Tony Holler is feeling pretty grateful these days. The president and co-owner of Poplar Grove Winery has a great new vintage, promising new vineyards and all his family working together. Sales have been steady, despite the global pandemic, and the winery is re-opening its tasting room and its restaurant, which for the first time is under Poplar Grove ownership.
“We couldn’t be happier and more proud of how the community has come together to support each other and the businesses that call the Okanagan Valley home,” he says.
Tony Holler and his wife Barbara have owned the iconic Naramata Bench winery since 2007, when they bought it from industry pioneer Ian Sutherland, who founded it in 1993 as one of the first five wineries on the Naramata Bench. Since then, the Hollers have built a beautifully sleek landmark facility and a reputation for robust reds, luscious whites and overall excellence, thanks to their unwavering commitment to traditional farming and winemaking principles. (Among their standout wines is The Legacy, the powerful but refined Bordeaux blend that won the 2018 “Judgement of B.C.”)
Barbara manages the Hollers’ 130 acres of vineyards. The vines are divided between sultry Osoyoos and cooler Naramata, where the Hollers recently added 18 acres of Pinot Gris and 15 of Pinot Noir, which is a first for the winery. “We’re doing a lot of planting of vineyards on the Naramata Bench this year,” Holler says. “Our next focus will be to expand our big red vineyards in Osoyoos: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot.”
Overseeing the vineyards are two of their four sons, Matthew (in Osoyoos) and Andrew (on the Naramata Bench). Meanwhile, Christopher works at the winery and Eric, who has a degree in oenology, works in the production facility. “It’s completely a family business,” Holler says.
That “family” has expanded to include the team leading what for now is being called The Restaurant at Poplar Grove, and will have a new name, look and brand sometime next year.
That includes restaurant manager Michael Ziff, who is familiar to Vancouverites from Chambar, Hawksworth and St. Lawrence. He left the city last year to open Home Block in Kelowna, but, he says, “Penticton was always where we wanted to be because we have friends on the Bench.” When Holler heard that, he says, “I had some discussions with him, and it all worked out.”
Also joining the team is talented chef Rob Ratcliffe, the former senior sous chef at Hawksworth, who spent the last three years cooking at West Coast Fishing Club on Haida Gwaii and Albreda Lodge near Valemount. “We’re doing a menu that reflects his style and refocusing attention to the bench as much as possible,” Ziff says.
Now we’ve got this beautiful interaction between the wine and the food. Everybody’s really excited. It feels like a clean slate.
The menu will celebrate local ingredients, change frequently with what’s in season and, above all, showcase the wines. “Now we’ve got this beautiful interaction between the wine and the food,” Ziff says happily, noting that the new culinary approach is energizing everyone, including the winemaking team. “Everybody’s really excited. It feels like a clean slate.”
It’s all part of a much bigger plan that will see a new name and branding for the restaurant next year, as well as a renovation and, within a few years, a high-end boutique hotel. “We hope to have the restaurant at the same level as the hotel,” Ziff says. “There is a grand plan here.”
“A boutique hotel will be important for a great guest experience,” Holler explains. “And the guest experience has to be the same in the restaurant and the winery. All these things tie together as a business.”
Business, of course, has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been helped by a vibrant wine club—famously, one of the most loyal in B.C.—and direct-to-consumer wine sales, made even easier with an efficient and convenient payment and delivery system.
“We’re grateful for the support we’ve had from our wine-drinking community,” Holler says. “We’re very grateful to our customers and very appreciative of their continued support.”
Poplar Grove Winery
425 Middle Bench Rd N, Penticton
For more information, visit poplargrove.ca
@ Vitis Magazine