June 27, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

A tour of Canada’s wine region 

After a decade of hard work, Okanagan wineries are going for it

Page 5 of 10

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The North America Free Trade Agreement is generally credited with turning the wine industry around, according to Foran. The B.C. market was suddenly opened to sophisticated wines from California at a comparable price, and our home-grown jug wines could not compete. At the same time, it opened up a huge market south of the border for B.C. wines.

"In order to export, we had to up the level," says Foran. "Wineries were ripping all of their old vines out, and some got government grants to start to plant some of the more well know varietals,"

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The next stop on the tour was lunch at Summerhill Pyramid Wineries, one of the Okanagan’s most commercially successful vineyards. Summerhill was the first B.C. winery to sell its product in the U.S., in 1992, drawing rave reviews from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Most recently the winery was featured in Canadian publications for producing a very fine 2000 Pinot Noir that was served at the 2003 Academy Awards.

Summerhill Pyramid manages to sell most of its stock locally, and is by far the most visited vineyard with a huge parking lot and anywhere from 10 to 12 tour buses stopping by every day in the summer months, filling the Summerhill Sunset Veranda Restaurant and patio with customers. Graeme Stayley, the operations manager, also told us that Summerhill was hosting almost 60 weddings this year.

In addition to being successful, Summerhill has also earned a reputation as being the most eccentric vineyard in the valley – though in an interesting and logical way that reflects the beliefs, spirituality and natural showmanship of owner and operator Stephen Cipes.

The property features a four-storey pyramid made entirely without metal, and the Summerhill World Peace Park, which boasts a garden with plants from around the world, a half-globe of the world, and a gigantic effigy of a champagne bottle filling up a glass.

Summerhill is also unique in that it is the largest certified organic vineyard in Canada, proving that organic wines can compete on the market in price and quality.

Cipes hails from New York City, and moved to the Kelowna area in 1990.

"My four boys and I needed a change," he explains. "New York was not a good place to be. It’s a good place to make money, but we like it better here."

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