Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Chat with Tinhorn Creek winemaker/CEO/President Sandra Oldfield

Today's blog is an exciting one, featuring an exclusive interview I conducted with Sandra Oldfield, the CEO/President and winemaker at one of BC's top wineries, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.

Tinhorn Creek has been a staple of the Oliver wine industry since 1993, and Sandra has been there almost that long, moving to Oliver from California in 1995.  In addition to her jobs at the winery, Sandra organized #BCWineChat on Twitter, which brings together BC wine industry leaders, consumers and enthusiasts every Wednesday at 8PM Pacific Time. Everyone is welcome to join; well, of course they are, it's Twitter. Just search for #BCWineChat and you will see all the posts, and add #BCWineChat to your posts to join in on the discussion.

Now let's get to my talk with Sandra:

Dean: You are the president, CEO, and winemaker, not to mention you are very active in promoting BC wine on social media. That's a lot of hats for one person to wear. Are you ever concerned that you spread yourself too thin?

Sandra: No.  I have great people working around me and that allows you to do many things.  Also, I’ve always been very good at focusing on many varied tasks in a given day.

Dean: Tinhorn Creek has been around over 20 years and you are coming up on your 20th Anniversary there as well. What are the biggest changes you have seen in the BC wine market in those years?

Sandra: In grape growing—the right varieties are being planted in the right locations more and more.

In winemaking- we have many more winemakers from all over the world who have a lot more experience than those that were here when I first arrived (including myself!)

Access to technology—suppliers of all materials know we exist now, in the 1990’s they would not venture up to BC

Sales- more people understand that sales are always hard and to stay successful wineries need to stay innovative

People- we still struggle for finding qualified people but there are definitely more people bringing knowledge from elsewhere to our winery operations than there was when we first opened our doors in 1994

Dean: While BC wines have been gaining respect around the world, winning medals at many International competitions, it's nearly impossible to find BC wine (Canadian wine at all, for that matter) in the USA. I've had dinner in restaurants in Las Vegas where the wine list was about the size of War and Peace, but not a single bottle of Canadian wine, apart from maybe one Ontario Ice wine. What is it that is keeping our wonderful wines out of the USA?

Sandra: We make a small volume but BC drinks a lot of it.  Unlike most wine producing regions that grow much much more than their home market can consume we are the opposite in Canada.  Only 32% of wine that Canadians drink is Canadian.  Contrast that to 66% in the US and 100% in Chile.  I’d say we really need to work on more Canadians getting to know what we do.  For some of the larger wineries, it would be great if more could be shipped to the US and that will happen in time but for now, Canadian wineries go where the best market and $ are at and that is generally at home.

Dean: Last night I participated in my first #BCWineChat on Twitter, and it was very entertaining and informative. Tell me a little bit about the origins of this gathering, and what you are hoping to achieve with it.

I started it in December 2011 because it seemed that there was lots of talk on twitter about our industry but no forum to corral it.  I have driven #BCWineChat since then, making sure that we choose one topic to discuss each week from various areas including trade, vineyards, wineries, production, sales, retail, tourism and restaurants.  I try to mix it up.  I’d love to see more consumers on the chat and each week we tend to get a few more.


Dean: One of the things that came out of last night's #BCWineChat was the realization that there have been a LOT of new wineries open up in BC recently. It seems unlikely that the wine drinking market can bear that many new players, especially if we don't dramatically increase our export business. Do you get concerned that the market will reach saturation, if it hasn't already?

Sandra: I don’t  get concerned with respect to the volumes being made because still 90% of these licenses in BC are small businesses.  I do get concerned that each will see increased competition for the same buyers so some may not make it and, yes, some may have to find other markets.  That will happen organically within each winery over time.  It doesn’t worry me though.  It just means that we will mature to the next step.

Dean: In your opinion, what is the very best wine you make? Let's break it down to two questions: what is the best of your new releases, and what is the best wine Tinhorn has EVER produced?

Sandra: You know that wine is extremely personal so Best is meaningless to me.  The wine that I have a fondness for due to its history here was our 1998 Cabernet Franc.  It was the first time I think I realized we could indeed make an outstanding, intense and character-rich wine with that grape so it holds a place near to my heart.  The best of our new releases this year (so far, with only whites out so far) is our 2012 Pinot Gris.  Rich, round and fruity.  I think it’s a style that has been evolving for a while and has really hit its mark with this recent vintage.

Dean: Being in the wine industry I am sure you are more than familiar with wines from other parts of the world. Do you have a favorite non-BC wine?

Sandra: Anything from Alsace. 

Dean: What is going to be the "next big thing" in BC wine? Is there a new grape that is going to take hold here? I know there are a few BC wineries that produce some wines from grapes that are less-traditional in this market (Tempranillo, Pinot Auxerrois, Sangiovese, Kerner, to name a few). Do you see one of those joining the "big boys" in BC wine production? Or something else?

Sandra: The next big thing will be sub appellations and the expansion of single vineyard wines.  Exciting times!

(UPDATE): I had Sandra clarify what she was referring to in regards to sub appellations:

Right now there are only 5 sub appellations or sub regions defined by law in BC (ie: Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley etc)  There is  a huge difference between different growing regions within those appellations (regions) so defining those and enshrining them in law will be a big step forward in us being able to tell a story to the consumers and have that story reflected on our bottles with the name of where the grapes were grown

Dean: Lastly, what is the favorite part of your job? Is there one thing that stands out above all else?

Sandra: The people.  Always the people.  At Tinhorn Creek our employees are our greatest resource and elsewhere, away from Tinhorn Creek, I think the people in our industry make the work we do completely worthwhile.

A huge "thank you" to Sandra for taking time out from her obviously busy schedule to talk with me. I hope you have all enjoyed this conversation with one of our top winemakers.

Check out their website where you can order their wines, get updates on special events happening at the winery, and just generally learn more about the winery:


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