August 25, 2017

Howard Soon: mentor, innovator, tastemaker


After 36 years, the groundbreaking winemaker retires in vintage style

By JOHN SCHREINER

The red wine of the year at the 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships was Howard Soon Red 2014, a $60 Meritage sold only in the Sandhill Wines boutique in Kelowna.

This rich and powerful wine caps the winemaking career of Howard Soon, who retired in July after 36 vintages. He is the man who put “terroir” into B.C.’s wine vocabulary with the 1997 launch of Sandhill Wines. The premium companion of Calona Wines, Sandhill makes only single-vineyard wines. It was Soon who decided to differentiate the Sandhill wines as expressions of the terroir of named individual vineyards.

Sandhill was born after Calona Wines had invested in a Black Sage Road vineyard with Jim Wyse, the owner of Burrowing Owl Vineyards. Because of its colourful but checkered history, Calona was never taken seriously  as a premium producer. “We needed something that was more premium, more aimed at restaurants,” Soon recalls. “Marketing asked what we could do. I said, ‘One of the simplest ways of going premium is single vineyard. Let’s give credit to our growers.’ ”

Today, most B.C. wineries produce single-vineyard wines reflecting the site-to-site differences of one of the world’s most complex viticultural areas. Wineries have discovered that consumers will pay more for single-vineyard wines, which bolsters the wine industry’s prosperity.

The longest serving winemaker at any Canadian winery, Soon was born in 1952 in Vancouver, the grandson of a shopkeeper who emigrated from southern China in the 1880s. Howard graduated in biochemistry from the University of British Columbia in 1974. After five years in the brewing industry, he joined Calona in 1980 as a quality control supervisor, became assistant winemaker in 1981 and was subsequently promoted to chief winemaker.

He is widely respected by his peers, both for his award-winning wines and for his generous mentoring of rising young winemakers.  It is likely that, in retirement, Soon will become a sought-after consultant winemaker.

 

Three to try

Liquidity Viognier 2016  ($25)

This is an excellent example of an Okanagan Viognier, beginning with stone fruit aromas. Rich on the palate, the wine has flavours of apricot and peach, and a lingering finish. 91/100

Liquidity Chardonnay Estate 2015  ($26) 

This wine begins with aromas of citrus fruits and a complex hint of hazelnut (likely from barrel aging). The texture is full. The wine has flavours of guava, marmalade and mango. 91/100

Liquidity Pinot Noir Estate 2015  ($26)

The wine begins with spicy red berries and vanilla in the aroma. On the palate, it has flavours of black cherry, raspberry and strawberry with a hint of chocolate on the finish. The texture has a silky polish. 92/100

 

Take note of this

If you’re worried about losing your wine glass at a party, a simpler solution than “wine charms” is on sale at wine-related retailers across B.C. The modestly priced product, developed in California, is called Wine Glass Writer. Each kit consists of three metallic glass markers (silver, gold and navy). Use the markers to write your name on wine glasses; the ink dries quickly, lasts through the party and washes off easily afterward. The creators of Wine Glass Writer think there’s a good chance you will forget what charm is on your glass once the party gets rolling—but you won’t forget your name.

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