winemaker looks to help one another, not just in starting [a winery] but constantly with ideas and tips should any problems arise.”

CedarCreek Estate Winery

As one of the original eight wineries in the Okanagan Valley, CedarCreek Estate Winery is a seasoned veteran who happily works with the other wineries in the region’s developed viticulture sector. But CedarCreek isn’t one to rest on its laurels. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The Central Okanagan winery, which has been named Canadian Winery of the Year at the InterVin International Wine Awards three times (most recently in 2019), is undertaking a significant transformation to be a fully organic vineyard.

According to Winemaker, Taylor Whelan, it’s a fundamental shift in how they’re thinking about their wines and their connection to the land they’ve farmed for more than 40 years.

“Everything you spray on the vineyard goes back into Okanagan Lake,” Whelan says. “The lake is our drinking water. As we conceptualize the closed loop, we want to make an effort to leave this place a little bit better than how we found it.”

The closed loop Whelan speaks about is the holistic philosophy of cultivating the natural ecosystem of the 50-plus acres on which CedarCreek resides. The winery doesn’t use anything that wouldn’t be found outside the natural area and relies on animals and plants to naturally combat disease and pests. In addition, CedarCreek employs an extensive composting program, leaving nothing to waste.

The shift in thinking can be summarized this way: in order to go forward, CedarCreek is going back. “Conventional agriculture is something that started in the last century, and it changed the way people farmed. A similar thing happened with vineyards. We’re on the journey back to what we were doing 100-150 years ago,” Whelan says.

“People can say viticulture is pretty natural but once you look under the hood, often it’s not,” he adds. “So, we’re making the commitment to say we’re going back and trying to be as natural as we can.”

And what about the quality of the wine? Did the move to organic maintain CedarCreek’s strong reputation?

In 2019, CedarCreek became certified organic in its farming and winemaking, part of a growing movement. In fact, when CedarCreek started the organic process, 4% of the Okanagan’s wineries were organic. Now, it’s close to 18%.

CedarCreek’s Organic Viticulturist, Kurt Simcic, says it’s even better. In his mind, going organic “led to a new range of wines, a tier above platinum. It’s been a natural evolution—the grapes grow differently, the flavour profile is changing, Taylor is producing more unique and more valuable wines.”

Whelan and Simcic point to organics as the first major achievement in a journey. CedarCreek is also partnering with Regeneration Canada, a national movement with a focus on regenerative land management, to see how they can further care for the ecosystem in which they farm.

“We’re not going to sit back and say, “We’re organic.” We can always do more and do it better,” Simcic states. “That’s an important piece to how we’re carrying on. It’s a super fun and exciting project to be a part of.”

If the winery’s track record over its 35-year history is any indication, there is sure to be more excitement, innovation, and award-winning wine in CedarCreek’s future.

“Many tourists who come to the region are surprised at what we can produce here. I love to see more international recognition for the Okanagan happening because there are amazing wines here.”

50th Parallel Estate

After some lakeside contemplation, self-professed Glamour Farmers, Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Turner-Krouzel took the plunge to build their “slice of heaven,” 50th Parallel Estate Winery, on a 61-acre estate in Lake Country, north of Kelowna.

“The Central Okanagan provides one of the most diverse regions in the world in which to produce world-class wines and boasts uncompromised beauty and complementary tourism experiences that draw guests from around the world,” says Krouzel.

The couple hand planted the winery’s first 10 acres of vines in 2009. Krouzel used his engineering background to improve the process by designing a planting machine that was able to navigate difficult slopes on the property. From there, the team took on the challenge of growing notoriously difficult Pinot Noir grapes and went all-in with the varietal. In fact, it is the only red wine produced onsite, making up about 35% of the winery’s production.

In 2020, 50th Parallel launched its Glamour Farming canned wine, aligning with consumer trends and offering a more sustainable, fully recyclable option.

50th Parallel’s original winery was expanded by 15,000 square feet in 2018. The architecturally stunning space includes a tasting room, flexible indoor-outdoor space for banquets and events, and BLOCK ONE Restaurant, which made OpenTable’s list of Top 100 Restaurants in Canada for 2021.

“Let’s be honest, there is no lakefront city in the world like Kelowna. We are not an emerging international destination… we have arrived.”

In addition to helping source and secure meetings and conferences, Krouzel notes that Tourism Kelowna’s team “was very helpful in the early years, helping bring influencers and media to the winery to spread the word about our up-and-coming new business.”

“We have managed to achieve our goals of building a place where people want to come and visit and experience our wines, and most importantly we have built an incredible team that we are proud to
call our 50th family.”

Summerhill Pyramid Winery

Serving as the CEO of ‘Canada’s most visited winery’, Ezra Cipes is part of the second generation at Summerhill, a pioneering winery producing 100% organic wine. What makes Summerhill so unique? A pyramid wine cellar, second only to the Great Pyramids of Egypt for alignment and precision, in which the family allows their organic and biodynamic wines to rest before release.

“My parents moved our young family here from the suburbs of New York in 1986 for a total change of life,” explains Cipes, one of four brothers. “I am so grateful they did. It was just a little farming community, no modern wine industry at all. They both helped build the modern wine industry in BC and were founding members of the BC Vintners Quality Alliance and of the BC Wine Institute.”

On arriving in 1986, Ezra’s father, Stephen, believed he’d found unique conditions to produce “intensely flavoured small grapes,” the perfect base for sparkling wine. He brought grape clones from France and “personally planted them on his hands and knees.” After entering the organic certification program in 1988, Cipes Sr. produced his first vintage in 1991 and the winery received Demeter Biodynamic certification in 2012.

