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Grapes, and business, growing at Monte Creek

Wine competition welcome in Kamloops

Monte Creek winemaker Galen Barnhardt calls it the hangar.

The new production facility at Monte Creek looks the part, but rather than housing airplanes, this building is where the local winery plans to see its production soar.

Monte Creek Winery has more than tripled its capacity, setting up the local vineyard to grow into the same league as B.C.’s largest wine producers over the next 10-plus years.

The winery, situated on a 1,200-acre property off Miner’s Bluff Road east of Kamloops, has unveiled its two latest pieces of infrastructure added to the property in 2021 — a $2-million greenhouse and an $8-million gravity-fed production facility.

Barnhardt said expansion came about as the winery’s only other production facility — a 4,500 square-foot space — has been punching above its weight, producing about 15,000 cases for the winery annually, up from the 8,000 it was designed for when the winery opened in 2015.

“We quickly outgrew this facility. We were basically almost bursting at the seams from the get-go — and, of course, that’s a good problem to have,” Barnhardt said.

The new, larger 15,000-square-foot facility stands 52 feet tall from the base of the hill it is built on, Monte Creek general manager Erik Fisher told KTW.

The state-of-the-art facility is designed to create better-tasting red wines by using gravity, rather than a system of pumps and hoses, to collect the juice.

Whole grapes will be sorted and fed onto a elevator from the top of three floors and into tanks below, where the fermentation process begins.

From those tanks, the excess skins and seeds will be removed while the juice flows, via gravity, into settling tanks on the ground floor, which also boasts a 200-barrel storage room.

Barnhardt said this is a gentler process for making red wines and will help eliminate bitterness, which develops when skins and seeds are pumped.

“When you don’t have to pump the fruit at any point all the way to bottling, that makes such a difference,” Barnhardt said of the gravity-fed process.

“You’re going to get less bitterness, a little bit more refined tannins to the wine and a little more aromatics out of the wine.”

The older facility that does use a pump system is being dedicated to making white wine, as that process doesn’t benefit from a gravity system because grape skins and seeds are removed right away and only the juice is pumped into the tanks.

No wine has been processed in the new facility yet as it wasn’t ready last year in time for harvest, meaning the inaugural vintage will christen the new digs in 2022.

Monte Creek creates up to 20 different types of wine per year and, for the most part, the new facility will be used to expand the size of those batches, Barnhardt said.

About 20 B.C. wineries produce the 50,000-case mark — the highest capacity in the province — and Monte Creek’s expansion gives the local winery the ability to produce that same amount.

Fisher said while Monte Creek now has that capacity, it cannot take it on all at once and plans to grow production in 5,000-case increments per year.

He said more vineyards have been planted to coincide with the growth strategy, with the goal to be producing 40,000 cases per year in the next decade.

The winery’s new greenhouse has been operational for a year and is being used to grow grape vines from January to May and as an event space from June to December.

The 5,000-square-foot greenhouse is equipped with misters, a retractable roof, speakers and a panoramic view of the South Thompson River.

Monte Creek marketing manager Ashley Demederois-Cox said the winery still has other infrastructure plans ahead. The winery hopes to add an amphitheatre sometime in the next five years.

Wine competition welcome in Kamloops Fisher said Monte Creek’s $10-million investment is meant to cement the Thompson Valley as a “major player in both the grape and food wine production.”

The announcement comes on the heels of Andrew Peller Ltd., Canada’s second -largest wine company, announcing that it is undertaking a years-long fact-finding mission on the other side of the valley.

Peller is researching whether growing conditions are right on the Tranquille lands off Cooney Bay for a future winery in the area, citing high demand for B.C. wines and a lack of land elsewhere as the reason for eyeing Kamloops.

Fisher told KTW he is hoping to see Peller succeed in the Thompson Valley as adding wineries will help make Kamloops more of a destination in the industry, noting a rising tide lifts all boats.

“I’d say we’re underserviced right now,” he said