How does an Englishman from Kent wind up growing grapes and making wine in Canada?
“Because I thought it would be fun,” says Paul Graydon. “During my IT career, I travelled a lot, was always trying really good wines at restaurants around the world with different clients.” he says grinning, “When we moved to Calgary in 2003, I decided to take some WSET courses as I was interested in learning more about wine. Then we visited the Okanagan Valley and I fell in love. I retired from the IT world, and bought a vineyard. I love my life.”
If you bumped into Paul on the street, you would never guess he farms grapes for a living. With his shock of thick dark hair, easy smile and quick-witted British charm, he instantly reminds me of Austin Powers/Mike Myers. It doesn’t take long before you realize that he is truly committed and passionate about his new career.
Located behind the charming town of Summerland B.C.on Bottleneck Drive, Saxon Winery is an unassuming farm house set amid 10 acres of vines and pastoral lands. Paul and his equally lovely wife Jayne bought the old winery in January 2012 from the Massey Family. The Masseys had nurtured an organic vineyard developed in rich volcanic soil from its inception in 2001 through to its first vintage from 2005 onwards. The name “Saxon” is an homage to Kent, England, and Paul’s family’s ancestral roots.
Danny Hattingh joined the winery in 2012 shortly afterwards. From Cape Town South Africa, via the Gulf Islands, Danny brought his unique winemaking and viticultural skills to bear on the wines.He works exclusively for Saxon making a unique brand of wines found nowhere else in B.C.
One grape variety in particular caught my attention; Leon Millot. This obscure variety originated in the Colmar region of Alsace in France in 1911. Eugene Kuhlmann created the grape by crossing the hybrid grape Millardet et Grasset 101-14 O.P.(which is Vitis riparia × Vitis rupestris) with Goldriesling, which is Vitis vinifera. The variety was named after the winemaker and tree nursery owner Léon Millot. It is actually a sister grape to Marachel Foch.
Léon Millot grapes ripens early, are blue-skinned, have dark, not clear fruit, grow with fair vigor, and have high resistance against fungal diseases. They are well suited for cultivation in cooler climates. The grape has small berries and small clusters and is time-consuming to manually harvest. It can yield a bigger wine similar to a ripe Syrah, or a lighter wine more in the style of Pinot Noir. Common aromatic and flavour profiles for Leon Millot include earthy/barnyard notes, purple or red fruits, and chocolate.
Of the 10 acres on Saxon’s farm, six and one half are planted and three of those are Leon Millot with another acre to come on next year. Such is the confidence Paul has for this variety. He is currently growing several rows under a government agricultural grant experimenting with the “Scott Henry” trellising method which produces twice the amount of fruit from the same number of vines.
Four (versus the customary two) canes provide the fruit for each vine and four replacement spurs are selected for renewal growth. Shoot growth from the top canes is trained upward, while shoot growth from the bottom canes is trained downward to maximize canopy surface area and to control vigor. Shoot density is also halved, because only shoots from the top canes are trained upwards, and the remainder is forced to grow toward the ground. About half of the shoots are devigorated because of their (unnatural) downward position. Growth between the two levels of fruit is separated shortly before bloom with the use of two catch wires, which originally rest midway between the two fruiting zones.
The advantages of this system include increased yield, increased Brix and decreased titratable acidity. Experimentation has not shown any differences between the fruit of the two tiers. Higher labour intensity is a disadvantage, as is managing the upkeep of the training process, making it a more costly method of growing.
However, the proof is in the wine. Vines trellised in the Scott Henry System consistently produce fruit with better colour, fruit character on the nose and the palate, and a better structure overall. Saxon is producing award winning single varietal bottled Reds and Roses from Leon Millot.
Other varieties Saxon offers are Pinot Gris, Gerwuztraminer, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Usually single variety wines, The Cranky Old Man Red and Fourplay White are blends of several grapes. Roses and Sparklings round out the portfolio.
Visiting the little tasting room at Saxon Winery is pure delight. Whether it’s Paul or Jayne behind the bar serving their wines, you are bound to be caught up in their exuberance and pride for their wines. Right now, they are patiently awaiting the fermentation of their newest Sparkling Rose, a labour of love made in the Champenoise method, which will be proudly served this summer at daughter Emily’s wedding. The beautiful blush pink colour and softly developing bubbles are bound to impress the new bride and her guests. Wonder what they’ll name it?
Post Script September 2014
Grant and I popped into Saxon Winery again in late August. Paul provided us with an update:
“(Winemaker) Danny has now been replaced with Andrea Lee who is a Summerlander with a Masters in Enology and has worked in Australia as well as being the previous winemaker at Domaine de Chaberton. She is a delight and is a tireless dedicated worker with an eye on perfection for our cool climate varietals. Danny left on very good terms and went to Fort Berens Winery in Lilloet.
Our sparkling is called Crown Jewel and is a real smash.
More sparkling to come (much more)”.