OKANAGAN FALLS, British Columbia — Twenty years ago, Larry Gerelus bought his vineyard in Canada's Okanagan Valley, but he continues to explore viticulture beyond British Columbia for Stag's Hollow Winery.
A troublesome frost pocket in his Okanagan Falls vineyard led him to plant the early ripening Spanish grape Tempranillo, first brought to prominence in North America by Earl Jones' winery in Roseburg, Ore.
Early results at Stag's Hollow have invigorated Gerelus.
"I want to be the Abacela of the Okanagan," Gerelus said. "I want to be unique, and I know it's important not only to do things differently but to do them well."
Gerelus has a tradition of success, thanks in large part to Dwight Sick, whose winemaking led Wine Press Northwest to name Stag's Hollow our 2012 British Columbia Winery of the Year.
Just as Abacela, Stag's Hollow has delicious track record with Syrah, including gold medals at the Northwest Wine Summit for the 2008 Syrah and best of class award for its rose from Syrah.
"Given the success we've had with it, I truly believe Syrah in the Okanagan Valley can show its identity in the world," Sick said.
His skills go beyond Rhone varieties and his succulent and fun whites. Last year, he produced two Merlots worthy of our top rating of "Outstanding!" including the upper-tier 2009 Renaissance. The Heritage Block red blend from 2008 also was "Outstanding!"
And despite two stressful vintages, Stag's Hollow boosted production from 6,500 cases in 2010 to 7,500 last year. The tasting room features 15 wines, and more are planned with 100 cases worth of Tempranillo in barrel.
"We've got 1 acre already producing, with another 3 acres of Tempranillo being planted with three clones," Gerelus said. "We're looking at Albarino and Dolcetto, too."
This winter, Sick toured Abacela's Tempranillo plantings, and Jones made quite an impression.
"He is passionate to the point of almost being possessed about (Tempranillo), and I don't think he'd deny that," Sick said. "He's got that spark when he talks about it, which is a very admirable attribute."
It's a three-prong operation at Stag's Hollow with Sick in the cellar, Gerelus in the vineyards and wife Linda Pruegger managing the business. Gerelus and Pruegger are refugees from the oil industry in Calgary, Alberta, where he managed pension and benefits programs, while she worked sales and transportation.
Sick spent two decades in the airline industry before deciding to take winemaking classes. He arrived at Stag's Hollow in 2008 after working at Pentage -- Wine Press Northwest's 2011 B.C. Winery of the Year.
"It's working for us, which is good because Larry and I probably see each other more than we do our wives," Sick said. "Life is too short. You've got to enjoy your job."
It's unlikely you'll find a more physically fit winery team. Both owners are avid skiers, and Sick commutes from Penticton to the winery on his bicycle.
"I'm looking forward to spring so I can stop riding the trainer," he said. "I feel like a gerbil on an exercise wheel."
The Corkscrew Trail he rides continues to grow in stature. Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery, our 2009 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year, shares a fence with Stag's Hollow. Nearby are the estate plantings for 8th Generation Vineyard -- our 2012 B.C. Winery to Watch -- and the cult Blue Mountain Vineyards.
"Those who know us will say when they hear of our award, 'Finally. It's about time they got some publicity," Gerelus said. "But some of the locals still dont know that we even exist. They ask where I work and they'll ask, 'Is that a new winery?' "
As word spreads, dont be surprised to see Stag's Hollow as Canadas first member of the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society (TAPAS).
"If they will let us," Gerelus said with a chuckle -- and perhaps with fingers crossed.
Stag's Hollow Winery, 2237 Sun Valley Way, Okanagan Falls, B.C., V0H 1R2, 250- 497-6162, stagshollowwinery.com