VOICE 150 - Matt Sartor, Founder, and Alison Moyes, Winemaker and General Manager
at Solvero Wines
"Truth in the product. We try to be honest about what we are doing and get a direct translation of where we are into a bottle."
Solvero Wines debuts in Garnet Valley having released their first vintage of wine this past January. The vineyard is only a 20-minute drive northwest from Summerland, yet it makes quite a big difference with the landscape, wildlife, and overall vibe, which is more laid back and quiet.
Matt and his family started a conversation in 2012 about Pinot Noir, and what qualities they did and did not like about this variety in the Okanagan. They looked for a specific site that would solve for some of the problems & showcase the more delicate & nuanced profile they enjoy in cool climate Pinot. When Matt found this property in Garnet Valley in 2014, it was a forested mountainside with no vineyards or vines. It took two years to clear the land and prepare it for planting. Five vineyard blocks and seven clones of Pinot Noir were planted in 2016, followed by Chardonnay in 2017. On the 30-acre property, 11 acres are planted, and eventually, 16 acres will be planted to more Burgundian varieties, with Gamay being added next year.
2019 was the first vintage of Pinot Noir for Solvero. The following year, both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were produced, and last year in 2021, they added Rose and Pinot Gris to the line-up. It was a great sign of things to come when they released 150 bottles of each wine this June through Okanagan Wine Club, and they were all sold out within a few hours! Over the coming years, they are looking to expand the portfolio to include Gamay, Traditional Method sparkling, and perhaps Rieslings from their other 4-acre property in Summerland. The current production is just under 600 cases, but it is set to increase to about 6,000 cases over the next several years. A brand-new winery and tasting room are also underway at 25585 Wildhorse Road! As things start to take shape for Solvero, they continue to focus on keeping the business as small and sustainable as possible.
When VOICE drove through the less traveled Garnet Valley to meet Matt and Alison, we had a hunch that we were about to witness an exciting project. For Pinot Noir or Chardonnay lovers and all wine enthusiasts, Solvero will be your new destination in the Okanagan. The winery may be a little remote, but you will be happy going a little out of your way to find truth in wine.
VOICE (V): How did you get started in the wine industry?
Matt(M): "After I left university, I started selling wine at a boutique store in Calgary. During the slower times, it gave me the opportunity to read and learn more about wines. Most of the time, I was reading about viticulture and decided that it was what I wanted to pursue. In 2010 I moved to the Okanagan, enrolled in the Viticulture course at Okanagan College, and it all snowballed from there.”
Alison(A): "I have been making wine in Okanagan for about fifteen years. I started in wine in Nova Scotia while studying Microbiology at Dalhousie University. My focus was on yeast genetics, which at the time I didn't know would relate to anything I would do in the future. I discovered wine working part-time at a restaurant during the last part of my degree and fell in love with every aspect of it. I ended up becoming a Sommelier. After working in that capacity for a few years, I decided I wanted to combine the artistic side of wine with my science background. After some research, I enrolled in the Oenology & Viticulture program at Brock University in Ontario. As a part of that degree, I came to B.C. on a temporary work contract. Once I discovered the lifestyle and potential for grape growing in B.C., I never wanted to go back! Right after I finished my thesis, I made a permanent move to the Okanagan.
After a couple of vintages as a Cellarhand at Osooyos Larose, I was the Winemaker at Stoneboat Vineyards for five vintages and Liquidity for another six years before joining Solvero in 2021. I have known Matt for several years and had been following his progress in Garnet Valley. In fact, when he was deciding on some of the clones he would plant here, we did a barrel tasting at Liquidity to talk about the different options and what might work. I didn't make any of the decisions of course, but it felt like I had a small fingerprint on it from the beginning, which is kind of cool. When I tasted the first Pinot Noir he made with a consultant in 2019, it was outstanding, with beautiful intensity, rich fruit, integrated tannins, and low alcohol. What we see in Garnet Valley is physiological ripeness and full flavour development at typically lower sugar levels than elsewhere in Okanagan. It is the type of wine style that I love, and one that I want to make and drink.”
V: Why do you think Garnet Valley has been a hidden gem?
M: "My family had been looking for the right place to grow grapes for years. When I drove out here the first time ten years ago, it was virtually all hay and ranchers. This property had been on the market for a year and a half, so we decided to take a look. A reason why it was on the market for so long might have been because people saw that it would require such a huge labour input to establish a vineyard. All we saw was the narrow valley topography and slightly fewer sunlight hours that are great for cool climate Pinot Noir.”
