‘I was happy I could swim otherwise I would have drowned in his eyes,’ says Larch Hills Winery proprietor Hazel Manser about her first encounter with husband Jack. As I sampled my fifth glass on a ridge overlooking a stunning, sunny view of Enderby, her words mirrored my love at first taste.
It was the kind of ‘work’ day you put in quotes – off to Larch Hills Winery south of Salmon Arm to learn more about the winery ‘most-local’ to Revelstoke.
Two more jumped into my car to join me on a sublime day trip.
Grasshoppers crackling through the air and dry twigs crunching underfoot announced our arrival at the 72-acre mountainside winery. The clear, light-blue fall sky was tinted with a light smoky haze that muted out the very distant farms of the Deep Creek and northern Okanagan Valley.
Proprietor Jack Manser and his deep-blue eyes met us at the wine shop, ushering us on an impromptu tour of the operation. The Swiss-born farmer spent a lifetime in the grain and dairy business in Alberta before buying out the winery about eight years ago.
“I’m a guy where paying attention to detail matters,” he told us as he explained the mostly white European varietals and showed us around the massive stainless steel vats and bottling centre. His winning smile accompanied us on the tour.
“We’re one of very few without irrigation,” Jack said. “Plants here only get what mother nature provides.” There were murmurs questioning the wisdom of the winery when it was cleared and planted by a previous owner – an immigrant from Austria. It was too far north, they said, not enough sun and 800 metres high.
The solution was a focus on European varietals that flourish in colder northern European climates like Germany; Siegerrebe, Ortega, Gewürztraminer — to name a few.
The combination creates wines with “European-style, intense flavours,” Jack said.
Larch Hills has about 15 acres planted and 10 in production, producing about 6,000 cases during a bumper year and fewer when rain limits them.
Jack’s wife Hazel Manser arrived back at the winery during our tour.
She was toiling as a nurse in Holland several years back when her sister in Canada played matchmaker, suggesting she meet this farmer she knew.
Before long, Hazel quit her job, sold her stuff and headed for Canada, with no regrets so far.
PHOTO: Hazel and Jack Manser are the hands-on proprietors of the vineyard. She handles the marketing sphere while the life-long farmer Jack handles the vines and winemaking. Photo by Aaron Orlando
She lead us through a great blind wine tasting along with Jack. I loved the Madeleine Angevine (or “Mad Angie”) a delicate, fruity and crisp white. Try a glass at Benoit’s Wine Bar in Revelstoke.
In reds, the cherry hints of the medium-bodied 2011 Marechal Foch won me over, though our tasting party was split — others preferred the Merlot or the 2010 Marechal Foch Special Reserve.
Hazel explained the winery is family-sized, focusing on an authentic, earthy experience for those taking a tour. “Every bottle is hand-filled, corked and shrink-wrapped,” she explained “Here you see real life. We are ordinary, hard-working people.”
I’m there to find out if their ‘local’ status to Revelstoke and the Shuswap gives Larch Hills is an advantage in an age where local is preferred.
A bit, but not really, explained Hazel. Most restaurants and establishments consider the entire Okanagan to be ‘local,’ which puts them in direct competition in an industry that has proliferated in the past decade from a few dozen to more than 200 wineries.
PHOTO: The Larch Hills Winery is situated on a southern-facing ridge south of Salmon Arm. It commands a stunning view of Enderby and the head of the Okanagan Valley as wells as the Deep Creek Valley. These are new vines; most of the winery’s are much more mature. Photo by Aaron Orlando
Other wineries resort to short skirts and deep cleavage to push wines at their retail outlets, but Hazel said that’s not for them; they’re a family affair that’s focused on a unique, honest product.
Jack told me a few experts recommended raising his prices to get the attention of status-focused clients. “They told me, ‘Your wine is too cheap.’” But that’s not his style, he said. They’re interested in maintaining their core clientele of dedicated local and regional customers and don’t want to price them out.
The nearly-ripe winery was set to become a hive of activity in a couple days as pickers arrived to begin the harvest. In the meantime, the anticipation hanging in the late-summer air made for a fantastic, highly-recommended day trip from Revelstoke.
PHOTO: I sampled some varieties including the Madeleine Angevine, Siegerrebe, Ortega and Marechal Foch. Photo by Aaron Orlando
The Larch Hills Winery is located off of Highway 97B about 15 minutes south of Salmon Arm. Look for the signs on 97B. You can order their wines for delivery online at larchhillswinery.com or by phone at 250-832-0155.