“We’re a mid-sized winery with a large team, mostly because of the extensive hospitality we offer,” says Ezra. “We have a beautiful restaurant and banquet room, both overlooking the vineyard, lake, and mountains.”

“For us, the next level of success will be seeing our wines on restaurant lists in major centers around the world. Certain wines we make are absolutely relevant to the global wine market because of their outstanding quality and a taste that can come from nowhere but the Okanagan.”

“For us, the next level of success will be seeing our wines on restaurant lists in major centers around the world. Their outstanding quality and taste can come from nowhere but the Okanagan.”

Indigenous World Winery

Indigenous World Winery is the brainchild of Robert and Bernice Louie, descendants of the Syilx first peoples who have lived in the Okanagan for generations. Back in 2011, the couple secured 2.5 acres to start a vineyard and joined forces with winemaker Jason Parkes to make wines that could compete at a world level.

“The goal was a big award winner,” explains spokesperson Ryan Widdup. “They wanted to open the doors with some big showpiece red wines.” So while the couple were planting their first vines and building their facility in 2013, Parkes had already been crafting wines for them at a nearby estate winery. “Jason spent a lot of time crafting a small production red called Simo, and in 2015 it won two medals and the first Double Gold Medal a few months before we opened the wine shop in 2016.”

Since then, the gold and silver medals have kept on coming, with the 2014 Simo receiving Double Gold at the 2019 All Canadian Wine Championships, beating out 1,378 other entries. In addition, their wines have earned gold at many international competitions in the United States and Europe.

In 2020, the winery launched their Indigenous Spirits craft alcohol line, starting with vodka.

“We’ve been working on a gin recipe using botanicals and locally sourced ingredients with a medicinal history in the Syilx culture. We also have eight barrels of whiskey that turn three years old this year, so we’re going to release a single barrel and a barrel-blend single malt. So that’s really exciting.”

Located across Okanagan Lake in West Kelowna, making it an ideal spot for meetings and events, the winery is sited on land belonging to Westbank First Nation. “Robert and Bernice are very proud of where they come from,” says Widdup. “The focus of the winery is not to necessarily be a cultural learning place, but it is a part of the family’s heritage and they are passionate about sharing their culture. Wine is an exceptional way to showcase the terroir of traditional lands that have sustained their people for thousands of years.”

Indigenous World Winery also understands the importance of giving back to the community. Robert Louie was the elected Chief of Westbank First Nation for decades, serving on many boards and band businesses, in addition to being Chair of the National First Nations Advisory Board. “Robert travels a lot, so Bernice is the main person in the family who oversees the winery’s day to day operations,” Widdup explains.

Widdup himself grew up in an agricultural community in rural Saskatchewan. “When I got into the wine industry in BC, I thought it would be quite competitive. Instead, it’s very collaborative. Everybody knows everybody and they really support each other. The interesting thing about being situated in West Kelowna is that there’s huge diversity. We’ve got two of the biggest wineries in all of BC up the road and some of the smallest ones right next door.”

“Winemaking is essentially glamour farming, to steal a phrase from the folks up at 50th Parallel Estate Winery. But it’s incredibly interesting because every year is different. It’s the one industry where you could know everything about every wine in the world this year and then next year you have to go out and learn every single wine all over again because everything’s changed.”

“The industry here is less than forty years old,” says Widdup. “Right now we’re still in the pioneering phase. We’re not like California, Oregon or Chile where these industries are hundreds of years old, we’ve only been doing it for a short amount of time. We’re attracting a huge amount of talent from all across the globe to come here and make their name and discover what it is to make wine in BC, so it’s extremely exciting and I’m very proud to be part of this industry.”

“It’s also amazing to be a part of a community where everybody is really trying to help each other out. It was especially cool during the pandemic, just the number of trade and tourism industries that tried to bring everybody together to share their stories and best practices and what they’ve learned. I think if anything, it strengthened the community even more.”

“We’re attracting a huge amount of talent all across the globe to come here and make their name and discover what it is to make wine in BC.”

Okanagan Spirits

“We hand craft terroir-driven spirits entirely from 100% local grains and fruits that present the true flavours and aromas of the Okanagan Valley,”

says Tyler Dyck, CEO and Director of Operations. “We feel each and every one of our spirits tell a story, which by extension, is our family’s story to tell. That’s why it’s so important to us that our grains and fruits come from local fields and orchards. Farm-to-flask is truly in everything we do, from our premium whiskies, gins, vodkas, liqueurs, brandies, aquavit and even traditional absinthe.”

OK Spirits is also committed to reducing their impact on the environment. “After we finish mashing, all edible materials go back to feed local livestock. We even use distilling by-products to power all our vehicles to cut down on emissions.”

“To us, success is all about creating a legacy that will outlive each of us presently at the helm of our family distillery. We’ve spent the last two decades travelling the world learning from the very best distillers and brewers, immersing ourselves in everything spirits. We also participate biennially in the World Spirits Awards Competition in Austria to have our spirits judged with the very best distillers in the world.”

“The Okanagan region is an ideal spot for true farm- to-flask authentic spirits production, as it really is one of the best spots on the planet for agriculture. It also has a community that’s keenly invested in supporting local tourism and agricultural partners.” says Dyck, “we’re all passionate about seeing the success of the Okanagan region, with the goal of establishing this valley as the place to be in Canada.”