HOWLING BLUFF ESTATE WINERY STILL MAGICAL AND EVEN TASTIER
By Roslyne Buchanan
I first met Luke Smith, proprietor of Howling Bluff Estate Winery, in 2010 on a field trip as part of the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop. Then again in 2011 when I was working on a story on wineries of the Naramata Bench for the gorgeous, glossy, and sadly now defunct, Savour Magazine.
Inspired by winery proprietors like Luke, exceptional Naramata wines, the region’s terroir and a nod to the area’s colourful history, my editor and I titled the article “The Magic of Naramata Bench”. Today, in revisiting the winery I am still inspired by the magic that can happen when people follow their dreams and truly apply themselves to the nitty gritty of fulfilling them.
At the time, I wrote of the Naramata Bench winery: “Howling Bluff Estate Wines has a goal to ‘produce remarkable wine year after year in small lots.’ While this family-owned operation that was a risk for Luke Smith, formerly in the investment industry, may be small in scope it is a giant in reputation. With his son Daniel, Luke has planted the vines and made award-winning wines since the first vintage in 2006. Wine Access named Howling Bluff best red winemaker in Canada 2010 and many critics consider the pinot noir Canada’s best.”
Nitty gritty indeed, as Luke – sometimes with his dog, sometimes with family, sometimes with staff, and sometimes with consultants – puts sweat equity into the creation and maintenance of his vineyards and into the making, bottling and labelling of his wines. I’d have used the term ‘rolled up his sleeves’, however, these days unlike his professional career as a financial advisor, you are more likely to find him in a t-shirt than in a long-sleeved dress shirt. As testament, you’ll see dirt under his fingernails rather than the manicured hands he once sported.
His taste for fine wines that he honed those days of business suits, mahogany desks and corporate world travel, nonetheless, has remained intact. You’ll find him benchmarking the family’s Howling Bluff vintages against the finest wines of the world. Given his early start at home in wine and culinary appreciation, it is not surprising that he would eventually find himself fully entrenched in the pursuit. Noted wine author, John Schreiner wrote that Luke’s mother, Lynda, “was secretary of the International Wine and Food Society’s Vancouver chapter.” His parent’s parties introduced Luke to pairing great wine with food inspiring him as a teenager to begin collecting his own wine and creating a cellar collection.
Luke jokes that he never worked so hard for so little money. Clearly, the reward of doing what he loves is far more satisfying. As a family-owned estate winery, Howling Bluff prides itself in growing its own vines and tending its vineyards tenaciously to produce small lots of remarkable wines. Its website states: “We honour the authenticity of old-world Burgundy varietals and apply innovative, new world techniques to optimize the quality of our winemaking.”
With an undying love for sharing his knowledge about wine, you’ll also find him joining his staff in the tasting room and patio to regale the winery’s many visitors. Hours are 11 am to 5 pm daily, May to October. The Wine Shop staff, trained impeccably by Howling Bluff General Manager Audralee Daum and Luke, offer an informative and relaxed tasting. The wines, too, speak to the quality of the grapes grown and wines lovingly made from them. In tasting them, you’ll be hard pressed to narrow your purchase to one or two. In fact, you might walk out a Wine Club member which you won’t regret given a cost/benefit analysis and the award-winning selections to savour at home.
Luke learned through his plantings that the soil was made for Pinot Noir and he declares it the signature wine. He notes, “We strive for excellence, and are honoured to have been bestowed four Lieutenant Governor Award for Excellence in BC Wines, distinguished as the Canadian Red Wine of the Year (2010), and awarded a silver medal from the Decanter World Wine Awards (2015), deemed the world’s largest and most influential wine competition.”
Howling Bluff is also well known for its Sauvignon-Blanc/Semillon blend. In the 2019 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada, Howling Bluff achieved 17 in the Top 25 Wineries in Canada. The 2016 Pinot Noir Century Block was awarded Platinum; 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Three Mile Creek awarded Gold; 2016 Pinot Noir Three Mile Creek and 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon awarded Silver; and 2016 Pinot Noir Acta Vineyard awarded Bronze. For perspective on this accomplishment, The Nationals 2019 WineAlign attracted 1,815 entries from 259 different wineries from eight different provinces. Tasting is blind which means the producer, origin and price is unknown by the judges.
Luke is rightfully proud of the awards as affirmation to the legacy he is building for his family. Son Daniel, in particular, has soil on his hands and is responsible for the port made at the winery. As the family grows up, pursuing dreams of their own such as attending university, Luke remains committed to “doing the best job to get the best results.” He has no regrets in shifting his career to what seems to have been his destiny.
Even Howling Bluff’s name can be attributed to some magic of a moment. Recalls Luke, “It was a beautiful early spring morning, the moon still in the sky and our dogs were howling away on the bluff by the winery. The scene, the occasion and the moment just seemed too perfect, and thus Howling Bluff winery was born.”
He is enchanted by the hard work and being integral to the entire process. We are enchanted by the divine results.
Featured image: Line up of Howling Bluff Estate Wines. Photo credit: Roslyne Buchanan.