VOICE 148 - Ross Baker, winemaker at La Frenz Winery

"We are solid on our goals. We are solid on what we know and accomplish. That is important for the consistency and quality of the wine. It is a similar style of a family making wine in Europe, where it is the same family who knows the vineyards and knows what they are doing. It is just solid.”
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La Frenz is a family-owned winery on the idyllic Naramata Bench where a stretch of orchards and vineyards go off to the beautiful Okanagan Lake. VOICE loves coming back to this winery every year because its quality wine never disappoints us. They farm almost 97% of the grapes from the estate, and it is in their aesthetics that making quality wine will only happen in the vineyard and by nursing the land.

Where grapes come from truly makes a big difference in the wine. The award-winning Rieslings are an exceptional example of that. 2021 Riesling Clone 49 comes from Rockyfeller Vineyard down south in Oliver, where riper and darker in colour fruit produces an off-dry style of the refreshing richness of orchard fruits and peaches. 2021 Riesling Clone 21 comes from Freedom 75 Vineyard across the street from the winery. It is more food-forward wine, more elegant, stony, and with more citrus and lime. Every wine showcases the grape and the land, and it will make you want to purchase every single bottle.

La Frenz also celebrated outstanding achievements last year by winning the Best Small Winery of the Year and second place in Winery of the Year by WineAlign 2021 National Wine Awards of Canada. This year, they also welcomed a new winemaker Ross Baker, who has a true heart of Okanagan and has grown up here all his life. VOICE had the privilege to talk with Ross about wines and his endeavor at La Frenz.

VOICE(V):  How did you get started in the wine industry?

Ross(R): " I was born in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver, and moved to Kelowna at one year old. I went to a university in Kelowna to study biochemistry. When I turned 19, I became interested in wine and realized I would want to make a career in it. My first harvest was at Red Rooster Winery in Naramata. After working in New Zealand a bit, I returned to work for Kettle Valley Winery, then Quail's Gate Winery for eight years before becoming a winemaker at La Frenz this year.”

V: What was the transition to a new winery like for you?

R: "I went through tastings with Elise and Jeff Martin on current and old vintages, and we exchanged ideas. Preserving the La Frenz quality is first and foremost, yet I like to try something different, especially with Pinot Noir. I have a big love of Pinot Noir. I have done a lot of wild ferments with it, and I find that actual vineyard ferments can be different from what you get in the winery. So I would like to try fermenting it in the vineyard. Spontaneous ferment from the vineyard will represent more of what is wild in the vineyard than what is in the winery. It will be interesting to experiment with at least a few barrels of different expression.”

V: In your view, what makes La Frenz unique?

R: "I think it is the family's vision. Jeff and his family are very much set on fruit quality first. That is important for producing a true expression, which was also an important part of my joining the team. That is what I work for and am proud of. Better the grapes, the simpler my job as a winemaker. It is all about what we do on the farm.”

 

V: What kind of sustainable practices do you apply to winemaking?

R: "In the winery, I have been talking to people lately about recycling in the winery and reusing different plastic products. A landfill is getting bigger, and there are only two plastic recycling facilities in Delta for the whole province. As a part of winemaking, we like to find ways to recycle and reuse anything that goes into production so that it is not wasteful.”

V: How do you know if this year makes a great wine?

R: "You can usually know by tasting the grape before making the pick decision. Once it is in the cellar and starting to smell what's coming off, you taste it and start to see where the quality is coming from. You should know by the time you press it if it would be a good quality wine.”

V: What is the biggest joy of working in a winery?

R: "This, right now! Drinking and talking! Also, harvest is a big one. I often compare the harvest time with when musicians go up on a stage, and they get elevated high from it. When I am in harvest, I can't sleep and am always excited and thinking about it.”

 

V: What is a typical day in harvest like for you?

R: "The day starts as early as we can. I go check on picking, and I go to another vineyard to taste and see which block is ready at the same time or when the next pick happens. That usually takes a couple of hours in the morning, and then I come back to the winery, start setting up processing, start tasting ferments, and talk to my team. Usually, on my way home, I go back to the vineyards again and check on things, because there are always changes in the ripeness, and watching out for the bears eating the fruits!”

V: How do you find the Naramata winemaker community?

R: "We just had a pre-harvest get-together at Ruby Blues Winery. There are many small producers here, so we share things when something happens or some equipment is broken. It is all about sharing and being open to one another.”

V: Do you have any other favorite wineries in Naramata?

R: "I like Daydreamer, Lake Breeze, and Upper Bench, where Gavin makes wine and his wife Shana makes hand-crafted cheese. There is also a new brewery that opened up this year on Naramata Bench called Abandoned Rail Brewery. They brew beers using estate-grown barley. Many people in the industry drink beer at the end of the day.”

V: If you were to work in another wine country, where?

R: "I would say Central Otago in New Zealand because that is where some of the best Pinot Noir in the world is coming out. I love Pinot Noir. That region is also more humble towards farming and caring about small parcels of land, like La Frenz. That is important to me."