Being spoiled for choice of wineries to visit in my own Naramata Bench neighbourhood, we rarely venture down the road to OK Falls or Oliver or across the lake to Summerland which we view from our deck, but we really should get out more. A trip to Thornhaven Estate Winery and some time spent in those red chairs is time perfectly spent. I have a soft spot for anything do with Summerland because any town with “Summer” in it seems like a warm and happy place…add a glass of their Infusion frizzante and the happy metre goes into the red chair zone.
Jan Fraser, who with her husband Jack, started the winery as a “retirement” project says, “There is something special about the wineries in Summerland. I think it has to do with how many of them are family-owned. They are all pretty special out here and their is a lot of pride.” In addition to Jan and Jack, who also run Jackson Height’s vineyard, their son Jason is winemaker and cellarmaster for the estate and oversees three of Thornhaven’s Summerland vineyards. Daughter Cortney heads sales and marketing for the winery and with husband Nick oversees the Elmo’s Vineyard, where the winery grows its unique Orange Muscat.
The family is celebrating the 15 anniversary of Thornhaven in the best way possible with the release of their XV, which is the Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend available just at the winery. If you like pink and bubbles (yup), their Infusion is made from classic Champagne vareitals Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I loved it.
The family has a lot to celebrate. Jan says she is most proud of being around 15 years. Thornhaven was only the third winery in Summerland when they opened. “It’s great to be part of a community of wineries now which makes such as a nice destination for wine touring.” The Bottleneck Drive Winery Association, of which Thornhaven is an active participant and booster, now has 19 members including a fruit winery and cidery. Among the members are Dirty Laundry Vineyard, Silkscarf Family Boutique Winery, and 8th Generation Vineyard.
Daughter Cortney says she is most proud of her brother Jason. “We never set out to make award-winning wines. Our goal was to make really good wines but it’s a happy surprise to be recognized and it’s all down to Jason. He has control of the vineyards to the cellar to bottling, until the wine hits the shelves. Have to give it to him. We are already having an award-winning season taking two golds at Spring Wine Festival, for the XV and our 2015 Gewürztraminer. With so many wineries now its such a great surprise that we make really great wines too.”
Thornhaven has grown from producing 2,800 cases to about 5,600 and the hard work is still engaging, Jan says. “The wine changes every year and we add new things like the frizzante.” Cortney chimes in saying, “It’s dangerously easy drinking.” I can testify to that. It was a good thing the Handyman was driving.
The family is expanding with the addition of Cortney’s three children and it’s looking like the family business may remain so for years to come. “Cortney, our first to reach Kindergarten age, was in class and the kids were working on learning how to set the table. After everything was placed, Cortney says, ‘This is where the wine glasses go.’ I explained to the teacher that we are in the wine business so she didn’t get the wrong idea.” Cortney added that local teachers get a lot of bottles of wine at the end of the year versus I Heart Teachers mugs. I bet they are OK with that.
If all the other Bottleneck Drive wineries are as warm and welcoming as Thornhaven and their wine as good, I can understand what Jan means about Summerland having a unique vibe. “It’s a pretty great community of like-minded people who know what it takes to get great wine into the bottle,” she says.
Like the movie “Sideways” here is a bit of digression. This little bear cub is peeping in the window of our deck doors as I write this. You know the feeling when you’re back is turned and someone is watching…
Cheers to the Okanagan.