On this weekend Diana and Mark of @foodologyca & @fooddaddyca, and I took a drive down to Oliver to visit Phantom Creek. Phantom Creek is a new Estate Winery sure to turn heads and create a buzz as they are vying for the spot of top winery within BC’s Okanagan. It took 4 years to prepare the Estate for business, given the owner’s high standards and the goal to be the “Best in the Okanagan”, and we were here today to see that first hand via their $190 per person winery tour.
We were hosted by Roger, an acclaimed wine specialist with international accreditation. He would take us on a journey through Phantom Creek’s history, its terroir, their sustainable farming practices, and winemaking philosophy. A guided tour that walked us through their unique winemaking process and equipment that descended two levels into their underground caverns, climaxing at their Founder’s Cellar.
Our tour begin with a introductory glass of the Viognier, a sweet white with notes of peach and honeydew to lighten the mood.
Here, within their reception space we learned of the long standing history of the vineyard, well before being branded Phantom Creek; when they open in June 2020, mid pandemic.
The property sits on an older vineyard with older vines imported from Europe; and were one of the first vineyards to do so. From there they have purchased adjacent vineyards to be able to grow their vines in various soils and see the fruit that they bare. A story told through their soil composition that is on display across 4 tapestries.
This room also speaks to the acres under their umbrella with a 3D topical map crafted from stone. This and all the details to come speak to the pride they have in their estate. Six vineyards in total, all with diverse soil profiles. Different aspect, different characteristics with weather and temperature to consider; each influencing the wine that they bottle. The result is a type of wine and grape grown differently and tasting differently depending on what vineyard they are harvested from.
This educational piece was followed by a tour of the Phantom Creek vineyard we were standing on. Phantom Creek practices bio dynamic farming , all organic, all natural, no chemical use; just sunlight from where all the flavour and sugar comes from.
We walked amongst the grapes, having the irrigation system and their sprinklers that sputter explained to us. A different process of water based on the weather and the needs of their grapes. During the cooler months they only use drip irrigation, to have water gently dropping only at the roots of the plant. A measure used to control the water supply. We also learned that the grass left between the rows are done so intentionally, as it prevent soil erosion. Although they do trim it when their grape canopy reaches a certain height, as by then it begins to compete for nutrition with their vines.
During colder months they also maintain the unusual practice of burying manure-filled cow horns into the soil. A practice common to those who prescribe to traditional Chinese medicine. The microorganism activity here is said to add to the quality of the soil and therefore the harvest that yields from it. After said harvest, these horns are dug up and discarded in spring.
There are lot of fung shui elements, and everything is considered on the estate. Like how the stone trail leads towards the valley floor. And the placement of a customized bust of Helios, the sun God protects the property. They have gone so far as to import in naturally occurring Egyptian stone with marble and shells to erect their buildings with. The colour was specifically chosen so that it blends into the background, indicating the harmonious relationship the winery has with its environment. It speaks to the partnership and helping one another. They take care of the land, and the land in return yields high for them. quality fruits.
From here our tour ventured inward, so that we could learn what sets both their red and white wine making processes apart, stationed on either ends of their production floor. For the whites, their machinery slowly presses the grapes for 14-16 hours, ensuring that the end product is the purist with the least amount of pulp and fibre. Noting, that any solids can bring about unwanted flavour when fermentation happens. Every step of the process is meticulously done so that the end result is of the highest quality.
The red grapes are processed in a one of a kind de-stemer. Phantom Creek boasts as the first Okanagan based winery to do this, with Mission Hill learning and adapting it for their own operations. This is another slow and percise piece of equipment that removes any debris and unwanted particles, so that the whole grape is left intact. Here, they do not want the fruit to prematurely break and oxidize. So a pulsing vibration is implemented to sort out bugs and dirt, so that we are left with the whole berry that goes into the fermentation tank.
No pumps are used, just giant funnels that can move and hover over equally large tanks; where the fruit is dropped in, in a very clean process. The simple and spacious room that houses theses vats speaks to this.
Next we were shown their white fermentation process, with their very unique, and highly rare Australian oak egg shaped barrels. To give us perspective, Roger told us that American barrels need only be seasoned for 1-2 years, where French barrels are seasoned for 2-3, and Australian barrels undergo 5-7 years of seasoning for a very subtle oak flavour that has been well broken in. It was no easy task securing these barrels, but apparently the in-house wine master’s pedigree helped.
As their most precious tank, the temperature and humidity of these are precisely controlled. Their shape has convention in mind, as gravity helps to automatically stir the wine, so that the yeast at the bottom is allowed to breathe and they do not need to use a stick to mash and mix. They also do not need to replace the barrels as they are designed to be subtle in oak, and will forever remain as such.
Whereas for the red, after a month of use, the tanks are cleaned out. Their basket press machine allows them to choose the pressure and manage the desired tannins. The grapes are fermented in full, then juiced after they mature, allowing for more infusion with the grape’s skin. A process that is unseen at other wineries.
From here the red wine is corked in barrels and are situated on rollers to allow them to rotate, thus ensuring plenty of surface area and additional exposure with the oak. A careful process as they don’t want it over oaked. All the barrels here are fresh and as a result the barrel room is wonderfully scented with the essence of toasted barrels inside and out.
Our journey eventually led us to the most magical of all their rooms. This is the Founders cellar. A mirrored room crown by handblown glass, surrounded by a sea of barrels and a couple of 6 litre bottles of their 2017 best wine, at an estimated value of $2K.
But our tour would not end here. We would ascend back upstairs, to one of the private suites to end our tour with a tasting of the wines that they had available for purchase downstairs in their tasting room. This private room overlooked the vineyard on its second storey. And at this point we realized that the property had no bad vantage points or angles.
The Phantom Creek 2020 Chardonnay has a flavour that lingers. Best when you allow the wine to sit and develop more in oak, to help draw out notes of peach blossom, hazelnut, vanilla, and lemon pie.
The 2018 Kobau Cabernet Franc holds the highest score given to a Canadian red. This is a bottle they recommend that you age, up to 15 years. It has a strong coffee flavour with hints of black cherry, and savoury soy sauce. It has a long finish, but not a heavy one.
The 2018 Becker Vineyard Cuvée requires a good swirling to bring out its fuller body and darker fruits. It was compared to a California wine with more wheat and a very dark cherry finish.
The 2018 Kobau Cuvée is an award winner. It has the longest finish of all the wines we had, with the highest concentration of alcohol. This is definitely a wine you age, considering its tight structure on the pallet. Especially given the great climate they had that year and the scarcity of the lower yield of grapes with less bunches.
Their priciest wine, listed at $150 is the 2018 Phantom creek Vineyard Cuvée. It is super age-able with a 20 year hold on high intensity. And if and when you do break it open, be sure to allow it the necessary time to decant; at least 30 minutes. This draws out its very polish nature with lots of tannins and its longer finish.
During their peak season, the above wine tour and tasting is available every day. However during the winter months they only offer tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
In conclusion, there is no better way to appreciate what goes into your cup than by learning how it got there. I have never visited such a meticulously designed and built property with so much luxury in mind. Everything is so intentionally done with a high attention to detail. I highly recommend visiting once and getting the whole experience like we did. Our lunch at the on-site restaurant is to come in the next post!
Phantom Creek Estates
4315 Black Sage Rd, Oliver, BC V0H 1T1