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World-class Okanagan winery wins international accolade

Aromatic, soft, floral wine can’t be compared to other regions of the world

The vision of Dennis O’Rourke is coming to life along Commonage Road in Lake Country. After blasting through rock and incorporating many natural elements, the future of what will be a world-class one-of-a-kind winery is taking shape.

O’Rourke Family Estate head winemaker Nikki Callaway says it’s been a long process to get the space ready.

“I think a lot of neighbours and people that are looky-loos that have been coming up and down the road are eagerly excited and anticipating the opening and what’s happening on the hill. It’s still quite a ways away, we have no real definite date and time of opening.”

The facility, however, doesn’t have to be open to show off its expertise. Callaway produced the 2020 O’Rourke Family Estate Chardonnay which won gold in the Chardonnay du Monde international competition in Burgundy, France.

“I think it’s just fantastic to see the valley, to see Lake Country, to see what we’re capable of doing and being recognized in an international setting. It’s pretty neat and pretty exciting.”

The award-winning wine, Callaway says, is particularly special.

“It didn’t take very much to make an award-winning wine of this level. This was a brand new facility, we were still under construction and there was construction dust everywhere and workers everywhere. I barely even had the power to the site to get the harvest going.”

Obstacles are just a part of this winemaker’s life, she also was met with the hurdle of working with young vines, less than 10 years old, and the new site brought uncertainty about how the vines would grow.

“I also took out a lot of wine-making variables because I wanted to see what the fruit and this land would provide for me, so everything was natural, everything was Indigenous, everything was mostly in neutral barrels all aged in the caves. I wasn’t playing around with any wine-making tools, I was just depending on what the soil, the climate, and the geology that this site was able to give me.”

The 2020 O’Rourke Family Estate Chardonnay is described as aromatic, soft, and floral. A Chardonnay that Callaway says can’t be compared to any other region of the world.

“I don’t think B.C. should be comparing ourselves to other regions. We are distinctly what we are and this wine is definitely an Okanagan Chardonnay.”

The winemaker says her goal is to take on the “anything but Chardonnay” wine drinkers.

“The moment that anybody has tasted this wine or actually put it in their nose, people have converted from never enjoying a glass of chard to ‘oh my goodness, this is such a beautiful wine,” she says.

With O’Rourke Family Estate being in its infancy, Callaway had the chance to select her own tools and machines to have on site.

“It’s been an amazing professional opportunity to build and commission and work in a facility that you designed and had in your mind and then it all comes together. It’s been fun to work in a new winery as well. It looks big and it’s a little daunting, but trust me when harvest is here and there are barrels all over the floor and equipment everywhere it’s not as big as it seems.”

Callaway also loves the natural elements the matriarch O’Rourke demanded in his building plans.

“The caves, it’s using old-world technology of aging barrels and moderate cave systems where the weather is kind of temperate all year long and nice and cool and humid. We’re doing what the Europeans and the Persians have been doing for years.”

It is estimated the caves and underground tunnels span 400 metres and is completely sustainable as it doesn’t require heating or cooling to maintain the right temperature.

The estimated $100 million winery project will once again put the Okanagan on the map as a must-visit destination. The facility will include over 150,000 square feet of building with a restaurant, offices, tasting rooms, an event centre, a retail centre, and an outdoor amphitheatre overlooking the lake.

O’Rourke Family Estate is partnered with Peak Cellars and will bottle for the sister company at the new site.

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Brittany Webster

About the Author: Brittany Webster

I am a video journalist based in Kelowna and capturing life in the Okanagan
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