Our interview with Moss Scheurkogel from Intersection Estate Winery!
OK: Tell us a bit about yourself, the winemaker, and the faces behind Intersection!
We're quite a small team here at Intersection, and we're a bit proud of the fact that we've come from an eclectic mishmash of backgrounds. The founder, Bruce Schmidt, has worked in marketing, medical science, and green energy among a dozen other fields - a real Jack of All Trades. Personally, I moved to the Okanagan as a high school teacher, and before that held a number of jobs from wax museum attendant (and sometimes dummy stand-in) to board game consultant. Even our previous winemaker, Dylan Roche, was a bicycle mechanic not too long ago. Our current winemaker, Melissa Smits, who has been with us since 2016, is really the only one of us who began her career in wine right out of the gates - she had an interest even in high school, and started working at Henry of Pelham in Niagara not long after graduating. Today, it's Bruce, Melissa, and myself who run the operation year round, with a couple of helpful hands through the summer. But the odds are good that if you visit the tasting bar, you'll catch one of us behind it.
Finally, while we are all unrelated to each other, I do quite like how our last names all sort of match: Smits, Schmidt, and Scheurkogel. Sounds like a German law firm.
The front door to Intersection Winery, with summer greeter Ziggy the Marmot
OK: Intersection is located South of Oliver in The Golden Mile — can you tell us a bit about the land and space and what makes it so unique?
The whole premise of Intersection is based on our property. Nearly all of our grapes are estate grown on a 10-acre parcel that Bruce purchased in 2005. We're poised at a critical junction within the valley, right on the northern cusp of the Golden Mile (hence our wines named "Mile's Edge" and "Milepost"), directly across the street from the Black Sage Bench, and immediately south of the Oliver growing region. You can throw three rocks and hit three different sub-regions from here. Since we're also positioned at the base of the dried-up Tinhorn Creek, it means that our grapes are planted on a patchwork quilt of different soils with massively differing impacts on the fruit. Soils that you would expect to find in any of those three regions are all represented here, from sand to clay to alluvial riverbed run-off. The very name "Intersection" is a reference to this vital crossroad, and all of our wines show the influence of the differing soils.
Proprietor Bruce Schmidt and some of the grape vines that he planted by hand in 2007
OK: Your flagship varietal is Merlot... but which wine that Intersection produces are you most fond of and why?
Our 10 acre property has around 6.5 acres just of Merlot, so as you said that really is the flagship varietal, and we produce three Merlot table reds each year, one Merlot Rosé, and often up to three Wine Club exclusive Merlots like our dried-fruit Appassimento. Now that I've said all of that though, I'm going to go with our Viognier-Marsanne. This is a barrel fermented white that blends our richly structured Viognier with the rare and subtle Marsanne grape. The result is a wine with boundless complexity, a gorgeous mouthfeel, and this elegant nuance of orange peel, wet cedar, and almond skin that I just go bananas for. Best turkey wine on our list, hands down.
The first Intersection wine club subscription pack, photographed in the Vinstitute classroom
OK: What is one common misconception about Okanagan wines that you would like to clear up?
I'd love to dispel the impression that BC wines are more expensive than they're worth. It can be tough working in a small corner of the industry without the economy of scale to produce dirt cheap wines, and between land prices, government taxation, and inefficient equipment costs, this winds up being quite a low-margin business. So despite all of those factors, the fact that you can still get a $20 red that tastes like its worth twice that price is just amazing. And when you do take the step up to the next price tier of $28-$35, you really do see an equivalent increase in value. Just the cellaring potential of wines coming out of the south Okanagan from the past decade is enough to be worth the price tag and more.
OK: If visiting Oliver for one day only, what hot spots (wineries, cafes, restaurants) are not to be missed and why?
I live in Osoyoos, so I have a soft spot for Jo-Jo's for coffee (but that's probably because they all know me by name) and the Lake Village Bakery, just down the hill from Nk'Mip Cellars, for the best cinnamon buns in the valley. The Firehall Brewery in Oliver is also a very fun little brew pub with an excellent staff.
OK: You launched the Vinstitute in the Spring of 2016 and you personally teach the classes! Can you tell us what typical Vinstitute session looks like?
The typical weekly Vinstitute class, which we call "Vinsight," begins in our classroom: a converted cellar with barrels lining the walls. I start the guests off with three white wines, all poured blind with no hints other than the fact that they are single varietal BC wines. I then walk the class through the principles of tasting a wine - visual examination, swirling, smelling, savouring - and why we should bother to do these things. I use a lot of anecdotes and analogies to explain the concepts behind wine, and while I'm not shy about hitting people with some pretty nerdy factoids, I always try to make the content approachable. As we taste each wine, the class tries to guess what the grape varietal is (just for fun - there's no testing), and then we move onto three reds. We talk a lot about flavour profiles and the way that we as humans tend to create associations without even meaning to. Literally most wine is just grapes and yeast, but somehow it never quite tastes like grapes and yeast. Half of the fun is in helping people make associations to describe what they're tasting - maybe this Pinot Gris tastes like grapefruit and beeswax, or maybe that Riesling smells like a smooth stone from a salty west coast beach. The classes take about two hours, and I'm always delighted to see how much more comfortable people can become with wine in just that short time. Teaching the classes really is my favourite part of the job.
Moss Scheurkogel teaching a Vinstitute Class in the Intersection tasting room
OK: What is on the horizon for Intersection this 2018?
We launched a new subscription club in December of 2017, so I'm really looking forward to its first full year, and to some of the special treats we're going to include for members. We are also going to be opening our backyard patio this year - a picturesque little grassy garden snuggled within the vineyard where people can enjoy a bottle of wine and a bite to eat. The Vinstitute is also going to be rolling out some new classes, with the full schedule found at www.vinstitute.ca. The lovely thing about a business of this size is that the momentum we've been seeing each year is really tangible. You can actually feel the growth in the tasting bar and in the public response. We're all very excited for 2018.
Winemaker Melissa Smits with a curious guest