Having been away from my beloved B.C. wine industry for a long time, I have been craving to reconnect with some of my favourite producers.
Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to meet and speak with Ezra Cipes, CEO at Summerhill Pyramid Winery based in Kelowna, British Columbia. Recently, the talented people at Summerhill came up with an inspired vision statement based specifically on seven guiding principles which acts as a blueprint on how to exist in the world today.
If that wasn’t enough to spark my interest, I learned that Summerhill Pyramid Winery has been also granted a ‘Certified B Corporation’ status which means that the company ‘meets the highest standards of social and environmental impact’ – and they are the first winery in Canada to achieve this title. Bravo! (More on this certification in my follow-up piece)
I used Summerhill’s ‘Seven Guiding Principles’ (pictured above) to lead our interview time:
Gratitude – What are you personally grateful for?
EC: In our current society, and maybe how I was raised, you are encouraged to make it in the world and prove yourself. Family is usually placed in a distant second place – far away from an individuals’ personal needs, interests and focus. I needed a change of perception and place. My brother Gabriel and my wife Rio both led me back to Kelowna. I am grateful to be here.
People – What person or people have inspired you to become more open-hearted and transparent?
EC: I have an overactive conscious – I can lie awake for hours replaying something over and over again in my mind – I am not a good sleeper. I was quite selfish in my youth and now, I put others first. But, it is a struggle; understanding humility, knowing that I make mistakes just like everyone else. I challenge myself to be a better person – daily.
Planet – It states on the Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s website that, ‘organic wines are better in every way.’ Can you please expand on that?
EC: It comes from the knowledge of living on the farm where the grapes are grown…you, yourself, are a part of the ecosystem. It starts with a personal connection to the land. My parents came to Kelowna to be farmers. When we came here, there were 40,000 people living in the area. My parents thought it was the perfect place to raise their family with pure water and clean air. However, the reality was that agriculture was steeped in chemical usage. My father had to navigate organic farming on his own as no one was really doing it at the time. He wanted to find a way to give back to the environment – not take away from it. We have learned that the best teacher is Mother Nature. In nature, there is no waste – leaves become soil. So, in our farming practices, which are both certified organic and biodynamic, we have come to understand and appreciate that we have all the nutrients available with very minimal intervention. Nature gives us unique and beautiful tasting wines – they are better for the earth because we follow a natural process and you can taste the purity.
Passion – What sparks your passion? What pique’s your interests regarding Summerhills’ future?
EC: I want to start by saying that I feel very fortunate to be working in the wine industry of British Columbia – it is soulful and rich. It is its own creature full of beauty and filled with passionate and engaged people. However, what most ignites something in me is the challenges of leadership. We write 270 T4 slips a year – we have a complex organization and we understand that the people who work with us spend a large part of their day onsite. We have a responsibility to treat everyone with the same nobility and respect. It is a challenge that I fully embrace. Finding that balance where we can provide a healthy and satisfying workplace environment while also operating a successful commercial enterprise.
Abundance – How do you practice abundance?
EC: I learned how to live in abundance from my Dad – he is very generous with people and he is generous of spirit. For me, it is a process of trusting. If we are good and embody pure principles and connect them to our life and values, we have an intrinsic power which is our greatest strength – to take care of ourselves. When someone I have put trust in betrays that trust, I feel like a fool. I think, ‘I didn’t protect myself or Summerhill and the people who work with us that put their trust in me.’ However, I am open to the lesson and consciously know I will do better. Lessons teach me how to better protect myself and the people who I care about.
Pioneership – Your father, Stephen Cipes, radiates a pioneering spirit. Do you feel that same spirit? Have you passed this on to your children?
EC: Yes, I feel that my Dad has done incredible work – we are incredibly grateful. Our parents raised us to be leaders – it was our family culture, actually. Even though it can be ‘safer to be a part of the crowd’ that wasn’t the path our parents wanted to follow and my brothers and I have followed that same road and are passing this onto our children. My Dad created a legacy and our newly created guiding principles are a way of transitioning towards our new future. We want to articulate what makes Summerhill unique and then stand beside these values and embody them.
Love: – When I look at your guiding principles diagram, I can’t help but notice and appreciate that ‘LOVE’ is in the centre. How do you feel that our B.C. wine industry is doing with this core value?
EC: I think our British Columbia tourism and hospitality sectors do an incredible job – if you think about it, you need to give love and be open to receiving people if you are in this industry. I think the number of people who come to B.C. as tourists and even British Columbians that travel to wine country to enjoy wine tourism are fantastic proof that we are doing a great job. Our B.C. wine industry, ultimately, starts with love, doesn’t it? We really all love what we do – it is a vital part of our heart. But love is a funny word – it is a source of deep meaning. It is a sacred word – when we enter into relationships, we do so with care and respect. It is subtle and we need to show it through our actions. It is universal and all-embracing when you actually see a persons’ individual nobility and honour everyone with love.
I was incredibly inspired after getting off the phone – thank you, Ezra.
Stay tuned for my follow-up piece on Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s new ‘Certified B Corporation’ status coming soon.