VOICE- 125 Echo Bay Vineyard

Kelsey Rufiange, wine maker at Echo Bay Vineyard

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The story of Echo Bay has began when Kelsey’s grandparents, the Kenyon’s, bought the property in 1967 in Okanagan Falls. Originally the land was not meant for building a winery. It was meant for a simple family gathering place during summers as they planted alfalfa and raised a few cattle and chickens there. 

Kelsey grew up in Penticton and she, too, came to enjoy every summer at her grandparents’ property along with other family members. She would never have thought that one day she would be in the wine business until her parents decided to do something with the land and started planting grapes. Kelsey soon took a keen interest, and the whole family wine business “kind of just happened” organically from there.

Like how it started, everything happens naturally and organically at Echo Bay. For Kelsey, having a degree in Human Geography – the study of the interrelationships between people, place, and environment- and having worked in vineyards in New Zealand and Australia, more natural based farming and wine making have began to take shape naturally. She was also greatly inspired by the book “The One Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer and philosopher, who pioneered a school of natural farming and permaculture.

 

“I wanted to do classic timeless wine but do it in a thoughtful way. At Echo Bay, we farm and make wines with an emphasis on organic and biodynamic practices. We build up biodiversity in our soils and vineyard environment by bringing back native plants and creating healthy biome for the fruit to grow.” says Kelsey. “It is a lot of work in the beginning but in a long term, I just want it to be a kind of its own self sufficient ecosystem. With every plant that exists has its role to help each other. I’ve noticed the health of our vineyard has improved over time. Keeping more diversity and doing less – the style of less is more is very important for us.”

 

Diversity indeed, their winery feels more like a little big farm than a classic vineyard. They’ve got chickens, ducks, pigs, and horses (next door on Kelsey’s auntie’s ranch) roaming on the property. The family vegetable garden is in abundance. Kelsey makes special “teas” for the vineyards from stinging nettles, alfalfa, yarrow, and dandelion to cut back on their sulphur sprays. In fact, minimal amounts of sulphites are added in the winemaking too, only after a malolactic fermentation and just before bottling. Everything is fermented using wild yeast, and all wines are unfined and unfiltered. 

A minimal intervention lets the fruit speaks for themselves. This has been their philosophy since they planted their vines back in 2013, with the first vintage released in 2015. All six Bordeaux varietals do well on their site: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot. Sangiovese has been planted additionally just because her uncle loves it! Their signature wine, Synoptic, is a beautiful field blend of all those red varietals. A number of single varietal wine is different each year and it is limited in availability. Make sure to check their online shop while stocks last. 

Kelsey is also keeping herself busy by offering her experimental side label, Else Wines. It is very opposite of traditional and classic style of Echo Bay, but it is more fun, and playful style. If you miss them online, there are quite a few Vancouver restaurants and retailers stocking Else Wines for curious wine lovers.

The winery is not currently offering wine tasting, but there is an event of a collaboration dinner coming up on Friday, October 8th at Echo Bay hosted by Elise Trebouchon, sommelier and Chef Pierre of Origin Catering. Don’t miss this special opportunity during the fall season and experience the wines from beautiful vineyards that they are a good steward of.

10 QUESTIONS with Echo Bay Vineyard

Q1: How was your summer 2021? 

Kelsey(K):  “Busy, smoky and it is gratifying to finally be out with people again!”

Q2: Climate change is one of the most pressing issues today. How have the recent wild fires affected your business or your approach to winemaking and farming?

K: “I think it was a wake up call for all of us. We have to start thinking about what varietals we can grow, how to mitigate this from happening again or happening less. This whole movement of creating healthier soils, creating less waste, doing more holistic farming for self sufficient, preventative environment is one of the ways that we can help to minimize risk in the future. It all starts from farming and awareness.”

Q3: On top of the climate change, there is a pandemic. How do you see your winery evolving through the pandemic time and in a post pandemic world?

K: “Before this pandemic first happened, we were mostly restaurant focused, and then we had to shift to direct consumer sales just like the whole wine industry did. I have noticed that people are also more conscious of what they are buying and how they are spending their money. It has been great to see that people choosing and supporting more local businesses. Even when I was growing up here, I’ve always drank Okanagan wines and bought Okanagan produce, you can’t beat local.”

Q4: What is the biggest joy working in a winery?

K: “I feel so lucky to be able to see something from beginning to end and being able to be in every part of the process. Being able to enjoy the product with people around you and making people smile, because wine brings so much joy to everyone.”

Q5: If you were not in the wine industry, what would you be?

K: “I would definitely be a maker of some sort. To be creative, and create a tangible product keeps things interesting and fun.” 

Q6: What is your current favorite wine and how would you like to enjoy it?

K: “I would say Cabernet Franc. I imagine that I would just finished a day of skiing, coming back in and drinking a glass of Cabernet Franc with some charcuteries. So you feel like you’ve earned it!”

Q7: “Where is your go-to-spots when you are off work?”

K: “A beer at Neighborhood Brewing, skiing our local hill Apex, or hiking in our mountains.”

 

Q8: How can people enjoy Okanagan in the fall?

K: “Hiking, biking, and eating apples. The fall is great time to do many outdoor activities because the summer is too hot. Mountain climbing at Skaha Bluffs is nice. We offer new release at Echo Bay in the fall, too!”

Q9: How is this year’s harvest looking like?

K:  “I am excited about the fruit quality. If smoke is not an issue, then it will be a really great harvest. The season started off early and hot, and now it is getting cooler so hopefully we can have an extended fall and it will be a good year.”

Q10: In a few words, how would you best describe Echo Bay? 

K: “Family-based, guided by Nature.”