A: "A potential barrier to entry here would be the establishment of the vineyards themselves. The steepness of the land, and rocky mixed terrains makes the process of planting quite intense. There are a few other vineyards here, however. There are a few properties with grapes planted along Garnet Valley Road, and Okanagan Crush Pad Winery is developing a large property called Garnet Valley Ranch which has tremendous potential. There are so many possibilities in Garnet Valley.”
V: Has it been a challenge to work in a brand-new winery?
A: "Right now, we are all wearing many hats. I am a Winemaker, GM, sales, marketing, and bookkeeper, but it is a fun challenge. I have never had the opportunity to put my stamp on something from the very beginning. You are not inheriting somebody else's philosophy or idea, and any mistakes made will be your own. I wasn’t involved with the brand concept & name itself, but I love the classic labels, traditional branding of the wine, and authentic philosophy that Solvero represents. It really spoke to me. I like authenticity in winemaking, and it seems to be the right fit. We have a lot of future potential, and I’m excited to help to get us there.”
V: What does the name Solvero mean?
A: "It is a loose translation from Latin meaning 'Truth in Soil'. It describes our philosophy of sustainable and regenerative farming.”
V: What kind of sustainable practices do you apply to the vineyard and winemaking?
A: "From a winemaking perspective, my philosophy is to work with as few additives and as little manipulation as possible. With the grapes we grow in Garnet Valley, even acid adjustments are not needed. I also find there is a complexity that comes with natural spontaneous fermentations, so I work to foster those as much as possible.
In terms of the vineyard, preventative viticulture is a strong philosophy, so meticulous canopy management is a big one. We are also working to transition entirely away from weed sprays and insecticides. One strategy we’ve employed to accomplish this is placing straw under the vines to suppress the weeds. This can also function to add organic matter to the soil and retain moisture. We use natural soil amendments and a compost program to further improve soil nutrition.
Matt believes strongly in preserving the integrity of soil structure and minimizes the soil compaction that can be caused by heavy machinery and tractors as much as possible. In our high-density Chardonnay block, you cannot even drive a tractor through it. Everything needs to be done by hand.
There is also a brood of chickens and ducks on the property that feed on cutworms in the Spring, along with several fruit trees and a vegetable garden project for the future. Eventually we hope to raise some pigs, perhaps for a charcuterie pairing in the tasting room.”
V: How do people find out about Solvero Wines?
A: "It is still a work in progress. Within the industry, many people already know us, because we have been communicating with many wineries, particularly in Summerland. We travel to Vancouver to meet with restaurants and retailers and are happy to now see our wines on select shelves there. Stores like Marquis Wine Cellars and Kitsilano Wine Cellar have been tremendous supporters. A couple of restaurants in Vancouver, like Forage, are also showcasing our wine on their menu. I think our style of winemaking fits with the farm-to-table philosophy and offers great potential for food pairing options. Aside from that, we are available at a few locations in the Okanagan and direct online sales through our website.”
M: "A small production right now allows us to not focus on pushing out too hard. We hope to grow slowly and sustainably. Bit by bit, we will get our name out there. Hopefully, we will find more retailers and restaurants that like working with us.”
V: How do you find the winemaker community in Okanagan?
M: "When we were considering this project on this site, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery were planting not far from us, so I spoke to them, and they were very open about all their research on this area to verify that this is as special as we thought it was. Sharing makes the barrier to entry a little smaller for everyone. We hope to be a community leader in this valley in the future.”
A: "I have noticed a very positive shift over the years that I have been making wine here. The industry has transitioned from something that felt a bit more secretive to one that encourages the open sharing of ideas and knowledge. Everyone benefits if we are working collectively to improve the overall wine quality in BC. The best way to do that is to learn from each other’s experiences.”
V: What is the biggest joy of working in a winery?
A: "For me, it is constantly learning. Every year and even every day, there is something different happening in the vineyard and the winery. There is no recipe that can tell you 'Let’s follow XYZ steps like we did last year.' Winemaking is about adapting and evolving with what is happening in the season and the vineyard. I find that to be engaging and fun.”
M: "I get a lot of joy doing manual labor. I love being in nature!”
V: If you were not a winemaker, what would you be?
A: "I honestly have no idea! Through high school and university, I enjoyed and excelled in science related subjects – particularly Biology & Biochemistry. Once I discovered wine and was exposed to its diversity and beauty, it just clicked. Science and Art in perfect balance. I don't think I considered anything else from that point.”