When Switchback Vineyard was converted from a fallow orchard in 2006, it was designed with local expertise and farmed conventionally. The vineyard team poured immense energy into the project and was proud of the results, which lived up to local standards. At that point, there were less than 60 hectares of organic vineyard land in BC and to plant an organic vineyard was not top of mind for new vineyard farmers, Steve Lornie and Christine Coletta.
The decision to convert to organic growing was inspired by the winery team’s work with Italian oenologist and winery consultant Alberto Antonini. Antonini pointed out what was being done globally and why organic grapes are the foundation of making wines that reflect where they are grown.
“You are only on this land for a while and you have a duty to leave it in better shape than you found it. You cannot make wines with a sense of place if that place is not a healthy vibrant environment, and the two concepts go hand in hand.” – Alberto Antonini, consulting enologist
Antonini’s suggestion hit home when Coletta spotted a rash on her dog Echo and pieced it back to a walk through the vineyard which had been recently sprayed with pesticides. “Clearly these chemicals were affecting humans and animals and it had to stop,” she noted. “Alberto’s words about caring for our land and how vineyards need to be ‘alive’ in order to make wines that have a sense of place, all snapped into my head. I gained a clear plan, and it took me two seconds to convince the rest of the team.”
Before converting, the first step was to analyze the vineyard. Enter internationally respected terroir expert Pedro Parra, who had joined the winery team to help them in the hunt for a new Okanagan vineyard site. Pedro and a team from Chile magnetically mapped Switchback Vineyard, and dug pits throughout for full analysis of site and soil.
It was revealed that there were many micro zones and that each should have originally been planted with a different clone and root stock to suit unique circumstances. As the team wasn’t prepared to replant the site, Parra recommended a program to mediate the farming practices to achieve premium results. These changes are part of the foundation of precision viticulture, where each vineyard lot, and even each vine, is treated individually by hand.
Following Parra’s recommendations, the team made radical changes to the vineyard, implemented by Theo Siemens, Okanagan Crush Pad’s vineyard manager. Changes were made to pruning, watering, ground cover crops, and the use of animals to balance the vineyard and put it on a ‘healthy diet’. With this new farming regime in place, Switchback Vineyard has been farmed organically since 2011. Sheep, chickens, ducks, and two miniature donkeys complete the picture.
Sheep fertilize, mow and aerate soils at Switchback Vineyards
The vineyard receives its official organic certification in August 2015 and Antonini and Parra join the Okanagan Crush Pad team to mark the occasion.
The next step for the winery team is to develop the winery’s Garnet Valley Ranch, a 312-acre Summerland site, that has been farmed organically from the day it was built. Adding to this, the contract growers the winery works with are now in transition to organic growing, setting the stage for a fully organic wine program. The winery is now on a three-year-track to use organic grapes exclusively for the production of its own wines.
“It has been an amazing amount of work. We were like parents of newborns: over-anxious, over-bearing and hovering,” commented Coletta. “Perhaps we are a little more relaxed about the process now and have built up confidence in our conversion process and the outcome. That confidence has led to the next phase.”
To compliment your visit to the wineries of Summerland, book a stay at the Summerland Waterfront Resort & Spa. With wineries adorning the nearby hills, and the smell of grapes literally in the air, Summerland Waterfront Resort goes a step further in offering guests a delicious onsite option serving up breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between!