In his passion to spread organic farming, Stephen Cipes believes he’s up against the pull of agricultural tradition and the power of corporate persuasion.
Summerhill, the winery founded by Cipes on Chute Lake Road in Kelowna, marked its 30th anniversary on Sunday.
Hundreds of people turned out to mark the occasion and sip Federweisser, fermented, freshly pressed grape juice. Some of it was also poured into the soil of Summerhill’s vineyards.
“This event is to give back some of the newly fermenting wine from the harvest to the plants,” Cipes said. “It’s a nice, annual tradition of giving thanks. It’s kind of like thanksgiving, but in more of a proactive way, to celebrate and honour the bounty of nature.”
Summerhill Pyramid Winery prides itself on being a thoroughly organic operation, one that doesn’t involve the application of chemicals at any stage of the winemaking process.
Thirty years ago, when Cipes was evolving his vision for Summerhill, the idea of an organic winery was a rarity. It’s not much more common today.
“Today, there are over 300 wineries in B.C. and, sadly, less than three per cent are organic,” Cipes said in an interview. “I think that’s a shame because we are the northernmost, desert viticulture region in the world and we don’t have a lot of pests.
“You can go organic here. We should be models in the world, a model of being in harmony with nature. We should not be spraying chemicals in this very fragile place we live in,” he said.
“It’s not good for the water we drink, it’s not good for our children’s future, and it does not add anything to the flavour of the grapes we grow,” he said.
Over the years, Summerhill has won some of the world’s most prestigious wine competitions, Cipes noted, a fact which he said proves chemicals are not integral to the production of top-quality product.
Asked why organic winemaking has not spread more significantly, Cipes said: “Farmers go by the book, and the book has to be changed. The book is 40, 50 years old. And also, there’s great pressure from the chemical companies,” he said.
“At the end of the day, yes, organic farming takes a little more labour, but you save money on the chemicals, which more than offsets the extra labour,” he said. “So it’s not at all expensive to do, and it’s definitely better for the flavour of the wines.”