Red Rooster – A Winery Profile

Perched On the Heights of The Naramata Bench

By John Szabo MS

This feature was commissioned by Red Rooster Winery.

The view across Lake Okanagan from highway 97 to the bright, sand-coloured bluffs on the eastern shores is one of the most striking in all of Canadian wine country. Once the shoreline of prehistoric Lake Okanagan, these glacier-carved headlands form the so-called Naramata Bench, an area rich in agricultural history.

Some 60 million years ago, volcanic-induced landslides exposed the bedrock above what is now Naramata Road. Subsequently ground by glaciers and peppered with various materials transported by the slow-moving mounds of ice, the resulting soils are a fertile, happy place for fruit orchards; a hundred years ago this was a major fruit growing area. More recently, an alternative vocation for these benchlands was discovered: Naramata is today one of the most coveted grape growing regions in British Columbia, with its own sub-geographical indication (GI) as of this year.

Some 30 wineries, including Red Rooster, now jostle for precious vineyard land in the narrow 15 kilometer ribbon stretching from the town of Penticton in the south, through the town of Naramata itself, to the southern edge of Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park. Further expansion is not possible: the east is pinned in by the Kettle Valley Rail Trail under the massive ancient granite cliffs forming the Okanagan Highland, a high, hilly plateau-like area between Lake Okanagan Lake and the Monashee Mountain Range. The west is defined by the drop down to the Lake. Land is thus a limited commodity and prices have risen sharply in the last decade.

In addition to favourable soils, the bench tilts slightly west, exposing vines to some of the longest hours of daylight anywhere in the wine world, a critical factor in the short growing season of the Okanagan Valley. Winds off the lake, and air flowing down from the mountains are equally important, mitigating climate extremes by both cooling in the summer and warming in the winter, and diminishing the dual hazards of spring and fall frosts, and thereby effectively extending the growing season. Constant airflow also reduces the need to spray for various vine ailments.

Red Rooster Winery was established in 1990 by a European couple who settled in the Naramata area. The first vintage released under the label was 1997. Back then, neighbours were few and far between, but over the years Naramata has become home not only to top-notch wineries, but also artisans, restaurants, and B&B accommodations, one of the most visitor-friendly regions in the province.

The history of Red Rooster Winery would later become intertwined with that of one of Canada’s most important wine players, Andrew Peller Ltd. Andrew Peller was himself a European immigrant; he arrived in Canada from Hungary in 1927 with the aim of pursuing his then-ambitious, and improbable, dream of producing fine wine in the Okanagan.

He established Andrés Wines Ltd. in Port Moody, B.C. in 1961, choosing the name Andrés as it was the closest to Peller’s Hungarian name ‘Andreas’, but with a French flair. Success ensued, and expansion was rapid. Within a few years, winery operations were set up in Calgary and in Truro (Nova Scotia). Peller entered the Ontario market 1970 with the purchase of Beau Chatel Wines in Winona, and four years later founded Les Vins Andrés in St. Hyacinthe, Québec. In a pivotal move, Andrés Wines acquired Hillebrand Estates Winery in 1994, Canada’s largest producer of VQA wines in Niagara-on-the-Lake, now Trius wines.

Red Rooster’s and Peller’s trajectories would eventually meet in 2005, when Andrew’s grandson, John Peller, purchased the winery and continued the legacy of expansion. In 2006, the company’s 46th year, Peller changed the corporate name from Andrés Wines Ltd., to Andrew Peller Limited in honour of his grandfather.

A new winery was built on Naramata Bench Road to house Red Rooster, just a few kilometers from the original site. The large arched doorways that form the entrance to the winery’s tasting room were made from wood salvaged from the original Naramata Train Dock, while art displays, a large patio and open grounds with views of the lake make for an inspiring backdrop for wine tasting. The 2.2m statue of the naked guy with a briefcase on the property, Frank, well, he’s more of an acquired taste.

And still evolution continues. Elaine Vickers was named Red Rooster’s winemaker in September of 2019, taking the reins from Karen Gillis. Gillis in turn has moved on to manage vineyard operations for all of Peller’s BC holdings, which include the brands Sandhill, Calona, Tinhorn Creek and Black Hills Estates. It’s a position she relishes for the more direct connection it affords to the land. “But I still have a couple of small batches of wine on the go,” she reveals.

Gillis intends to bridge the gap between vineyard and winemaker, and plans to work closely with Vickers to select the best parcels out of Peller’s total of 1000 acres across the Okanagan, those that best suit the Red Rooster style. This means that in addition to the home vineyards on the Naramata Bench, Vickers has access to a vast range of parcels across the full range of the Okanagan’s variable climate and soils to select the most suitable fruit expressions. “I won’t make too many changes right away,” says Vickers. “The first step is getting to know the blocks and the fruit styles, and then work on showing their best qualities.”

This could mean lowering crop level to intensify flavours, applying alternate watering regimes, and leaf removal manipulations to attain desired acid levels in the grapes. Over the longer term, Vickers intends to slowly fine tune the portfolio and move towards more specialization from the current broad range of wines on offer.

Red Rooster offers two distinct tiers: the Classic Bird series is the entry range made in larger batches, designed for maximum and broad appeal. Whites are generally unoaked, fresh, varietal expressions of the Okanagan, while reds feature soft, approachable tannins. “Aiming for a softer tannin style starts from picking, making sure tannins are ripe,” explains Gillis. Punchdowns are kept to 2-3 times per day, with particular care taken at the beginning and end of fermentation to avoid harshness. And, “there’s not much extended maceration, maybe 20 days total. Then there’s barrel selections, looking for those with the most fruitiness. The idea is not to overpower wines with wood tannins.”

