If you love good wines that sell for a song, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley should be a destination.
Gehringer Brothers has won so many awards and medals that there’s no longer room to display new ones on the walls of its tasting room on the Golden Mile Bench. This family owned and operated winery wears the crown as “King of the Platinum” as a result of Wine Press Northwest magazine’s annual Platinum judging that determines the best of the best of wines from the Pacific Northwest.
Gehringer has won more than 60 Platinum awards at the highly competitive judging, more by far than any other Pacific Northwest winery. Gehringer have won at least one Platinum medal every year except 2001 and 2006 during the competition’s first 16 years.
And yet, the only barrels at the winery sit outside as mere decoration near the entryway.
Brothers Walter and Gordon Gehringer are a blend of Old and New World, of German ancestry but born in British Columbia. After high school, in 1973 Walter embarked on a six-year education in Germany to follow his dream of studying at Geisenheim University in the Rheingau region.
He spent two years there working to prepare for entrance to the Enology and Viticulture program, then three years at the university, followed by a year filled with a succession of five-week practical experiences at different wineries. His brother Gordon spent four years in Germany and graduated with a degree from the State College and Research Institute for Viticulture and Horticulture in Weinsberg.
Today, the pair run the 25,000-case winery on a steep hillside along the Golden Mile Bench south of Oliver, making 20 different wines every year. The estate vineyards cover 45 acres. Those acres are planted with thriving Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Ehrenfelser, Schönburger, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Auxerrois, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Gehringer started in 1981 when the brothers bought the land where their vineyards and winery now stand, and began an arduous effort to plant grape vines. Arduous, because at some time in geologic history, a huge deposit of glacial sandy loam slid off the slopes above their property, carrying with it vast amounts of rock rubble. It all came crashing down on what is now their vineyards.
But, digging out a three-foot layer of rocks one acre at a time wasn’t the end of their travails. They also had soil problems to contend with, and so they water all of their vines with overhead sprinklers, a technique not much used in this age of nearly ubiquitous drip irrigation.
Overhead irrigation gives Gehringer the ability to grow grass between the rows, and their goal is to grow a grass that has a root system as deep as the vines’ roots, like a tall fescue. That way when the roots of the grasses decay each season they provide organic matter right down in the root zone, where it’s needed.
Science has paid off for the Gehringer brothers in their vineyard, and it rules their winery as well. Their wines are made in huge stainless steel tanks ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 liters. They run their own bottling line, a state-of-the-art line that seals all of their wines under screw tops.
They don’t use oak barrels, even for their red wines. They bottle all of their wines in March and April of every year, and they’re bottling the current vintages. And here’s where the debate comes in.
A winery without barrels or corks flies in the face of tradition and a wine lover’s romantic vision. To Walter Gehringer, it’s clear-cut: it’s all about breathing. The new generation of screw tops breathe exactly like a cork, they’re engineered for that. And as for barrels, he sees them as an anachronism. Throw out what you’ve come to know about winemaking. It’s just you, yourself, and what your mouth tells you.
The price of the wine and whether it’s won an award have nothing to do with how you experience the wine. You just need to feel comfortable with what you enjoy.
Judges all over the Pacific Northwest agree, these are some of the most enjoyable wines on the market today.
Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.
―Leon D. Adams, The Commonsense Book of Wine