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April kicks off B.C. Wine Month. Whoo-hoo! As well as being my favourite month of the year, I thought it would be a fantastic idea to introduce you to a winery you may not have heard of…yet!

Monte Creek Winery is located in the Thompson Valley. The area is based around the city of Kamloops and was recognized officially as one of BC’s wine regions in 2018. The Thompson Valley is a region that sits on the edge of cool-climate viticulture. Grape varieties grown here are La Crescent, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay and Marquette.

Galen Barnhardt, a Shuswap local, has been Monte Creek Winery’s winemaker since 2014. Barnhardt received his Bachelor of Science degree from Thompson Rivers University, intending to go into med school. After receiving his undergrad, Barnhardt returned to the food and beverage industry he had been working in since he was a teenager. He quickly discovered a passion for wine which led to a new plan. With medical school no longer a contender, Barnhardt took his science degree and expanded upon it with a certificate in Oenology and Viticulture from Brock University in Niagara, Ontario.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Barnhardt is currently working on his Master of Science in Environmental Practice degree. What was entirely evident when we spoke was Barnhardt’s drive and passion for sustainability in his personal and professional life.

CC: What is unique about the Thompson Valley region?
GB: I like that while it gets extremely hot in Kamloops, in the South Thompson Valley, it really does cool down at night quickly from véraison to harvest. Because we are an east/west valley, we get a lot of airflow due to the jet stream. This allows us to preserve great acidity in our wines.

CC: Can you tell me about your two Pinot Noir wines? The ‘Living Land’ and ‘Ancient Waters’ series?
GB: We did a rebrand last year, and our 2020 vintage is the first to be bottled under our new labels. What was the varietal series Pinot Noir is now our ‘Living Land’ Pinot Noir. Our other tier was the Reserve Pinot Noir which is now our ‘Ancient Waters’ Pinot Noir. I, personally, do not like wording such as ‘Reserve’ on wines – I think it is overused and not often correct. Frequently, a winemaker wants to do an exciting or unique wine, or maybe a ‘small lot’ expression. Perhaps it is not necessarily better or worse than the varietal series – it is just different. And enjoying wine is subjective and up to the person tasting the wine to determine what they prefer.

We felt that the new label aligned more closely with our sustainability programs.

Our 2020 ‘Living Land’ Pinot Noir is from an east Kelowna site and is a bit more structured. I aim for elegance in our wines and try not to do too much extraction. And the ‘Ancient Waters’ Pinot Noir is from our Monte Creek Ranch home site on the south side of the river. It is young vine fruit, and we are being as gentle as possible to let the fruit shine through.

CC: How did the decision to rebrand with Monte Creek Winery develop?
GB: Originally, our brand reflected the historical side of the valley. This had great local appeal, but people didn’t understand it when we introduced our wines to a larger market. We wanted to make the labels more modern. The other reason is that we want to make sustainability a pillar of what we are doing up here. I think we are uniquely positioned in the South Thompson with low disease pressures. There are no preconceived notions about what we can do with our wines. It is like having a carte blanche, which lends itself to a sustainable ethos. Many others here on the team are all very passionate about sustainability. We have been improving our sustainability program for a few years now. And we realized that this was becoming an essential piece of who we are, and it started to define us. The marketing needed to reflect this shift.

The ‘Living Land’ describes and pays homage to the terroir of the soil and practising regenerative agriculture. We want to keep our soils in pristine condition and, where possible, improve them. Realizing that we are not just working with dirt, we are working with a living entity. The ‘Ancient Waters’ is our homage to the geological processes that have created the soils we are on. We sit at the bottom of an old glacial lake in Kamloops, making the soil complex and interesting.

CC: Can you please tell me more about your sustainability initiatives? I understand that Monte Creek Winery has given a spotlight to B.C. badgers over the past few years. What is this program about?
GB: Absolutely. It started when I researched what the most endangered species are in B.C. We learned that badgers are on the red list for endangered species in the province. We discovered that our winery sits dead centre for the worst mortality rate for badgers in British Columbia. The leading cause of badger death is caused by traffic that drives along the section of highway that borders our winery. We wanted to be a part of the solution, so we promoted this information at the winery and on our social media platforms to bring awareness to the issue and advocate for the badger species. We made special ‘Don’t Badger the Badgers’ badges. The staff wear them to raise awareness, especially during July and August, when the animals are out looking for mates. We try to educate our consumers to slow down and pay attention to the possibility of badgers crossing the highway. We have been working with the Ministry of Transportation to create corridors for the badgers to use to more safely cross the highway. With just over 300 badgers left in the province, we will continue to chip away at this project.

CC: On a personal note, what wine region in the world have you travelled to that surprised you?
GB: Bordeaux – I wasn’t hugely into Bordeaux before I went there. I was blown away by the vast array of styles of wine they produce. I think often that we think only about Right Bank or Left Bank. It isn’t as old school as people might think. So many producers have interesting wine programs, but we don’t get to experience these wines unless we travel there. The other region is Margaret River in Australia. It is almost a cool-climate region in a very warm part of the world where the wines retain excellent acidity.

CC: What wine region haven’t you visited that is on your bucket list?
GB: I love Italy, and I would like to visit Sicily. The culture and the food play a significant role in it. There are interesting biodynamic and low intervention producers, which is really cool. I would like to learn more about them. Sicily is at the top of my list.

CC: Please give me a few wine and food pairings with your Monte Creek Winery wines.
GB: I prefer to pair the wines to a dish versus the dish to a wine. I love our Riesling – it has bright acidity and is lower in alcohol. I would pair that with a ceviche with some heat, maybe from jalapeño pepper and lots of lime. The second would be our Ancient Waters Pinot Noir with lean duck breasts or lamb sirloin.

Monte Creek Winery ‘Living Land Series’ Pinot Noir 2020 – bright, ripe red cherry fruit with a dash of cinnamon on the nose. Hints of chewing tobacco and crushed raspberries on the palate offer a structured, integrated wine. 90 Points

Monte Creek Winery ‘Living Land Series’ Chardonnay 2020 – aromas of Golden Delicious apple, vanilla, nutmeg and pineapple on the nose. Flavours of fresh apple, pineapple, lime zest and fresh peach on the palate. Beautiful acid and great length – this is one silky and sultry Chardonnay and one worthy of my #chardcore status. 91 Points

Monte Creek Winery ‘Ancient Waters Series’ Pinot Noir 2020 – delicate aromas of cherry, cranberry, earth, rosemary and vanilla. Wow! The palate is exceptional with bright and refined, elegant flavours alongside mouth-watering acidity. This is a new classic for me. I am a huge fan. 93 Points

I invite you to travel to the Thompson Valley region of British Columbia on your next wine tasting trip and visit the fantastic people at Monte Creek Winery.

Click HERE to learn more about Monte Creek Winery and their sustainability practices.

Thank you, Galen, for your time.

Happy B.C. Wine Month!