Both whites and reds are designed for short term enjoyment.

A step up in both quality and price is the Rare Bird reserve series. These are wines made from more distinctive parcels of vines in smaller quantities. “With these, the winemaker can tweak and express a winemaking style,” says Gillis. “The winemaker is free to choose what they feel is the most special – it doesn’t have to be a single block – but in my experience, your best blocks are your best blocks. They are farmed differently, and they get our attention first.”

As for Vickers, she plans to continue Gillis’ work. “The classics will be kept pretty similar to what they were in the past so that the consumer knows that year to year they will be getting a wine that they already know and love.”

But the reserve range, on the other hand, is where she intends to make her own mark and further differentiate them from the classics. “For example, this was the first year [2019] we were able to do a bit of sorting at the winery so we could remove the unripe grapes or leaf matter during processing. For the Gewürztraminer, we let the grapes hang longer to increase sugar ripeness and made a fatter, rounder style of wine. For the Pinot Gris reserve, we used our cement egg-shaped tanks for ferment and will leave it on lees to create a more creamy, textured wine. For the reds, again the reserves will be riper and will have more tannin extraction (longer extended maceration) and they will get the premium oak barrels as well. Our reserve Malbec will be made from estate fruit only and we will soon be pushing to get the sub-appellation of Naramata bench on the label. Moving forward, we will be focusing on having more and more fun with the reserves and will be investing in different tank styles, i.e. more cement tanks and more foudres, for both reds and whites, and will look into alternate winemaking techniques, like co-ferments, whole bunch ferments and wild ferments to name a few.”

So, while we look forward to Red Rooster’s evolving portfolio of wines, here are the WineAlign’s crü’s preferred wines from the current roster.

Red Rooster Selections 

Red Rooster Rare Bird Series Pinot Gris 2018, Okanagan Valley ($28.74)
Michael Godel – Fruit sources are southern Penticton and just north of Oliver. The styling and expression are quintessential B.C. pinot gris with some tension, good energy, not to mention persistence.
John Szabo – Clean and fragrant, open and aromatic, there’s impressive orchard fruit character, on offer here, apples and pears, green peach and apricot, very much in the varietal spectrum. Pinot gris is clearly a variety at home in the Okanagan.
Sara d’Amato – This characterful pinot gris exhibit Alsatian inspiration with its unctuous and fleshy palate, offering a wealth of ripe stone fruit. Its impressively exuberant aromatics are a result of a slow, cool fermentation. The quality lives up to its price.

Red Rooster Rare Bird Series Viognier 2018, Okanagan Valley ($28.74)
Michael Godel – Fruit comes from two vineyards in Oliver and one in the Similkameen Valley. Aromatically speaking could only be viognier albeit in wholly exaggerated ways.
John Szabo – Clean, varietally correct aromatics in the ripe orchard fruit spectrum, succulent peach and apricot, honeydew melon, and a strong dose of floral-violet character.
Sara d’Amato – A full-throttle viognier, full-bodied, fleshy and exotic. A most satisfying interpretation that is lush and ripe with nervosity from underlying acidity. Youthful with a persistently memorable floral tone.

Red Rooster Rare Bird Series Meritage 2016, Okanagan Valley ($40.25)
Michael Godel – Concentrated in a Bordeaux style, Heavy on the balsamic and the chocolate. Toasty, roasted berry and tomato flavour, amaro and glycerin. Big bones here.
John Szabo – A fragrant, forward, properly herbal-green-vegetal cabernet, with the necessary dose of red and mostly black fruit, and a light floral tinge. Tannins are light, very soft and supple, with balanced acids.

Red Rooster 2016 Rare Bird Series Syrah, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canadan ($40.25)
Sara d’Amato – Meaty and lightly peppery, this well-balanced and expressive syrah is a solid offering from Red Rooster. The palate offers a refreshingly moderate degree of alcohol on the mid-weight profile. Varietal character and terroir are notably manifest here.

Red Rooster Golden Egg 2016, Okanagan Valley ($63.25)
Michael Godel – The blend is mourvèdre with grenache noir and syrah. The fruits are ever berry red pushed by striking acidity and smooth, fine and melting tannins. Neither big nor puffy of chest.
John Szabo – The top wine in the Rooster range, this is an intriguing, smoky, peppery, surprisingly light and elegant red. Tannins are light, acids are soft, and length is good to very good.

This feature was commissioned by Andrew Peller Limited. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries and wine agents 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.



Provided by Red Rooster:

Founded in 1990 on the Naramata Bench, Red Rooster was named for the Rhode Island Red roosters that were on the winery’s original farmgate property. The first vintage was released in 1997, and the winery quickly became known for producing award-winning, delicious wines that always overdelivered in the glass. In 2005, Red Rooster was purchased by Andrew Peller Limited, and the winery was relocated to its current location, just a few kilometres from the original site.

Red Rooster focuses on Alsatian white varieties such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Blanc as well as Bordeaux and Rhone-style red wines, embracing the unique diversity offered by the Okanagan Valley. The winery’s Classic Series wines are true Okanagan expressions of signature varieties such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Merlot. The Rare Bird Series wines showcase the best of Red Rooster’s exceptional vineyards and the talent of winemaker Elaine Vickers.

Although the wines may be serious, every visit to the winery is welcoming and without pretense. The winery’s hospitality building reflects its location on the Naramata Bench, with salvaged wood from the original Naramata Train Dock used to build the large arched doorways that form the entrance to the tasting room. Red Rooster’s hospitality is always engaging and conversational, just the way our wines were meant to be enjoyed.