No Compromises at B.C.’s Painted Rock
A WineAlign Winery Profile
Written by WineAlign
When John Skinner first planted the seed for shifting out of his fast-paced stockbroker career and into the wine business in the late 1990’s, he did so with that singular promise in mind, one that continues to guide his philosophy and the direction of Painted Rock Estate Winery today.
After a few years of searching out the best site in the Okanagan, he and his wife Trish alighted on a sloping bench site east of Skaha Lake south of Penticton, nestled between the climate-moderating lake below and the heat-radiating bluffs behind. The property had been an apricot orchard since the early 1900’s until the late 1980’s, laying fallow until Skinner acquired it in 2004 and began planting in 2005.
This feature was commissioned by Painted Rock Winery.
During their site research, they noticed the unique air movement across the site, and since the land had been unplanted for 17 years, they were able to contour the entire property, harnessing the natural air movement and working with the landscape. In line with Skinner’s quest for excellence, he brought in renowned viticulturists and wine consultants from California, France and the Okanagan to advise. They decided to focus on Bordeaux varieties, bringing in clones direct from France of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot. They also planted syrah, inspired by the grape’s early potential in the Okanagan Valley, as well as chardonnay, their sole white grape. All of their wines are made from these estate grapes.
Along with the site, instrumental to Skinner’s plan of making the very best wines was to work with the very best. To that end, Painted Rock’s winemaking and viticultural team has been overseen by Bordeaux-based and globally renown consultant Alain Sutre since 2006. With Sutre’s belief that “the unique nature of the Okanagan will soon yield wines as identifiable as those from Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Napa – distinctly Okanagan wines, rich in flavour and character”, the opportunity and challenge to create ultra-premium wines in a young, pioneering region was welcome. Cellar master Gabriel Reis and Vineyard Manager Barry Green oversee the 24 hectare site year-round.
The wines came out of the gate strong and powerful, with natural comparisons to Napa’s cult wines in their richness and structure. That said, Skinner recognizes the importance of vintage and annual expression, and provides a helpful vintage / cellaring chart on the Painted Rock website to further consumers’ enjoyment of their wines. These were always meant to be serious wines, built for aging, though with recent vintages and aging vines, the wines are settling into themselves more and more, reflecting their site.
The site, like the vines and wines, has continued to grow and expand since the first vintage, eight years ago. An architecturally stunning tasting room opened in the fall of 2013, upping the game for winery tasting rooms not only in Okanagan, but worldwide. The sleek, white Dominic Unsworth of Robert Mackenzie-designed space has walls opening directly onto the lawn and overlooking Skaha Lake below, a backdrop for tasting as well as private events. And this year, the second generation has joined the operation, with daughter Lauren Skinner coming on board full time as Business Development Manager after completing her MBA in Luxury Brand Management, Food and Wine from INSEEC Bordeaux.
The quest for excellence has paid off. Earlier this year, Richard Hemming MW of JancisRobinson.com reviewed the Painted Rock wines, grading them “superior” and amongst the upper echelon of Canadian wines reviewed, and the winery was named InterVin International Winery of the Year 2014/2015. Amidst all the acclaim, Skinner remains steadfast that his wines are for all Canadians. Their popular Wine Club offers the opportunity to purchase first any limited releases with only a six bottle annual commitment.
On the eve of 2015 harvest, WineAlign put some questions to John Skinner about where Painted Rock is now, and where they are focusing next, without compromise.
Has your site changed the vision for your wines, now that you’ve had all these years learning about the specifics of the soils, climate, etc. Did you imagine making different wines initially, versus what you are making now? And if so, why the shift.
Absolutely. The site is validating itself beyond our wildest expectations. Now that we are attaining vine age the nuances of the terroir are starting to show through at 11th leaf. We have implemented some aggressive strategies in the vineyard to achieve balance that have paid off in spades. Our primary focus was and is the creation of an exceptional terroir driven Okanagan Blend (our Red Icon). As the blending formula changes it allows us to produce select small lot offerings of our wines. In the 2013 vintage we produced 160 cases of spectacular Cabernet Franc which we offered exclusively to our wine club. In 2014 we are contemplating Petit Verdot.
