There is a buzz in the air in the Similkameen Valley in southern British Columbia, and it is not just the sound of the powerful wind that the region is famous for. It is about the wines—wines that continuously display an enviable mix of minerality, intensity, freshness, and complexity and, leading the charge and making many of its best wines, is Orofino Vineyards.
Orofino Vineyards is the family-run operation of two Saskatchewanites, John and Virginia Weber. High school sweethearts from Swift Current, the two eventually fell in love with a property in Cawston in the Similkameen Valley. They took the bold leap and purchased the six-acre, 12-year-old vineyard and became vignerons. The Webers are true believers that the Similkameen has something unique to offer and they are not alone; the wines are noticeably different from the neighbouring Okanagan. “We get such strong minerality in the wines, across the entire lineup from riesling through to cabernet,” says John Weber. Other wineries in the province have also been impressed with what the Similkameen can offer and many grapes from Similkameen vineyards are ending up in top wines in the Okanagan as well.
With just six acres of their own grapes and making a little under 5,000 cases of wine, the Webers rely on great relationships with their growers to make the top quality wines. They work closely with four growers in the Similkameen and have built long term relationships that allow top quality wines to be produced, something not always easy when a winery doesn’t grow their own grapes. The growers feature prominently on the website and the vineyard names on the labels, showing what the Webers believe is important.
The Orofino lineup is an eclectic mix that, due to its varied aspects, soils, and slopes, only the Similkameen can produce. From their own vineyard they produce riesling, pinot noir, and most of their premium Bordeaux red blend Beleza that is a steal at $34. They produce two other serious rieslings, as the variety is a focus, one from the neighbouring Hendsbee Vineyard and the other from Scout Vineyard, further south towards Osoyoos. The importance of the terroir is very evident in the three different rieslings as the Home Vineyard and Hendsbee have the steely minerality from the calcium-rich soil while the Scout Vineyard is fuller and softer from its gravel terroir.
Scout Vineyard also produces a top quality syrah and provides some of the pinot gris which is blended with Hendsbee fruit. On the hill behind the winery at the foot of Orofino Mountain (hence the winery name), is Passion Pit, a 1.5-acre vineyard and probably one of the best places to grow cabernet sauvignon in Canada. The Celentano Vineyard provides a small amount of highly sought-after gamay, almost a cult wine since it has been picking up accolades and satisfying drinkers’ passions for juicy, crisp, fresh red wine.
The Webers are not stopping and resting on their laurels but are instead even more driven to get the best out of the Similkameen terroir. Not only is the winery partly solar powered and built from straw bales but less manipulative techniques such as wild ferments and old, neutral barrels for their riesling are part of doing things in a way that shows they care. The Similkameen is fast gaining a reputation and Orofino has seen what the terroir is capable of, driving a passion that will help put the region on the map.