Joining forces in the Okanagan
A year away from releasing its first wines, Phantom Creek Estates has made waves in the Okanagan Valley by bringing on biodynamic expert Olivier Humbrecht, of top Alsace winery Domaine Zind-Humbrecht.
Humbrecht has been working behind the scenes at Phantom Creek for the past year, helping the team embrace organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyards and scouting for ideal sites for Riesling and Pinot Gris.
Humbrecht, France’s first Master of Wine, is the owner and winemaker of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, which has been in his family since 1620. Considered one of the world’s leading Pinot Gris and Riesling producers, he initiated the winery’s transition to organic and biodynamic practices in 1997. Today he is president of Biodyvin, an organization of biodynamic wineries based in Europe.
“Having visited three times already, I know the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys are capable of producing exceptional Pinot Gris and Riesling with great vineyard character,” says Humbrecht. “With the ambition of ownership and the skilled team at Phantom Creek, I am enthusiastic about what we can achieve.”
Winemaker Ross Wise explains that Phantom Creek’s owners, the Bai family, met with Humbrecht while touring France on a fact-finding mission. Looking to identify best practices for Phantom Estates, they focused on Bordeaux and Alsace producers.
A fast kinship was formed with Humbrecht, who embraced Phantom Creek as his first and only (to date) consulting project.
“The goals of Phantom Creek are very high. We want to make great expressions of Okanagan wines, but we also want to compete with the best in the world,” explains Ross Wise, Phantom Creek winemaker.
“Everything we have done throughout the process — from building a winery, finding the best vineyard sites, choosing the best equipment and consultants to work with — has been to make great-quality Okanagan wine that can rank with the best in the world. We think Olivier’s terroir-focused winemaking style can really help us achieve that.”
According to Wise, the Phantom Estates winery is due to open in Spring 2019 when construction is completed. Its initial release will include 2016 red wines (Bordeaux blends and Syrah, which have just been blended) and 2017 whites, which are currently still in cask.
The winery is located on what was known as the SunDial Vineyard — recently renamed Becker — across the road from the namesake Phantom Creek Vineyard. There are also estate vineyards in the nearby Similkameen Valley, which are the source of grapes for the white winemaking program.
Wise explains that Humbrecht’s guidance has made an immediate impression on viticulture and winemaking practices. Not only has he cemented Phantom Creek’s embrace of organic and biodynamic winegrowing, he’s helped to foster greater understanding of picking decisions for Pinot Gris and Riesling as well as natural fermentations for all of the wines being produced.
“Organic and biodynamic growing makes a lot of sense for the Okanagan,” says Wise. “Our disease pressure is so low it makes a lot of sense to really reduce your chemical inputs… Olivier is such a great source of knowledge on that subject — it’s great to learn from the master.”
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of VINES Magazine.