Announcing the Best Performing Small Winery of the Year
Lake Breeze, Where Small is Beautiful
By Anthony Gismondi
This year’s National Wine Awards was the most inclusive yet, with 230 wineries entering over 1,500 wines from across the country. The numbers only make the achievement of Lake Breeze as Canada’s 2016 Best Performing Small Winery of Year all that more impressive. It’s been more than two decades since Lake Breeze founders, Swiss natives Paul and Vereena Moser, first opened the winery doors along the scenic Naramata Bench back in 1995. And believe it or not, winemaker/president Garron Elmes has made the wine for all 22 vintages, working through four different sets of owners since.
The laid-back Elmes, who spends his spare time sailing Okanagan Lake, arrived fresh out of Elsenburg College in Stellenbosch. “If you think the Penticton airport is small you should have seen it back in 1995 when I got off that plane” he recounts. In one of those inexplicable twists of fate, the aspiring winemaker’s stepfather was in the tool business in South Africa, as was Paul Moser, and well, one thing led to another and the young South African found himself on the Naramata Bench long before most British Columbians could find it on a map.
“The original plan was to stay for three or four years but when you look around the world there are worse places to live,” Elmes says. Twenty-two vintages later he is still in charge of the cellars and it would appear the low-key, talented South African is the match for current owners Barbara and Drew MacIntyre. The Calgary power couple have been around fifteen years now, nurturing more than meddling, and giving Elmes the tools he needs to make better and better wine.
Now that their kids are teenagers the MacIntyres will spend more time in Naramata and slowly deepen their involvement in the wine business. Just last week they launched two new wines under a new MacIntyre label: MacIntyre Heritage Reserve Astra Chardonnay 2014 and MacIntyre Heritage Reserve Ardua Merlot 2014. Astra and Ardua represent another level to come from Lake Breeze and reflect the MacIntyre’s interest in raising the game even further on the Naramata Bench.
Pinot Blanc is the unofficial winery flagship wine. According to Elmes, “It is what they make the most of and sell the most of” in the Okanagan Valley. “With our cooler climate, we get higher natural acidities and some great fruit flavours out of it,” he says. “It is kind of an underrated grape, but we love it. We hung our hat on it from the start in 1995. I describe it as a fruit salad with all sorts of fruit: a bit of tropical, a bit of citrus, good crisp acidity and so versatile, it goes with so many foods.”
Lake Breeze only farms 0.2 hectares of land but Elmes works with a cadre of growers all along the bench to supply him with top-class fruit. As it happens the judges were agog over the Lake Breeze 2014 Semillon, ranking it a top scoring Platinum medal. Elmes and his team also took home gold medals for the Lake Breeze 2012 Winemaker’s Series Riesling; the Lake Breeze 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and the Lake Breeze 2015 The Spice Jar White Blend. All have a cool-climate undercurrent that reflects the winery’s prime position, mid-Valley, overlooking the lake.
If Lake Breeze has a weakness, you might suggest they make too many wines, but when you are the number two winery in the country, number one in British Columbia, and Canada’s Small Winery of the Year for 2016, you can do what ever you want.
If you haven’t visited the winery, do so. In fact, lunch at The Patio is highly recommended and the place to experience the wines of Lake Breeze, not to mention the refreshing breezes off the lake.
Congratulations to Lake Breeze and all the winning wines in this year’s Nationals.
We would like to acknowledge the following sponsors: Post Hotel and Spa Lake Louise for the glassware used throughout the judging, and Container World for shipping and logistics. A special thank you to Jason Dziver for the above images, as well as for each and every Awards bottle image appearing our site. You can see more of his work at Jason Dziver Photography.