Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
"Red Barn is all about Jagged Rock, experimenting with incredible fruits we have here, super fun, exciting, and ever-changing."
- Kaylee Barss
Red Barn Winery
Kaylee Barss, winemaker
Photography - HIRO
Interview - MINA
At Red Barn, one of the newest wineries in Oliver, there are no rules. What once served as a humble barn and equipment storage unit within the Jagged Rock vineyard has undergone a remarkable transformation into a contemporary, vibrant space fostering creativity and innovation.
Designed by architect Tom Kundig, the two-decade-old structure is now a striking Red Barn. Located at the end of a dirt road, it invites visitors into a show cellar and tasting room that promises an unconventional experience.
The inside space features custom-made chromatic Lasi fermenters and concrete egg fermenters, creating a modern industrial aesthetic. The backdrop of hip music sets the tone for an experience that is also unconventional. The tasting journey is an adventure in itself, with Red Barn offering a range of wines, from reds, whites, and rose. Visitors are invited to explore their full portfolio when visiting the property.
What truly sets Red Barn apart is not just being unique, but its profound commitment to its roots in the Jagged Rock Vineyard. The winery focuses exclusively on grapes cultivated on-site and crafts a collection of wines that authentically capture the essence of the fruit. Their winemaking philosophy revolves around fermenting and aging in concrete vessels, preserving the wine's aromas and flavors with a deliberate absence of oak influence. Red Barn collaborates with street artists to create expressive labels for each wine, which also reflect the artistic spirit of the winery.
Red Barn doesn't play by the rules; it redefines them. It is no ordinary winery; it is a beacon of avant-garde creativity in the heart of Okanagan wine country. With Kaylee Barss as their young winemaker, Red Barn is to be celebrated not for one classic wine but for its commitment to pushing the boundaries of winemaking. Red Barn is a winery where possibilities are endless.
V: What's so special about Jagged Rock Vineyard in the Okanagan?
K: The Jagged Rock is one of the most incredible vineyards in the Okanagan, and it is a super striking view. You can spot the outline patterns of the rocks on all our labels. These rocks are more than just the view; they bring a ton of heat down to our vineyards. That means we get those nice and long, warm summer days perfect for growing a wide variety of grapes. Our style is all about showing off the natural purity of the fruit. We like to be experimental as well. We look at what this site can offer each season and stay flexible to highlight the vintage and the terroir here. We have the Okanagan classics, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. But we're also having fun with Italian varieties still pretty experimental in the Okanagan, like Sangiovese, Barbera, and Nebbiolo.
V: What's the difference between wine aging in concrete and oak barrels?
K: Barrels, they're the classics. You get that smoky, toasty goodness that people love. It is a very classical and fantastic way to make wine in oak. Whereas with concrete, it will help wine shine even brighter, by elevating the fruit, enhancing its natural aromas, and allowing for gradual oxygenation. You often see white wines in stainless steel or concrete, but seeing reds in concrete can be a pleasant surprise. They tend to be more vibrant, fresh, and super easy to enjoy right away. Also, you don't lose as much wine to evaporation as opposed to barrels, which is a practical win. It's a trend that's catching on, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more winemakers experimenting with concrete.
V: What is the main winemaking philosophy of Red Barn?
K: At Red Barn, we're in the early stages of our winemaking journey, so my philosophy is still growing and evolving with the winery. But what's always at the core of our approach is showcasing the incredible fruit that comes from this site. We're all about being experimental and pushing boundaries. We like to think outside the box. We're fortunate to have a lot of freedom here. We don't have to make a particular wine in any given year. This allows us to listen to what that specific vintage tells us and do what we believe is best for it. That is an incredible privilege to have as a winemaker.
V: Can you share your background before joining Red Barn?
K: I grew up in Vernon with parents who took a keen interest in the local wineries but also vacationed to visit vineyards in Europe. When it was time for college, I initially didn't see a clear route into the wine world beyond the hospitality side of things. So, I decided to study science to follow in my parents' footsteps towards a healthcare career. Early in that process, I realized that wasn't for me, so I started focusing my degree on plant biology. Things started to click when I got the chance to work at Arrowleaf Cellars in their tasting room. It was there that I was introduced to the idea of a career in the wine industry. I completed Brock University's grape and wine technology certificate program. After that, I worked at a small, family-run winery called Fielding Estate Winery in Niagara before returning home with a job at CheckMate Artisanal Winery. They have a highly detail-focused approach to winemaking, and I've learned foundational skills there.
V: How do you recommend pairing your wines with specific meals or dishes?
K: Silent Partner Cabernet Franc would pair nicely with fire-roasted pizza topped with spicy sausages, aromatic herbs, and some fatty cheese. Our Discordian White Blend is a bright and tropical one that pairs wonderfully with grilled chicken or delicate fish. Add a summer salad on the side to enhance its refreshing character. TRANSFICTION Rosé is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Sangiovese fermented in a concrete egg. Enjoy this unique Rosé with a watermelon and fresh basil salad to bring out its fruity and herbal notes.
V: Where does your inspiration come from for your winemaking?
K: Inspiration for me comes from a variety of sources - my past workplaces, the wines I've had the pleasure of trying, and the diverse flavors I've encountered. Lately, I've been particularly drawn to the wines of northern Italy, especially since we've started working with Italian varietals here. In the next few years, I'd love to go on wine tours in different countries. Chile is high on my list because of its concrete winemaking practices. Also, I'm keen on visiting New Zealand and Australia to experience their vibrant wine scenes.
V: How do people find out about your new winery?
K: It's been mostly word of mouth and social media that have spread the word about us. When we first opened, we didn't even have a sign for the first few months! We've always intended to be a small, hidden gem. Our wines are meant to be enjoyed here at the vineyard or in select restaurants.
V: What is the greatest joy of working in the winery?
K: Harvest season is a really exciting time for me. When those fruits show up at our door, it's like the culmination of months of planning. It gets pretty busy, but everyone is in sync and pumped up. We're about to start harvesting soon, and this year's season has been fantastic, giving us another opportunity to try out new things.
V: Do you have a favorite place or spot in Oliver that you particularly enjoy?
K: Firehall Brewery in town—it's the only one around! I also enjoy hiking the McIntyre Bluff near Oliver. It is an incredibly scenic half-day hike that takes you to the Okanagan Valley's unreal views.