In your opinion, how do your wines age? Of course this is a broad and sweeping question, but would appreciate your thoughts on this.
Ageability of our wines was wonderfully validated last year when we did our first ever vertical of our Red Icon with 10 of Canada’s top wine minds. Across the board the 2007 Red Icon had a minimum of 10 more years (to go yet) with many suggesting as much as 15. The finish continued to be particularly long and expressive with no vegetal characteristics showing.
You proudly ship wines to all Canadians, and are well known in this country. What are your goals on the international market? The winery participates in tastings outside of Canada more so than many of your peers. Why do you think other wineries shy away from this? And do you have specific countries that you are targeting?
We are currently available in China/UK/USA/Japan and we hope to be in Europe soon. Painted Rock is very determined to work with other like-minded Canadian wineries to grow the profile and reputation of Canadian wines on the international scene and wine business for our Canadian industry. We have led an initiative to London this past May when 34 Canadian wineries proudly showed our wines at Canada House. This was followed by very flattering reviews by Jancis Robinson and her colleague Richard Hemming. This was a fantastic start. But as I have encouraged my brethren the first call is a cold call. The second call is a warm call. We must return next year. There are different business plans in the wine industry, our is one predicated on getting better not bigger. We are 100% estate and in order to earn a higher price point, the value of our wines must be earned in the international marketplace.
How often is Alain Sutre out to the winery?
Alain comes six times a year and communicates with my staff constantly. Our team works seamlessly under his direction. Alain oversees everything in its entirety from vineyard to winery.
Brief thoughts on the 2015 vintage? When are you planning to begin harvest?
Balance in the vineyard for 2015 is spectacular. The weather has been wonderful but as all winery owners know, it’s not a vintage until the fruit is in the tank. We will certainly have all fruit harvested before the end of October.
This feature was commissioned by Painted Rock Estate Winery. As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign.
Click on the links below for complete, multiple reviews by WineAlign critics for recent Painted Rock Winery releases:
“…the 2013 is a wine of more finely detailed nuances, certainly still tightly wound … but already wonderfully perfumed in the typical cool climate register of cracked white and black pepper, lavender and mediterranean scrub.”
“This is a lean, elegant and dusty, dry young blend of merlot (33%), cabernet franc (21%), petit verdot (21%), malbec 12% and cab sauv (5%)… mid-weight, elegant, dense, dry and youthfully tannic. It is well structured and has real finesse, but needs time still.”
“A very fine, light, savoury and well balanced example of cabernet franc from the southern Okanagan, lively, energetic, wildly aromatic and succulent.”
“I love the acid drive to this wine that so well supports the fruit driving through to the finish. Good focus plus a rich creamy texture…”
“A ripe but tension-filled, sinewy and lean, very linear merlot with persistent drive across the palate.”
“Therapeutic, aromatic potpourri…Plums and burnt orange, bramble and mace. Tons of fruit and the fullest of palates”
“This orange-hued, substantial rosé is firm and succulent with a wildly aromatic nose. Punchy, potent and impressively complex…”
This feature was commissioned by Painted Rock Winery. See below for more details provided by the winery.
More from Painted Rock
At Painted Rock Estate Winery, we are dedicated to the production of ultra-premium, terroir driven Okanagan wines. We produce both single varietals and a signature Bordeaux blend that we believe are representative of the amazing potential of the Okanagan Valley as well as our vineyard. To receive the latest news, information about upcoming releases and event invitations, sign up for our newsletter:
Newsletter: www.paintedrock.ca (Bottom of the page)
Our exclusive wine club at Painted Rock is about more than just wine. It is about access to Painted Rock unavailable any other way – and it is for our members only. Find out more: