CedarCreek Estate – A Winery Profile

Upward and Deeper 30 Years On
by David Lawrason

Don’t turn the car around!

If you visit CedarCreek Winery in Kelowna this summer – as thousands will –  you will be greeted by a construction zone at the front of the property. Don’t worry, the popular terrace restaurant and wine shop are still operating and the wines are better than ever.

Within two years a much-expanded restaurant, retail shop, wine education centre and “club member” facility will be opening on one of the most scenic perches in the Okanagan. There is a lot happening at CedarCreek.

Up the hill behind the original winery a new production facility is ready for for the 2017 harvest. And, oh yes, right next door stands the stunning, new Martin’s Lane Winery that will soon be releasing super-premium pinot noir and riesling.

This patch of real estate is poised to be the wine hub of East Kelowna.

A Bit of Background

The upgrade began with the 2014 purchase of CedarCreek by Anthony von Mandl, proprietor of Mission Hill Family Estates, visible across the lake in Westbank. The same year he created von Mandl Estates, anchored by CedarCreek and Martin’s Lane in northern Okanagan, and Checkmate which is focused on super-premium single vineyard chardonnays and merlots made in the south Okanagan.

CedarCreek is one of the “original eight” estate wineries in British Columbia, founded in 1987 by Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, then subsequently managed through the 1990s and 2000s by his son Gordon Fitzpatrick. It has always been very much focused on quality VQA wines, with the popular success and amiability of its less expensive varietals, and the development of impressive single block premium wines as its Kelowna and Osoyoos vineyards matured.

Twice since 2001 CedarCreek has been named Winery of the Year at the Canadian Wine Awards/National Wine Awards of Canada. This year it finished in the top 15 wineries in Canada out of 242 wineries entered into the 2017 NWACs.

And I must add that on a personal note, I have often purchased and enjoyed CedarCreek wines when travelling in B.C., especially the good value varietals that are very expressive of their variety and the Okanagan. They should be available nationwide in my view, but production levels and strength of sales in B.C. makes that easier said than done. See below for some favourites.

The New Winemaker and Winery

“When a smaller family winery is purchased by a larger winery there is always concern that you will be overwhelmed with changes in direction and philosophy” said new-ish CedarCreek winemaker Taylor Whelan, when we spoke recently. “When we were purchased by Anthony von Mandl the directive was more like ‘tell us what you need in terms of investment to do what you want to do’.”

Taylor Whelan, Winemaker

Although Whelan has only been chief winemaker at CedarCreek for a year, he has been attached to the property since 2011, when he worked a vintage under winemaker Darryl Brooker. When given the reins, Taylor knew what he wanted to do, of which more in a moment.

He was born and raised in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, and after studying marine biology at University of Victoria he found his true calling while working at Beaufort Cellars near home in Comox, (before it was purchased by titanic film director James Cameron). In 2010 he graduated from a one year winemaking program at Brock University in Ontario.”

He then went to work in Niagara under Darryl Brooker at Trius, (formerly known as Hillebrand). “Darryl says he doesn’t remember hiring me at Hillebrand”, Whelan laughed. “But he did, then he left almost immediately to take over at CedarCreek.”

“In 2011 I went back to B.C. and worked a harvest at CedarCreek then went to Australia and New Zealand for a year to travel and gain more experience,” Whelan recalls. He worked at Vidal in NZ, Chapel Hill in McLaren Vale, and Bay of Fires in Tasmania.

In 2012 he was back working in the cellar at CedarCreek and advanced through cellar master and assistant winemaker positions, where he stood when CedarCreek was purchased by Anthony von Mandl in 2014. In 2016 he was offered the chief winemaker position.

“I plan to be here for awhile,” he said. “There are so many exciting things going on.”

CedarCreek has no ambition to grow larger. But with the winery re-construction he is now overseeing, he will have much better control and be able to work with smaller lots of wine.

“We now have 70,000 litres of small tank fermentation space, and a 1,400-barrel capacity cellar. This will allow us to further focus on individual vineyard and block wines, and that is our core strength,” he said.

The Vineyards and Varietals

With the Mission Hill and von Mandl Estates now under one viticultural umbrella, CedarCreek draws from over 1100 acres in the Okanagan. The prized sites for Cedar Creek however remain the 50 acres at the home estate around the winery in East Kelowna which are focused on pinot noir, chardonnay and Germanic aromatic varieties like riesling, gewurztraminer and ehrenfelser. The 50 acres at the Haynes Creek and Desert Ridge sites farther south in Osoyoos are planted to Bordeaux red varieties, syrah and viognier.

Many vines of the original CedarCreek sites are now maturing into 20, 25  even 30 years  of age – which is prime time.  The vine age gives CedarCreek a quality advantage over the many newer wineries in the Okanagan, and years of experience has led them to isolate the best blocks and rows within those sites to produce even more finely sourced, higher quality wines.

Drilling even deeper is a major focus for Whelan. CedarCreek already produces single block riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and meritage but the focus is about to become even broader with gewurztraminer and ehrenfelser. When we discussed individual wines he was bursting with detail and ideas for their future, some of which I have tried to capture in the WineAlign reviews.

Converting the 1,100 acres of von Mandl-held vineyards to organic production is also a major objective. “We began the process in 2016, so we are underway. There is a lot of acreage here, and I think it could take five years before we will be completely organic,” he said.

Desert Ridge Vineyards

To help the transition at CedarCreek and all Sebastian Farms vineyards in the north Okanagan, Kurt Simcic from Geisen Brothers in Marlborough, New Zealand was hired as head viticulturalist.

Other friends and mentors are available as well, including Martin’s Lane winemaker Shane Munn who has experience at the biodynamic Milton Estate in Gisborne, New Zealand. And, for several years, CedarCreek had used the consulting advice of the late Fritz Hasselbach of multi-awarded Gunderloch in Germany’s Rheinhessen region, who sadly passed away last fall.

Whelan sorts out the situation as follows:

“Although the vineyards share managers, every single block has a unique plan for viticultural operations depending on its history, quality targets, and the winery which will receive the fruit and future goals for the block. The plans are developed by winemakers and viticulturists to suit the style of each winery. It’s a very specialized approach we are taking to try to elevate quality across the company,” he explained.

The Wines

In July, the WineAlign team tasted the full extent of the CedarCreek portfolio at world HQ in Toronto. We have reviewed 20 wines in full on WineAlign, and here we put some of our favourites into the limelight. But full and differing reviews (as always) can be found by clicking on the wine.

Again, these wines are not widely available in Canada beyond B.C. and Alberta. And that is great for those in BC and Alberta, but less so for those of us east of the Rockies who are curious about BC wine but so rarely get to experience prime examples.

My own general impression is that the $20 range varietals are solid value, with a special nod to the ehrenfelser, merlot and meritage. Among the single block wines I steer you to riesling, viognier, merlot, and “The Last Word”.

Click on the wines below to see recently posted reviews, with most wines tasted by most of the WineAlign team.


CedarCreek Platinum Riesling Block 3 2015
David Lawrason – Block Three is a 24 year-old parcel of riesling vines on the home property in East Kelowna. This signature white delivers classic old vine riesling complexity in a dry, grippy, lower alcohol yet well textured style.
John Szabo – Cedar Creek’s premium riesling bottling is aromatically intense and has complexity in spades. The palate, too, is a very intense experience, both sharp and leesy, with riveting acids and excellent length on a mid-weight, bone dry frame. Serious wine.
Steve Thurlow – There is a lovely floral tone to the aromas on the nose of this delicate fresh riesling. It is lightweight and fruity with a firm acid backbone and just enough sweetness to balance the acid.

CedarCreek Senator’s White 2016
John Szabo – Within the generally more frivolous (entry-level) white blend category, this is one of the more ambitious examples. From equal parts chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it’s very fresh and aromatic, with bright, crunchy acids and plenty of stone and tropical fruit. A fine and versatile white all in all.

CedarCreek Platinum Haynes Creek Viognier 2016
David Lawrason – From a six-year old block of viognier in a warm and sandy site in southeast Osoyoos, this strikes a balance between richness and refinement rarely found in viognier. It is pale lemon hued with a quite lifted, precise, classic tropical fruits.

CedarCreek Platinum Riesling Block 3 2015CedarCreek Senator's White 2016CedarCreek Platinum Haynes Creek Viognier 2016

CedarCreek Gewurztraminer 2016
Steve Thurlow – There is a degree of elegance to this pure, midweight gewurz with the rich ripe fruit palate finely balanced by firm acidity. The fresh nose shows ripe apricot and cantaloupe melon fruit with ginger, tangerine and floral complexity.

CedarCreek Ehrenfelser 2016
David Lawrason –  Ehrenfelser was planted in the Mannhardt Vineyard in 1972. At 45 years of age those vines are now producing a seriously good aromatic white. It is mid-weight, solid, dry and very fresh with intense minty, citrus flavours.

