Wine Culture Magazine

After 37 harvests, the bubbles still flow and the love for the land is deeper than ever

A sunset view over Summerhill’s vineyard. Kevin Trowbridge photo

For 37 harvests, Stephen Cipes has been growing grapes and making wine as organically, biodynamically and as soulfully as possible

To celebrate, the team at Summerhill Pyramid Winery is throwing a festive harvest brunch on October 2, when the bubbles will flow as happily as the good vibes at Canada’s most visited winery. “We were going to do it at 35, but there was COVID, and then the wildfires,” says Michael Alexander, Summerhill’s winemaker. Besides, Cipes says: “We always celebrate the harvest at Summerhill.”

Winemaker Michael Alexander. Supplied photo

And this winery has plenty to celebrate.

Back in 1986, Cipes was a New York-based developer and Champagne aficionado who stumbled upon a place he believed was perfect for growing great sparkling wine. He promptly bought the land and, a year later, moved with his wife Wendy and their four boys to Kelowna.

“The conditions here are possibly the most magnificent for making sparkling wine anywhere in the world. I’m not kidding,” Cipes says. The growing season is long, the sunlight intense, the nights cold, the days hot and the climate semi-arid. “That makes us growers very able to make extremely flavourful grapes, just by turning off the irrigation water. That is the key to making great sparkling wine.”

At first, he just wanted to run a vineyard, but when he realized how ideal the conditions were, decided to open a sparkling-wine-only winery and eventually added still wines, too. Over the years, the winery has won a barrelful of awards, including recognition for the flagship Cipes as the world’s best sparkling wine “several times” in competitions in both England and France.

That was a first for a B.C. wine, but it was not the only first for Summerhill.

The province’s 13th winery was the first to build a major destination tourism attraction, including its famous pyramid. They followed organic principals from day one and in 2014 became the first winery to be certified biodynamic in B.C. “We’re proud and privileged that we are still the only winery producing certified biodynamic wine in B.C., and only one of three in Canada,” Alexander says.

They forged close relationships with local First Nations, who gave Cipes their blessing to install a kekuli, a traditional earthen lodge built around a sacred fire, on the Summerhill property—and charged Cipes with personally caring for the fire. Right behind the kekuli is the eight-acre Robert Bateman rare bird sanctuary. “We’ve always lived with nature and First Nations,” Cipes says.

And then there is the pyramid.

Cipes notes that the word means “fire in the middle,” which he translates as the heart. “This is who we are,” he says. “The heart is love.” The pyramid is second only to the Great Pyramid of Egypt for alignment and precision, and Cipes claims that wine aged in it is smoother and more flavourful. He has even created a movie about the pyramid that has been viewed 2.5 million times on YouTube.

A view from the top of Summerhill’s riesling block. Supplied photo

The winery has also made a point of nurturing the next generation, including two of Cipes’ sons—Ezra, who is managing director, and Gabe, who is director of biodynamics and permaculture— as well as Alexander. “I started in the wine shop in 2009, when I was 21, and took over as wine maker in 2018,” Alexander says. “It’s been an incredible place to grow up and it’s become home. I always joke that, on my really bad days, I just take my work home with me.”

Mentoring young people and teaching them about organics is something Cipes is passionate about. So is instilling pride among all Canadians in our potential for exceptional wine.

“We have amazing conditions here, we have amazing people here, and we have pristine water and soil. You can’t improve on pure nature,” he says, and adds, “The future of Summerhill is looking back, but it’s also looking forward.”

Summerhill Pyramid Winery

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