IMPRESSED BY A PEEK AT PHANTOM CREEK
By Roslyne Buchanan.
Over the last few years, it’s been impossible to drive Black Sage Road in Oliver without taking a pulse on the progress of Phantom Creek Estates Winery. The scale is so massive, you see it from Highway 97.
The Richter Bai family of Richmond, BC, bought Phantom Creek and Becker Vineyards in 2016 to accomplish a dream of owning an Okanagan Valley winery in keeping with his love of Bordeaux-style wine. Construction on the 45,000-square foot winery began Summer 2017.
In Fall 2017, Phantom Creek Estates began converting to organic and biodynamic certification to forego use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers in its estate vineyards. Summer 2018 marked first wines bottled (flagship Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée).
The wine club and online store launched Spring 2019 despite the official winery opening delayed to Spring 2020. (At phantomcreekestates.com find details on the vineyards’ history, additional vineyards and the winery’s full timeline.)
When Louise Dabisza, Senior Sommelier, Quails’ Gate Winery, invited me with her friend Lark on the pre-opening Estate Tour & Tasting, I was excited to catch up with them and by the opportunity. The tasting room is not able to receive guests, however, this exclusive 90-minute behind-the-scenes sneak-a-peek was reserved in advance.
On the property once prior with my husband when we could only walk the grounds and peer in the windows, I was eager to see more of the stunning architecture by John Taft, Backen & Gillam. The construction esthetics in concert with artistic sensibilities of the Bai family creates a true masterpiece.
It’s a legacy in the making for the Bai family and the Okanagan generally. Right from the outset, choices were meticulously made to procure, develop and foster the best vineyards to create outstanding wine by fine winemakers. Reviews of the wine are incredibly positive. There is little doubt that once completed, Phantom Creek Estates will draw more visitors benefitting the entire region from the scale of exposure.
Currently, Phantom Creek Estates is facing a challenge from the Agriculture Land Commission (ALC). While approval from the regional district was received to proceed with plans, key elements were disallowed. The establishment of a separate fine dining restaurant and banquet facility – part of the $100 million investment of the winery – were denied. A hospitality centre, indoor and outdoor licensed lounges and a 500-seat amphitheatre were also part of those plans.
Phantom Creek Estates is proceeding with the approved operations including a restaurant and lounge areas. How it will address ALC’s decision is still under consideration. Chief Executive Officer Santiago Cilley noted the winery received approvals from other governing bodies and will examine next steps regarding ALC’s concerns. It was noted the non-farm use of the land, which is essentially the winery footprint, is a small percentage of land use at Phantom Creek Estates.
On the Estate Tour & Tasting, I was blown away by the thought and investment instilled into this facility. Transitioning from the back vineyard into the parking area and walking paths, there’s a beautiful “Helios” sculpture capturing the changing light. From it, a symbolic granite ‘creek’ of changing form guides you to the winery.
Two towering angelic figurines, the sculpture “Terra Natura” invite you to enter. Their design whispers connections between land, sky and the wine, plus the project’s scope. Brand Ambassador HJ Cha, who led our tour, relayed the Bai family are patrons of the arts and eager to share this love, too.
We were off to a delicious start with our first tasting of a juicy Viognier with aromas of spring flowers and tastes of apricot, almond and honey. Joining the tour were the folks from Urban Liquor of Kelowna, always keen to keep their knowledge current.
Cha was a fountain of knowledge clearly proud of the enterprise as she led us through the labyrinth of pathways and state-of-the-art facilities pointing out the design’s ecological mindfulness. Like a doting emissary, she smiled as we oohed and aahed our way. One minute we were impressed by the technology of the winemaking equipment, the next minute awed by the steel tanks, oak and Stockinger barrels, lighting fixtures, floor patterns and mirrors.
Just when we thought our wide-eyed amazement was abated, she opened the door to the VIP tasting room where our flight of five wines was staged. With oak barrels artistically radiating out from it, the centerpiece was an opulent chandelier by Seattle glass sculptor Dale Chihuly hanging above an exquisitely set round table. We swirled, sniffed and sipped as light captured the amazing piece and it was reflected in glass panels.
The bar was set so high for the elevated tasting, and thankfully, the wines delivered given prices range from about $30 to $100 per bottle. Our flight included Pinot Gris 2017, Becker Vineyard Merlot 2016, Becker Vineyard Cuvée 2016, Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah 2016 and Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée 2016. There was not a weak one among them and the reds were balanced to drink now or hold on to for years to come. It’s little wonder that the numbers signing up for the Wine Club is amassing quickly just to ensure access to these special selections.
Featured photo: Stockinger barrels at Phantom Creek Estates a winemaker’s dream. Photo credit: Roslyne Buchanan.