CedarCreek Chardonnay 2015
John Szabo – Great length, great value. This is a very nicely dialled-in, lightly flinty, moderately wood-influenced chardonnay (aged in foudres) with very engaging aromatics, impressive generosity and weight and balance.
Steve Thurlow – This is a well priced delicious chardonnay with nicely integrated oak spice adding complexity and structure. The midweight palate is finely balanced by lively acidity and focus is well maintained onto the finish.

CedarCreek Gewurztraminer 2016CedarCreek Ehrenfelser 2016CedarCreek Chardonnay 2015

Rosé and Reds

CedarCreek Platinum Block 1 Rosé 2016
John Szabo – It’s great to see the number of serious rosés made in Canada on the rise. This one can be added to the list, a pure pinot noir with bright, pale pink colour, and delicate, fragrant aromatics, chiefly in the raspberry-strawberry spectrum. The palate is dry and saturated with flavour.
David Lawrason – From a single block of pinot noir on the Kelowna property that was groomed for rose production (not just picked early), this gold medal pinot noir has proven very popular, already selling out at the winery. Brilliant appearance, pretty aromatics, nicely fresh and tart edged with excellent length.

CedarCreek Platinum Desert Ridge Meritage 2014
John Szabo – This is my pick among Cedar Creek’s premium red range, a fullish, firm, and juicy Merlot-led blend. It’s generous and concentrated and it will keep you warm on a winter’s night. But not yet – tannins are still a bit rasping and could use the sanding action of time – tuck this in the cellar for another 2-3 years.
Steve Thurlow – It is quite elegant and still youthful. Classy and polished with the potential for improvement with a few years in the cellar.

CedarCreek Platinum Desert Ridge Merlot 2014
David Lawrason – From one of the best red wine vintages in recent times this has an enticing, ripe almost lush nose of blackberry jam, oak resin, chocolate and spice. It is full bodied, generous and ripe yet built on very good acidity typical of BC.

CedarCreek Meritage 2014
David Lawrason – Great value here in a gold medal winning five-grape blend led by cabernet franc at 39% and merlot at 26%. Interestingly malbec comes third at 24%, providing some floral lift to the otherwise savoury south Okanagan notes. Complex, well balanced and long on the finish.
Steve Thurlow – This has an intriguing nose of ripe red cherry fruit with spice, jam and floral notes. The palate is smooth and juicy with rounded fruit and lovely vibrant acidity. It will gain in complexity and integration with another year or so of bottle age.

CedarCreek Platinum Block 1 Rosé 2016CedarCreek Platinum Desert Ridge Meritage 2014CedarCreek Platinum Desert Ridge Merlot 2014CedarCreek Meritage 2014

This feature was commissioned by CedarCreek 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, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign. See below for more details provided by the winery.

CedarCreek Estate Winery

CedarCreek Estate Winery

Purchased in 1986 by Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, CedarCreek released its first wines in 1987 and was one of the first eight pioneering wineries of BC. With four generations of agricultural heritage and more than three decades of experience, we have pursued perfection and produced some of the valley’s best wines resulting in CedarCreek being twice recognized as “Canada’s Winery of the Year”.

The story of CedarCreek is rooted in the vision of Senator Ross Fitzpatrick. Born and raised in the Okanagan, he worked his way through university in the orchards and fruit packing houses that dotted this beautiful valley. Years later his success in business afforded him the opportunity to fulfill his boyhood dreams by acquiring an orchard and small vineyard near Kelowna.

In February of 2014 the Fitzpatrick family announced the transfer of ownership of CedarCreek Estate Winery to the von Mandl Family. With this, two of the region’s pioneering winemaking families have come together with a shared vision for the Okanagan Valley, one that will continue the Fitzpatrick family legacy for generations to come.

Our knowledge of the terroir of the Okanagan and dedication to the craft have brought many awards and international acclaim, to our winery and our region. We are committed to building on our success by continuing to refine our approach to wine growing. Passion, tenacity, care and hard work are vital but above all we seek truth in wine. And the results show in every bottle. On that, you have our word.

Platinum Club

Join the CedarCreek Family & we’ll treat you like Platinum. We ship you six bottles, three times a year –  aromatic whites in spring, fall release reds and whites, and our full-bodied Platinum Reds in February – ensuring access to limited release wines and the first chance to purchase more.  Enjoy our many other member benefits including 15% of any additional purchases, front-of-the-line ticket access to our Sunset Concert Series and complimentary private tastings at CedarCreek Estate Winery.

Join the Club

CedarCreek Estate Winery. Our Wine is our Word.