Our vineyards are hand-managed by co-owner Petra Flaa, who is most at home outdoors with the vines. Keeping her company and providing the soundtrack as she performs vineyard tasks are sandpipers, meadowlarks, robins, and ring-necked pheasants. The kestrels and vultures are overhead taking advantage of the updrafts off the hill.
Petra works the Baillie-Grohman Estate surrounded by an amazing landscape. Creston is situated on a glaciated valley countryside composed of rolling hills lying between the massive Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges. The glaciation is evidenced in our vineyard landscape, which slopes uphill to the east and north, taking pause at a knoll formed before glaciation time where the glacier skipped around. As the glacier receded it deposited granite boulders, rock and varied soil layers along the way. We are fortunate to be located on the highest point in the middle of the Creston Valley. It not only offers fantastic views and micro-climate, it has great soil and rock structure, aspect, sun exposure and gentle slopes providing good drainage. The moderate winter weather ensures healthy hibernation.
The soil structure of our vineyard varies from sandy and loamy clay to heavy soil mineralized with calcium and potassium. Mixed in are small to large granite pebbles, rock and boulders. In the right sunlight the vineyard can literally sparkles from the granite particles in the soil. In planting the vineyard, Petra was met with numerous big boulders, making the driving of posts a challenge. The many rocks and boulders throughout the vineyard have a positive aspect: they store heat which aids the ripening process later in the season. Up the hill at the back of the property this is further illustrated where one of our blocks of Pinot Noir is situated. The reflective and heat-absorbing rock help keep the vines happy, and allow the Pinot Noir grapes ripen better.
The Creston Valley was once considered on the edge, as the area had no history of grape and wine production before about 2000. Yet it boasts a proud agricultural history, and as with many fertile agricultural areas in the world, there is an evolution underway as ground crops and orchards lead the way to viticulture.
Creston has a reputation for quality cherries, peaches, plums and apples and now grapes and wine . The Goat River moderates the Erickson Bench micro-climate and the huge Kootenay Lake moderates the Creston Valley. Our vineyards have average high temperatures above 26°C in July, and average annual rainfall of only 500 mm. The vineyards lie between 600 and 650 meters.
Our 49th parallel location along with the Erickson bench location in the middle of the valley provide for a compression of the growing season. Here you throw the traditional degree day approach out the window, with the long days of intense sunlight hours. The sun rises at 4 am and sets at 10 pm, which helps to explain the rapid growth and ripening during a growing window of time.
The Baillie-Grohman vineyards are planted to Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer Schoenberg and Kerner. The winery also farms Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at the Creston Valley Vineyard and we are preparing the St. Augustine Vineyard for planting in 2019.
Grape production is maintained at low yields in the vineyard, where cane pruning and fruit thinning is managed to increase the quality of the berries and the wine. Drip irrigation is used mostly to start our “babies”. “We do not need much water for our mature vines,” says Petra. “There are natural springs deep in the hill and the mature vines can reach these.”
The approach taken in the vineyard by Petra and Wes is one of learning. They are undergoing trials to find “balance” in the vines that leads to “balance” in the wines. These studies are providing us with a better understanding of the implications of vineyard practices and the stewardship of the land.
Wes and Petra each embrace the fact that they are among those pioneering grape growing in the region. “It is about learning your vineyards. You need to understand your weather and understand your block. As you learn each year you will be better and better.”