It’s fair to say that Phantom Creek is the most significant winery to be unveiled in the Okanagan Valley since 2002, when Anthony von Mandl pulled the wraps off his Tom Kundig-designed Mission Hill Family Estate.
And while Phantom Creek Estates may not sport a bell tower chiming the Angelus across the southern valley, it does boast pretty well everything else—and it promises to redefine the Okanagan hospitality experience much the way Mission Hill did 20 years ago.
Vancouver-based businessman and ardent wine aficionado Richter Bai founded the project in 2016, when he bought what was then Time Estate Winery from the late Harry McWatters. Bai has since transformed the half-completed foundation into a vision beyond anything even the unswervingly optimistic McWatters could have imagined.
Perched above the Black Sage Road near Oliver, this new south Okanagan anchor enjoys a commanding aspect of the 45-acre old-vines home estate Becker Vineyard and Richard Cleave’s famed Phantom Creek Vineyard, the winningest in Canada. Bai has also purchased the 44-acre Kobau Vineyard on Golden Mile Bench, two other 15-acre Black Sage Bench vineyards and 45 acres east of Vanessa Vineyard in the Similkameen Valley, now being planted to Riesling and Pinot Gris. All are planned to be fully certified organic and biodynamic over time.
At the meticulously landscaped entrance, visitors are welcomed by the six-metre-tall flying angelic forms of celebrated Taiwanese sculptor Wu Ching Ju’s dramatic Pro Terra et Natura, a replica of her salute to Mother Nature in the heart of Shanghai’s financial district. It is one of only three in the world.
The airy, two-floor reception level is truly dazzling, with sweeping views down and across to both sides of the valley. It boasts three panoramic rooms (two private), a 110-seat indoor/outdoor restaurant and a southwest-facing 526-seat outdoor amphitheatre.
But it’s the gravity-fed winery and cellar below that are even more convincing from a serious winemaking perspective. This is a winemaker’s dream come true.
There’s been no expense spared and an astonishing attention paid to detail at every turn, from the state-of-the-art large oak fermenters and optical sorters to the custom-built Stockinger foudres that bring subtle heft and complexity to the Riesling and Pinot Gris that are the signature varieties of Alsatian star consultant winemaker Olivier Humbrecht MW.
In addition, the Phantom Creek team includes winemaker Francis Hutt (who has worked in New Zealand, Australia, Oregon and Burgundy) and Bordeaux-honed veteran Napa consultant Philippe Melka as consulting red winemaker. Heading up the operation is CEO Santiago Cilley, who originally helped shape Jackson Family Wines, before moving to Chile to head the sustainably ground-breaking Via and later returning to several key California properties.
On the lowest of the winery’s three levels, at the core of a circular red wine barrel cellar reminiscent of Napa’s legendary Opus One is the exclusive, wrap-around glass VIP tasting room, dominated by its original Dale Chihuly chandelier. As you taste, surrounded by barrels, there’s a sense of sanctuary, of utter peace and timelessness—and of a passionate and very focused vision unfolding.
Phantom Creek Estates Pinot Gris 2017
(Okanagan Valley, $30) Bright orchard fruit, plush, rounded, lingering.
Phantom Creek Estates Phantom Creek Vineyard Cuvée 2016
(Okanagan Valley, $100) Toasty, plush, cherry, cassis, mulberry, spice, seamless.
Phantom Creek Estates Becker Vineyard Cuvée 2016
(Okanagan Valley, $60) Bright red and black fruit, savoury, herbal, approachable tannins.
@ Vitis Magazine