Drinking in 30 Years in the Okanagan
- Native Son: Howard Soon oversees Andrew Peller’s winemaking operations in the Okanagan Valley and is master winemaker at Sandhill Wines, which makes single vineyard wines from distinctive sites like the Sandhill Estate
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
HOWARD SOON ADMITS TO BEING A SCIENCE GEEK from the start. First came taking Biochemistry at the University of British Columbia, then working for a brewery and eventually fi nding his footing in the wine business. He landed at Calona Wines in 1980 and assumed the head winemaker role at the same time that British Columbia established its Vintners Quality Alliance regulations. Today, he concentrates his efforts on Sandhill Wines, the premium label created by Calona in 1997. Both wineries are part of the extensive Andrew Peller Ltd. family, which allows Soon to focus his attention on Sandhill’s single vineyard wines portfolio.
What’s it like working with such storied growers, such as King Family Farms or Richard Cleave’s Phantom Creek Vineyard?
It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. Our growers and grape managers are salt-of-the earth types. They have worked for us long term, take pride in their work, are optimistic, have high integrity and are very knowledgeable about their sites. They are key to making the best wines possible.
You’ve been making wine in the Okanagan Valley for over 30 years. What’s changed and what’s stayed the same?
What has stayed the same is the importance of our customer, the various liquor boards and restaurants, the people who enjoy our wine. Satisfying and over-delivering on their needs is paramount. What has changed is huge consumer acceptance and demand for our British Columbian VQA wines. Today, I am thrilled to see our wines on restaurant wine lists or to see our VQAs featured in special sections of the Liquor Board retail stores.
What do you enjoy most about working on the variety of Andrew Peller’s Okanagan brands?
Mentoring and consulting with a cadre of fi ve highly motivated, intelligent winemakers and achieving success in all our brands through their efforts. We truly have a collegial atmosphere with many of our winemaking tasks including getting together almost every month for a tasting and dinner in our homes. Stephanie Leinemann, Vanessa Cureatz and Jody Ezard of Peller Estates, Karen Gillis of Red Rooster and Sandy Leier of Calona Vineyard are all great people and we truly enjoy each other’s company.
Sandhill excelled at InterVin with bottles at both low and high ends of the scale. Is that a point of pride for you?
We’re competing against the rest of the world and we have to beat them on the quality/price ratio. Nothing makes me happier than to see Stephanie’s Peller Estates Family 2010 Pinot Blanc win a gold medal at the Okanagan Wine Festival and to know that our consumers can buy this wine almost anywhere (we made 4,300 cases) and spend less than $14.