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Interview with SpearHead Winery Owner – Marina Knutson

Image provided by SpearHead Winery

Aside from the natural beauty of the Okanagan Valley, a feature that attracts visitors from around the world to Kelowna is the proximity of wineries from the downtown core.

Kelowna is an amazing place to explore local flavours as there are more than 40 wineries, 20 plus breweries, and a wide variety of restaurants that source ingredients from nearby farms and orchards.

Wine tourists can spend the day visiting numerous wineries, finishing off with either a swim in the lake or dining at one of the many popular restaurants in the area. There’s something magical about watching the sunset behind Lake Okanagan while enjoying a glass of local wine.

This exciting city is home to some of the best Pinot Noir in British Columbia.

I believe this varietal is the leading grape to showcase the diverse expressions and styles British Columbia can produce. Few varietals can transmit terroir like Pinot Noir, where the slightest variation in soil and vintage is evident.

I love the scenic drive from downtown (right beside the lake), up the winding backroads to the agricultural land of southeast Kelowna. Within 15 minutes you can travel from the beach to the rustic countryside surrounded by horses, farmland, and orchards. The closer you get to Southeast Kelowna, the traffic lessens, and the tall buildings disappear.

At the top of Spiers Road is a combination of orchards, vineyards, and a quaint winery named SpearHead.

In my opinion, this is one of the top Pinot Noir producers in British Columbia, thanks to their veteran winemaker and single-vineyard program which beautifully showcases distinct Okanagan sites from around the valley.

Quality Pinot Noir is never cheap, but I’m very impressed with the price point and quality of their wine. This is some of the best value to be found in the Okanagan for around $38 a bottle. I have noticed consistency over the years and this winery offers an excellent portfolio.

My favourite wines are their Pinot Noirs and Rosé. The rare White Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are all very good and worth trying!

Image provided by SpearHead Winery

I had a wonderful visit with SpearHead proprietor Marina Knutson to learn more about the property, their specialty in Pinot Noir, and to taste the new releases. I strongly recommend visiting this winery when in Kelowna, and make sure to leave space in your trunk for more wine!

Q: How did the idea of SpearHead come together?

A: My husband and I both grew up in Kelowna. Bill loves wine and his whole life has been wine, aside from law. One day he thought, why am I not in the wine business? A high school acquaintance found the current property in 2007 and he said, “You know, if we get 10 people, we could do this. It’d be no problem, it would be easy.” Well, Bill said, that’s the silliest idea I’ve ever heard, but I’m in. So, there ended up being three partners at the beginning and we started out with the Saddle Block Vineyard; that’s all we had till 2014, now Bill and I are the majority owners. In 2008 the vineyard was planted, and in 2010 we opened the winery.

Q: Did you ever consider starting the winery outside of Kelowna?

A: It was always going to be Kelowna because we have family here. It’s nice being close to a large population center which makes it easier for guests to visit. When we first started the winery, East Kelowna was pretty meager, there was The View, Tantalus, Vibrant Vine, Camelot and us. There wasn’t much else. But now it has become much hipper as Priest Creek, Meadow Vista, and Forbidden Spirits have opened nearby.

We could use a brewery up here, that’s what we really need. Overall, this area has become much more interesting. It’s the whole idea of critical mass, you need enough of something to encourage people to come up.

Q: Can you tell me about the estate vineyard?

A: We bought the estate property in 2007. There was nothing on it, just weeds. The home vineyard that you drive by as you’re pulling into the winery is called Saddle Block. That was planted in 2008 by myself, my husband, and other teams. I specialized in pulling irrigation lines.

Approximately 80-85% of the vineyard is Pinot Noir. We have Dijon clones 115, 667, 828, 777 and did a little experiment with some California clones such as Mt. Eden.

Our final vineyard was planted in 2018 which includes Swan, another California clone, Pommard and some 777 as well. This will be the first year that we will be using Swan. Now we have about 15 acres of vines now and that will be the max. We are planted out now, thank goodness!

Finally, we are currently working towards being sustainable and the vineyard should be certified this summer. The only machines in our vineyards are the tractor and the quad, everything is done by hand.

Q: Where do you source your wines from?

A: We have our home vineyard in Southeast Kelowna, which is Saddle Block. The soil is a mix of gravel, rock, sand, and clay- just like an old riverbed. Riesling and Chardonnay also come from there.

Golden Retreat Vineyard is in Summerland, we have had that contract with the grower since we started. The soil is very sandy and loamy, and our Pinot Gris also comes from there as we don’t grow any in Kelowna.

Finally, Coyote Vineyard is in West Kelowna on the volcanic soils of Mt. Boucherie. It’s fun when you evaluate the three single vineyards side by side, the winemaking is generally the same so what you’re essentially tasting is the dirt. I love this. We are all about clones and it’s fun to compare how they taste different, just like comparing apples to apples.

Q: Who is your winemaker and where else has he worked?

A: In 2017, we hired Grant Stanley as our winemaker and general manager. He was born in Vancouver and began his wine career working in the vineyards of Marlborough. There he was extensively trained in Pinot Noir and developed an obsession for this varietal. After 15 vintages with prestigious wineries in New Zealand and the Willamette Valley in Oregon, Grant was attracted to the incredible potential of Pinot Noir in the Okanagan Valley. Since moving to the Okanagan, Grant has become well known for his winemaking style and dedication to making high quality Pinot Noir. Previously, he worked 10 years at Quails’ Gate Winery and four years at 50th Parallel Estate. Both are Pinot Noir specialists in the Okanagan Valley.

Q: What type of oak barrels do you use?

A: All our wines are aged in French oak barrels. The Chardonnay is fermented and aged in French oak. Some of the oak we use is being shaped by steam instead of by flame. This creates a more elegant, softer touch of oak. Grant felt that it softens the palate and rather than being on the toasty end of the spectrum, it’s more like honey and vanilla which I find quite beautiful.

Q: What’s something unique about SpearHead?

A: When Grant starts blending trials in August, the first thing he does is pick about eight barrels of different clones, from different vineyards. We get the barrels all set up at an event for our wine club members. Then they go around with their clipboards, taste the barrel samples, and vote on the four barrels that they think should go into the blend. Once the votes are tallied up, we make the blend that the club members voted on. This wine is called the “Club Consensus”. My husband came up with this idea. Since wine clubs are critical to wineries, we really try to do things that give some added value to their wine club membership. They are the only ones who can buy this wine.

We try not to take ourselves too seriously, but we take our wine seriously. We really care about the wine and we’re willing to do small lots to get something that’s unique and different. We aren’t afraid of that.

Image provided by SpearHead Winery


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