In the semi-arid desert of the southern Okanagan Valley, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery brings award-winning wines and tries to compete with some of the best wineries from international winemaking regions.
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery is a family-owned and operated vineyard and winery. All the wines come from estate grown grapes that have undergone environmentally friendly viticultural practices.
History of Burrowing Owl Estate & Winery:
In 1993, 100-acres of a partially developed vineyard was purchased by Jim Wyse. The replanting of vinifera vines took place soon after. This was a huge risk taken at the time but it has certainly paid off in the long run.
The initial focus was to produce and sell premium grapes to Okanagan wineries, those of which ultimately won several awards. However in 1996, plans to evolve into an ultra-premium winery that included a gravity flow process and underground caves for 100% barrel ageing were in motion.
As years went by, more additions to the property and expansions took place, ranging from the opening of The Sonora Room Restaurant to The Wine Shop, and ultimately the completion of The Guest House.
By 2008, production levels had reached 35,000 cases per year, and today, they have reached 45,000 with the speedy help of the “Italian Ferrari,” the bottling line that can bottle 3,000 bottles per hour at maximum speed.
Location & Terroir: the Black Sage Bench
The wine region of British Columbia covers 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of land. The Okanagan Valley itself stretches over 150 kilometers from Osoyoos to Vernon.
Oliver is located in the southern region of the Okanagan Valley, and is home to Burrowing Owl Estate Winery on the Black Sage Bench, ten miles from the 49th parallel. Numerous elements shape the Okanagan Valley’s terroir such as:
- its location at the northern tip of the Sonoran Desert
- being under the Cascade Mountains’ rain shadow: the mountain ranges stopping rains coming from the Pacific ocean to the West
- the glaciofluvial sediments of Oliver Lake and Okanagan Lake
- the canal.
The Sonoran desert is the warmest part of the valley. The rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains is a very dry area that requires irrigation. The vines planted on the south-facing slope of the valley thrive from drainage and aspect.
This part of the valley is better known for its late ripening grapes, as opposed to the north end, which is better known for its fresh and crisp Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer, to name a few.
The soils of the Black Sage Bench are well-draining, deep and sandy, rich in lake sediments from Oliver Lake deposited 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, and young (therefore naturally with a low acidity and high pH).
In Oliver, days are particularly long, which is highly beneficial to the red grapes, as they are exposed to plenty of heat and sunlight, followed by cool evenings that aid in plant recovery. However, since the soil is composed of mostly sand and contains little organic matter, the winery spreads six tons of compost and fertilizer throughout its vineyards in order to bring valuable nutrients to both the soil and the vines. Using organic compost is another one of the Burrowing Owl Estate Winery’s green practices.
Grape Varieties, Vineyards & Topography:
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery’s vineyards are comprised of 145 acres in Oliver, 30 acres in Osoyoos, and 10 acres in Keremeos (of the Similkameen Valley).
The acreage in Osoyoos was planted with late ripening grapes in mind. The moderating effect of the chain of lakes running the length of the valley are perfect for the variety of grape varietals being grown. The Oliver-Osoyoos region, therefore, is prime location for varieties like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec.
Keremeos is a cooler area made up of gravel soils, making it ideal for varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc to thrive.
At Burrowing Owl Estate Winery’s Oliver vineyard, the top of the hill is where late ripening grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon are planted, as they will receive more heat and sunlight due to its great location and exposure to the sun.
The bottom of the hill is where the hearty vines live. Being a cooler and flat spot, wind machines are used because cold air can potentially sink. So from spring to harvest, the wind machines are used to prevent damage of the buds and leaves from falling, while maintaining photosynthesis. At the beginning of winter, wind machines may also be used in times of sudden cold. Since the colder air settles near the ground at night, and the warmer air rises forming inversion, the wind machines are angled slightly downwards in order to pull the warm air from up above and bring it back down to ground level.
Harvest & Winemaking
A typical harvest at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery lasts from September through early November:
- First the whites: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
- Then the reds: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The grapes are handpicked and sorted in the vineyards within 2 days by approximately 20 people per 10-acre block, and then carried quickly on to the crush pad to be processed right away. Only the best and healthiest of grapes make their way into the tanks. There are no leaves, no green elements, and no rotten or unripe berries, nor any other matter other than grapes. The grapes are slightly crushed to break the berries and promote the start of fermentation, and then dropped into tanks with the help of gravity (not pumps). The process is quick and gentle so as to not damage the berries with oxidation.
Although sorting is time-consuming, it assures and promotes the best quality.
For the processing of the white grapes, a pneumatic (gentle) press is used after the grapes have been sorted, and then are dropped as whole clusters into the tank below. The white grapes are picked and sorted by hand, but they are not destemmed. This is because stems act as filters and clarify the juice, making it cleaner. They also facilitate fast drainage out of the press. After a two and a half hour press process, the juice ultimately comes out of the big valve and goes down into the tank.
Conclusion and Wines:
Since its possession, the vineyard has evolved tremendously and has set the stage for making premium Canadian wines, holding a steady spot at the forefront of quality wine producers.
- Varietal Reds: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot
- Red Blends: Athene (cofermented blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah), and Meritage (Bordeaux-style blend)
However, their offering of single varietal white wines are just as powerful, and include Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.
Learn more about Burrowing Owl on their website burrowingowlwine.ca.
Find their wines to buy online on Wine-Searcher.