SUMMERHILL PYRAMID WINERY
Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada
Food style: organic, biodynamic winery with farm-to-table bistro
Veg Scale: 100% vegan wines!!!
Part of town: East Kelowna
What a lot of people don’t know is that a lot of wine, and many types of alcohol in general, are not actually vegan. In winemaking specifically, animal byproducts such as fish bladders, gelatin, egg whites, milk and milk byproducts are used in the process. To find out whether or not your favorite adult beverages are vegan-friendly check out the awesome website BARNIVORE. An extensive online database searchable by brand, this fantastic resource clearly labels each varietal along with providing backup resources that explain the reasoning behind whether or not each libation is considered herbivore friendly. They also have an app, Vegaholic, that doesn’t even need wifi!
Known as “The Nappa of the North,” The Okanagan Valley is responsible for 90% of the wine produced in British Columbia and is fast becoming one of the most awarded and recognized wine-growing regions in the world. Due to its highly diverse terrain boasting countless microclimates and vineyard soil types along with the winds blowing down the hills into the 85-mile long Okanagan Lake, it is the perfect setting for organic farming and winemaking.
Knowing the history of this area, I knew I wanted to try some wines while Chris and I were visiting, but it was important to me to make a conscious choice on where exactly to sample the local offerings in a mindful manner. With a page on their website directed exclusively towards vegans, I knew Summerhill was the place for me! Aside from all of their wine being vegan-friendly, they run an organic, biodynamic vineyard complete with food forests and edible landscaping that schedules its planting and harvesting seasons with the lunar cycle! This methodology is right in alignment with my belief that all things - including us, what we eat, and where and how we grow it - are all energy interacting with and impacting one another. It is vitally important that we are in harmony with our surroundings, honoring our environment by balancing what we take with what we give back. This is the only way to sustain any system and as the stewards of the earth, it is our responsibility to seek and honor that balance in all ways. By placing our focus and energy simply on taking from the earth, we diminish its resources and potency, slowly dwindling down to dust what has supported us for countless generations. Biodynamic farming is the future of food production, focusing on rebalancing what has been greatly depleted by outdated systems like factory farming and monocultures.
Known for growing and bottling countless gold-medal-winning varietals of sparkling wine (different only from Champagne in that the grapes do not come from the Champagne region in France), Summerhill is one of the “most visited wineries in the region.” With their sweeping vistas overlooking the lake, it’s no wonder a wedding party was gearing up as we arrived. A more scenic setting for your wine-loving nuptials you could not ask for. Unfortunately their bistro menu does not support the vegan diet, though their gelato offerings in the front foyer do. On our visit this included two sorbet flavors that Chris and I happily enjoyed in order to rebalance our core temperatures from the steaming outdoor heat. The cherries from this part of BC are famous and so fittingly one of the flavors was just that while the other was a refreshing mango. Both were sweet and bursting with flavor while the cherry had a much smoother, creamier mouth feel. I don’t recommend indulging in these treats too close to a tasting however, as this will effect your palate.
As you first enter the grounds you will notice their trademark building: The Pyramid, an integral part of their winemaking process. Oriented to True North, it is their “marriage room” where the cuvée and dosage combine over 30 days. As explained by our friendly tour guide Andrew, this process is enhanced by the negative ions directed through the structure, which naturally accentuate properties of any kind, in this case those of the grapes. All Southeastern European wineries specializing in sparkling wines have a sacred geometric structure as their marriage room for just that reason. Summerhill’s Pyramid is unique in that it is the only one of these buildings able to be above ground due to the climate. The hot summers are balanced out by the cold winters preventing severe fluctuation within the Pyramid’s interior temperature. The acknowledgement of the effects of sacred alignment in this so seemingly modern yet timelessly ancient process is very exciting to me. A more in depth exploration of the science and spirituality behind this structure and its purpose is best expounded upon by proprietor Stephen Cipes but I highly recommend a visit as the best explanation you could have is your own personal experience. And you will taste the difference I assure you J
Chris and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting the bright, shining soul that is Mr. Cipes on our visit as our paths crossed by chance at the end of our tour in the private tasting room. A warm, open man he greeted us with a true hug and a bottle of sparkling rosé in hand. I could have shared space with him for hours. It is clear he has a passion for and understanding of the true nature of life and how to best enjoy it and building this winery is a testament to that.
Four tastes are included in the $10 tour fee, $5 of which is refunded when you purchase a bottle. By no means a connoisseur, I’m usually more of a red wine drinker, but I found much to enjoy in their white and sparkling varietals. Producers of 14-17% of Canada’s ice wine, they had three bottles available to try and sample them we did. One of these is only made in two wineries in the world, Summerhill being one of them! I ended up taking home a Brut and a Merlot. As I normally don’t like Merlot, I was surprised but agreed with Andrew as its flavor profile more closely resembled that of a Pinot Noir and I found their Pinot to be too light for my taste. We grabbed a number of other bottles as presents, as well. Their Jazz Rosé even comes in a refillable glass bottle shaped like a trumpet, the perfect gift! We were having such a great time chatting with Andrew, learning more about the wines and organic winemaking in general and getting his unique perspective from a culinary background that when it came time for us to head out, I had honestly lost track of how many tastes we enjoyed!
Our brief but impactful meeting with Mr. Cipes along with the expert knowledge provided by Andrew and the countless tastings we did afterward allowed us to feel not only confident in our purchases but excited to share these special creations with the friends and family for whom we chose them. I have the distinct feeling that this will not be the last time Chris and I share a varietal at this special place in the OK Valley.
I am an actor/writer/content creator based in Los Angeles. I travel extensively both as the host of the new vegan food travel show The Road Less Eaten and on my own. This blog will chronicle my journey around the globe as I hunt down all the vegan options in every part of the world, no matter how big the city nor small the town.
Copyright © Ally Iseman 2016. I own my awkward. Thanks for enabling me.