Wine Culture Magazine

Mark Beringer and Olivier Humbrecht: two international icons of winemaking savour the potential of Phantom Creek’s storied vineyards

One of the Okanagan’s most notable vineyards, Phantom Creek, is now inspiring two highly regarded global winemakers. Lionel Trudel photo

Over the past six years, Phantom Creek Estates’ chairman, businessman Richter Bai, has assembled some of the most storied vineyards in the South Okanagan Valley. He has also built a grand 45,000-square-foot facility that houses an impressive collection of art, an ambitious restaurant and a barrel cellar dominated by a golden Dale Chihuly chandelier.

But even more impressive is his dream team of iconic winemakers who are continuing family traditions first planted centuries ago in the soil of France, Germany and California.

The most recent to join the team is senior winemaker Mark Beringer—yes, that Beringer—who has relocated to the Okanagan from the Napa Valley, where his family established the famed Beringer Vineyards. He is working closely with another global superstar, Alsace’s Olivier Humbrecht MW, who has been a consulting winemaker with Phantom Creek since 2018. 

The attraction? The potential to create a whole new history of winemaking in an exciting, untapped region.

Mark Beringer, great-great-grandson of the pioneering Napa Valley wine family, joined Phantom Creek as head winemaker in 2021. Photo courtesy of Phantom Creek Vineyards

‘A challenge with potential’

Compared to Alsace, where wine has been made since the Romans arrived more than 2,000 years ago, British Columbia’s winemaking history is very young—the industry really only began a few decades ago. As Humbrecht notes, “Wine is not part of the local culture here; you don’t have a culture of people who want to work in the fields, which is difficult. But it is a challenge with potential.”

Within the province’s short history lie three famous vineyards—Becker, Phantom Creek and Kobau—which are all part of Phantom Creek Estates.

The Becker Vineyard was the site of the famed Becker project in the late 1970s, when viticulturist Helmut Becker planted 33 traditional European grape varieties to see what, if anything, would thrive here. Then, in 1993, he introduced red Bordeaux varieties to the bench, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are now synonymous with the South Okanagan.

The Phantom Creek Vineyard is where viticulturist Richard Cleve planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in 1996; this site has since made wines of international acclaim. Across from the Black Sage Bench, on the Golden Mile Bench sub-GI, the Kobau Vineyard was planted with Cabernet, Syrah and Viognier in 2005.

In the last few years Phantom Creek has expanded its vineyard holdings to the southerly Similkameen Valley and the Skaha Bench sub-GI. All of this prime vineyard offers the kind of potential both Humbrecht and Beringer were seeking: the next benchmark in generations of family winemaking.

Olivier Humbrecht, France’s first Master of Wine and descendant of more than four centuries of winemaking, oversees the white wines at Phantom Creek. Photo courtesy of Phantom Creek Vineyards

‘For the next generation’

“Olivier and I were talking last night [about] the difference between his family and his many generations and mine,” Beringer said at a recent lunch. “He’s lucky enough to be there to keep it for the next generation.”

Born into Napa Valley wine royalty, Beringer is the great-great-grandson of founding brother Jacob Beringer, who immigrated from Germany and started the winery in 1876. But Beringer knows little of the family history before that.

“We knew he was a winemaker in Germany and our winemaking history goes back to before him, but because of the world wars, many of those records were lost,” he says.

In 1971, Beringer Vineyards was sold to Nestle. It is now owned by Treasury Estates and is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley, but the family connection has been lost. Meanwhile, Mark Beringer became winemaker at Duckhorn and Artesa before returning to Beringer Vineyards in 2015 as chief winemaker, then last year joining Phantom Creek.  

Humbrecht’s journey to Phantom Creek took a slightly different path. France’s first Master of Wine is the owner and winemaker of the esteemed Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, which has been in his family since 1620. He is able to continue a centuries-old family tradition back home, while working on something new in B.C.

“My family chose to sell out before I had that opportunity,” Beringer says. “But it also gave me the freedom to make wine in a lot of different places. So that’s why, when I decided to get out of Napa and look around, this place really attracted me because it had so much potential.”

‘Not allowed to fail’

Beringer was also attracted by the chance to escape the corporate wine environment he found himself in. “This is probably my most hands-on job in 20 years,” he says. 

At Phantom Creek, Humbrecht shares his post with in-house white-winemaker, Karin Grosstessner-Hain, and is able to advise the estate on the transition to organic and biodynamic viticulture.

“A project I work on has to be organic, and my name is on it,” Humbrecht says. “I’m not allowed to fail here, just like I’m not allowed to fail in Alsace.”

Both winemakers want to leave their historical stamps on the Okanagan. Both share some similar lineage and a love of winemaking. And both have been lured here for the possibilities. But with a great name comes enormous responsibility.

“I took the job because I think there’s great potential here, and that excites me,” Humbrecht says. “Of course, I had a feeling, a hunch, yes. And when I saw the vineyards, I thought, this has to be quite interesting—a challenge.”  

Four Phantom Creek Wines to try

Phantom Creek Estates Pinot Gris, 2019
Okanagan Valley, B.C., $27.49)
Foraged mushroom, pear, lemon; slick and precise.


Phantom Creek Estates Riesling, 2019
Okanagan Valley, B.C., $33)
Mineral, earth, marmalade; racy and postured.

Phantom Creek Estates Petite Cuvée No. 4, 2019
(Okanagan Valley, B.C., $37.99)
Cherry, balsamic, espresso; muscular and textural.

Phantom Creek Estates Kobau Cuvée, 2019
Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, B.C., $80)Luxurious cassis, star anise; generous and elegant.

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