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Our vineyards are hand-managed by co-owner Petra Flaa, who is most at home outdoors with the vines. Keeping her company and providing the soundtrack as she performs vineyard tasks are sandpipers, meadowlarks, robins, ring-necked pheasants and kestrels.
Petra works the Baillie-Grohman Estate surrounded by an amazing landscape. Creston is situated on a glaciated countryside composed of rolling hills lying between the massive Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges. The glaciation is evidenced in our vineyard landscape, which slopes uphill to the east and north, taking pause at a knoll formed before glaciation time where the glacier skipped over this spot. As the glacier receded through this area it deposited boulders, rocks and varied soil along the way. We are fortunate to be located on the highest point in this area. It not only offers fantastic views and microclimate, it has great soil and rock structure, aspect, sun exposure and gentle slopes providing good drainage. The moderate winter weather ensures healthy hibernation.
The soil structure in our vineyard varies from sandy and loamy clay to heavy soil with lots of calcium and small to large rock and boulders. In planting the vineyard, Petra was met with numerous big boulders, making the driving of posts an extreme challenge. The many rocks and boulders throughout the vineyard have a positive aspect: they store heat, which aids the ripening process. Up the hill at the back of the property this is further illustrated where one of our blocks of Pinot Noir is planted. The reflective and heat-absorbing rock becomes oven-like, helping the Pinot Noir grapes ripen well.
Baillie-Grohman is definitely on the edge, as the area has virtually no history of grape and wine production. Yet while the Creston region is still emerging as a wine-growing area, it boasts a proud agricultural history, and as with many fertile agricultural areas in the world, there is an evolution underway as ground crops and orchards lead the way to viticulture.
What Creston does have presently is a reputation for cherries, peaches and apples. The Goat River moderates the local microclimate and Kootenay Lake moderates the entire Kootenay Valley. Our vineyards have average high temperatures above 26°C in July, and average annual rainfall of only 500 mm. “It reminds me of Central Otago,” says winemaker Dan Barker.
What surprises Dan also is the compression of the growing season. “Here you throw the traditional degree day approach out the window,” he says. “What blows my mind here is the long days of sunlight hours.” The sun rises at 4 am and sets at 10 pm, which helps to explain the rapid growth and ripening during a short window of time.
The Baillie-Grohman vineyards are planted to Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and several other blocks of vitis vinifera grapes at various stages. The winery also contracts Gewürztraminer grapes and additional quantities of Pinot Noir from Creston Valley Vineyard.
Grape production is maintained at low yields in the vineyard, with cane pruning and fruit thinning to one bunch per shoot, to increase quality of the berries and wine. Drip irrigation is in place but not necessarily used. “We do not need to water our mature vines,” says Petra. “There are natural springs deep in the hill.”
The approach taken in the vineyard by Petra and Dan is one of learning. They are undergoing trials in Pinot Noir to study the implications of crop loading, and shadowing. By making these grapes into separate lots of wine they are able to analyze the implications of their studies.
Dan and Petra each embrace the fact that they are among those pioneering grape growing in the region. “It is about learning your microclimate,” says Dan. “You need to understand your weather and understand your block. As you learn each year you will be better and better.”