Tantalus winemaker says maturing vines point to bright future
Tantalus winemaker David Paterson sees a bright future for the wine industry in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.
Born in Canada, but raised in New Zealand, Paterson has been the winemaker at Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, B.C., since 2009. He’s enjoyed immediate success, building on the winery’s status as one of the top riesling producers in the valley, if not the country. A lot of that success comes from its holding of four estate riesling blocks planted in 1978 — ancient vines for a still-developing industry.
“I get to make wine from vines older than me, which isn’t something I thought I’d be saying, especially in Canada,” says the 31-year-old, adding he sees even better days ahead. “It feels like it’s just the beginning, although we have garnered some really good press and we’ve made some really nice wines off the site. I just see there’s a lot more potential, as the vines get older, to really take it to new heights.”
Holding a degree in viticulture and enology from Lincoln University near Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island, Paterson says the wines are improving across the Okanagan.
“You’re seeing that a lot of these nice sites that have been planted well, with good rootstocks and good genetics, starting to hit their 12th and 13th year, so you’re really starting to see some good depth of flavour coming into the wines where that was maybe lacking five to 10 years ago,” he says.
Paterson’s wine journey began in Canada about seven years ago when he had an epiphany of sorts while travelling and working in the hospitality industry. “I think I turned 24 and I’d just gotten to Canada having travelled around the world,” he says. “I woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to wake up at 40 and still be working nights, so I thought I’d better decide what I’m going to do with myself.”
While studying at Lincoln, he also worked vintages at Neudorf Vineyards, near Nelson, N.Z., and at Oregon’s Archery Summit. After graduation, he did a harvest in Burgundy at Domaine Dublère and snagged a job overseeing the red wines at the legendary Henschke Cellars in Australia’s Eden Valley.
But he and his fiancé, Stephanie Mosley, wanted to come back to Canada to be closer to her family in Vancouver. He gave a call to Matt Holmes, the winemaker at Tantalus at the time, to inquire about work. Paterson had met Holmes, an Australian expat, while working at Neudorf.
To his surprise, Holmes said he was leaving the winery (he’s now winemaker at Liquidity Wines in Okanagan Falls, B.C.) and urged him to speak with Tantalus owner Eric Savics. Paterson was hired and has now worked three vintages, producing riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay, two icewines, a rosé and a sparkler.
His wife also joined the Tantalus team as social media and events coordinator. They even got married there. Their wedding was the first major event held at the new state-of-the-art winery, which opened in 2010.
A part-owner of Auburn Wines, a New Zealand winery specializing in single-vineyard rieslings, Paterson says working with accomplished winemakers such as Stephen Henschke, John Kavanagh (formerly of Neudorf Vineyards) and Jacqueline Kemp (a consultant for Tantalus) taught him to trust his instincts.
“Great wine is made in the vineyard and on the palate, not in a chemistry set,” he says. “If a wine looks bad one day, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad wine. Be patient, rather than rushing to fix something that doesn’t need to be.”
An outdoorsy type who enjoys sports, cooking and gardening, Paterson finds the job a labour of love, despite the long hours that come during harvest and bottling. One of the benefits of the position is the flexibility he has during the slower seasons.
“If I want to go play golf at two o’clock, or go skiing in the winter, there’s the freedom to do that because I’ve already put in the the immense hours,” he says. “I like the balance of that.”
Six Degrees Connection:
David Paterson and Isabelle Meunier both went to school at Lincoln University in New Zealand.
Find out more about Tantalus Vineyards here.
Read all the Six Degrees of Separation profiles here.