RAW WINE Toronto: Similkameen Valley’s Scout Vineyard is Rooted in Minimalist, Farm-Driven Wines

Scout Vineyard: a reminder wine is an agricultural product. Photo credit: Scout Vineyard

The November 16th RAW WINE Toronto fair is your ticket to tasting amazing, naturally produced wines.

One RAW WINE grower/winemaking team clearing Isabelle Legeron’s very high quality bar is Scout Vineyard, a wine farm on the southern border of the incredibly beautiful Similkameen Valley, in British Columbia.

Launched in 2018, Team Scout includes Similkameen friends and neighbours Maggie and Murray Fonteyne and Carly and Aaron Godard. The farming foursome struck up a friendship when Aaron was working at the esteemed Similkameen winery Orofino, purchasing grapes from Maggie and Murray at Scout.

Over many years and – according to Aaron – many beers, the group decided to start wine farming together using the Fonteyne’s organic grapes.  

Scout Wines - different bottle shapes and wines
The family of Scout Natural Wines. Photo credit: Scout Vineyard

Regenerative & Minimal Intervention Wines

The group believes biodiversity (and hard work) is key to healthy soils, healthy vines, and beautiful wines and they practice a healthier way of farming that considers the entire ecosystem. Aaron gives full credit to Murray and Maggie for the excellent quality of the grapes and together, Aaron and Murray share responsibility for winemaking.

The Similkameen river and valley is named for its Indigenous people, the Similkameen, meaning “people of the river.” A true outdoor lover’s paradise, the rugged and rustic valley is one of nine recognized appellations (Geographical Indications) in BC.

Relative to their eastern neighbours in the Okanagan wine belt, the Similkameen ‘gestalt’ is decidedly more down-to-earth. There’s a slower pace, a more patient approach to life and farming, and most agriculture here is certified organic.

Beautiful view of Similkameen Valley with river running through it
Similkameen Valley terroir on display: rugged, rustic, remarkable. Photo credit: Similkameen Tourism

The region is classified as semi-arid continental. The mountains create a rain shadow, resulting in an average of only 320 mm (13 inches) of precipitation a year. Desert-like conditions cause diurnal shifts resulting in hot summer days and reliably cool nights. Alpine winds from the mountains above provide a reliable cooling effect and these persistent winds reduce pest and mildew pressure. The soils are granitic, which moderate vine growth and retain heat during the day.

The net effect of this terroir is deliciously ripe, full-flavoured grapes with plenty of freshness and acidity in the wines. The Scout team are big fans of old world Qvevris or amphora fermented wine making, and their wines offer a beautifully complex, textural experience.

IMHO, the Similkameen Valley is one of Canada’s undiscovered viticultural gems, a hotbed of cool climate wine potential, and Scout is certainly helping lead the way.

Scout doesn’t have a tasting room, but you can try their wines at the RAW WINE Toronto, fair, OR sign up for the Scout ‘education hour’ with their Toronto distributor, Grape Witches, OR buy the wines online here.

But hurry …..  based on everything I see and read, their fan base is growing exponentially and wines are going fast!

You can follow Scout Vineyard social media here

Here’s my email conversation with Aaron Godard:

AMR: How is harvest going? Where are you in the process? 

AG: Harvest has been going well but due to a slow spring this year, our harvest season began later than usual, making for a prolonged harvest with some very long days. Fortunately, we had beautiful weather in October, which made it nicer to work in. We have picked all our fruit and are now nearly done, we have just two pressing days to go. We then have some ferment monitoring and reorganization of our very tightly packed winery, after which we can put everything to bed for the winter.   

AMR:  Can readers visit your winery in the Similkameen?

AG:  We do not have a tasting room, so unfortunately, we can’t take visitors. 

AMR: Have you participated in Raw Wine before? How can Canadians find your wines if they can’t make it to the event in Toronto? 

AG: This will be our first RAW wine fair. Canadians can get our wines at many excellent restaurants in Vancouver and around the country, as well as online on our website. They can also sign up for our newsletter to get info on releases. 

AMR: What will you be pouring at RAW WINE Toronto?

AG: Since we are sold out of all our wines, we will be pouring four back vintages that we hope can be representative of what we are doing at Scout: 2018 Riesling, 2018 Skin Contact Riesling, 2019 Syrah and 2021 Syrah-Riesling co-ferment. We grow Syrah and Riesling at Scout Vineyard and believe these varieties are well suited to our climate and soils here in the Similkameen.

AMR: How do you define Raw Wine? What are the values and practices – writ large – embedded in the concept?

AG: We think of “Raw” wines as unadulterated, starting from the way it is farmed to the winemaking. Just grapes and their natural biome. 

AMR:  What don’t consumers know about conventional wines and why should they care?

AG: There are many additives that are allowed without any regulation or need to put the ingredients on the label. There should be more transparency in the wine industry so that consumers know what they are buying and consuming and what kind of farming and winemaking they are supporting.

AMR:  What do you know about your buyers and their values? Is this ‘segment’ of wine lovers growing?

AG: Yes, it is growing fast. Similar to the organic revolution in food, many people are asking questions about how the wines are made and farmed and want to support small farmers and businesses that are environmentally responsible, care for their workers, and are transparent about their process. 

AMR:  What language best describes what you’re trying to do with your brand? The term natural can be a bit of a punching bag, the trade/industry turned on ‘clean’ producers, low intervention can be vague…… what’s the best way to sell your values?

AG: We try to avoid using the term natural as it is obviously complicated and controversial, though we do adhere to a “natural winegrowing” philosophy. We prefer to talk about farming, as we feel it is far more important than discussing whether or not someone filtered their wine or added sulphites. 

AMR: What natural, regenerative, biodiversity practices have you incorporated in the vineyard and winery? 

AG:  We are still early on in our regenerative journey, with much to learn. At the moment our focus is on composting (testing biological activity under a microscope), compost teas, cover crops, wood mulching, no till, and reducing inputs. Our hope is to one day achieve a closed loop system where the only inputs we use on the farm come strictly from the farm itself. 

AMR:  To what extent is the climate crisis affecting your wine making decisions? 

AG: The climate crisis makes it more clear that regenerative farming practices are a necessary path forward for grape growers if we hope to see positive change.

mushrooms growing in vineyard soil
Mushrooms are the fruit of fungal networks connecting plants and transferring water, nitrogen, carbon and other nutrients. They signify healthy soils and eventually, delicious natural wines. Photo credit: Scout Vineyard
beautiful view of mountains and vineyard in the Similkameen Valley. British Columbia
Scout Vineyard vines supported by a bountiful cover crop! Photo credit: Scout Vineyard
2 red bottles of wine against scenic river and mountains
On the right, the 2021 farm blend – a wine-cider hybrid that drinks more like a rosé with a light spritz. No monoculture here! A collaboration between Scout Vineyard and Snowy Mountain Farm. Photo credit: Scout Vineyard
Raw Wine toronto poster

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