In the words of Wine Critic Kurtis Kolt, Tyler Harlton Wines is creating a big buzz for their "incredibly expressive and honest wines, reflecting a genuine 'garagiste' flair." We caught up with Tyler at the winery in Summerland to learn about wines by hand.
Q. Tyler, you come from the small, make that tiny, farming town of Pense, Saskatchewan. Tell us in 5 steps how you arrived in Summerland in 2011 to open THWines.
1. Tasted Osoyoos Larose while taking Sommelier studies in Montreal in 2007, and realized that Okanagan wine had world class potential
2. Spent a fall in France and toured wine regions, seeing the link between good agriculture and fine wine
3. Worked for Osoyoos Larose upon arriving to the Okanagan in 2008 under Pascal Madevon, witnessing vineyard to bottle
4. Fell in love with Summerland and rented a winemaking facility
5. Finished harvesting the last grapes from our first vintage in November of 2011 and let the ferments do the work
Q. You don't own land. This makes you different from many of your Okanagan fellow estate-based wineries. How does this affect your product, not having a vineyard location and vines you are dedicated to year after year?
A. Our winery is 100% reliant on small growers in the Okanagan, which is a risk that makes sense for us. We’re on the lookout for the best grapes, and we want the freedom to source grapes from anywhere in the valley.
Q. How do you choose your grower and locations? Do you prefer particular farming /growing practices? Do you spend tIme with the fruit? And at what stages, if you do?
A. We want the best grapes in the valley, even if they aren’t grown organically. We make high demands of our growers, but because they take great pride in delivering quality, they don’t mind adhering to our standards. Our hands-on work starts in the fall, during leaf removal, and it accelerates the moment we pick the grapes.
Q. You produce less than 1000 cases of wine per year, making you amongst the smallest of Okanagan wineries. We understand that at this scale you have a lot of hands on time with all the wines. Explain the 5 pivotal or heavily influential moments in the winemaking process that you feel differentiate a small production from a larger one with similar quality ingredient inputs.
A. Here’s when it matters to be hands-on:
1. Picking the grapes. It’s abnormal for the winemaker to be in the field and picking the grapes because of demands on the winery floor, but this is a pivotal point in quality assurance. We personally select the grapes that make it to the crushpad.
2. Sorting the grapes. This continues the work of the picking, where the grapes pass through our hands and unwanted material is removed.
3. Fermentation. We work with small amounts, and every ferment gets touched and tasted daily. We know what’s happening in tanks and barrels, and we can make immediate decisions when necessary.
4. Wine movements. It’s tedious to treat every wine movement as a big event, but it’s a practice we’ve adopted from the start. We are scrupulous with cleaning, and the finished wines are never troubled.
5. Blending/bottling. We are not held to a business spreadsheet when it comes to decision-making, and we have perfect freedom in the manner that we present the wines, in terms of blends and bottling dates.
Q. Do you plan to grow your production?
A. The plan was to grow modestly, expanding only if it doesn’t compromise quality. Because we’re sourcing excellent grapes, and getting more efficient in the cellar, we will be increasing production.
Q. You have 4 wines currently available. Your "outlier" - the 2011 Organic Apple Wine, A 2011 red blend of Cab Franc and Merlot, a 2011 Rose made from Cab Franc, and the new 2012 white blend of Viognier and Pinot Gris.
In one sentence answer for each, how are these drinking right now?
Viognier Pinot Gris 2012: The depth on this wine shows up by the end of your first glass. The finish is long and tantalizing, and the wine is just getting better in bottle.
Cab Franc Merlot 2011: For a young wine it's quite developed, dark fruit flavours are balanced by firm and smooth tannins. It's approachable enough to sip on its own, which is rare for a Bordeaux-style wine.
Rose 2011: The grapes for this Rose were picked in November (very late), and I think that's why the wine is so expressive. It's at perfection right now.
Apple Wine: Light in alcohol and gentle finish. Chill it and spill it into any type of cup. Nothing altered between you and the orchard.
Q. Can you give us a sneak preview of what you have in barrel, and what's planned for your next bottling?
A. Reds are in barrel and waiting. First up will be Pinot Noir 2012. Further down the road we have some Cab Franc, Merlot, and Malbec which will likely come together for the red blend to be bottled in 2014.