Scout Vineyards: Natural wine from the Similkameen Valley
Photo: The Godard's Photography
Carly and Aaron Goddard, with friends Murray and Maggie Fonteyne, have started a small, bare bones winery and cooperative. Having worked in the BC wine industry for a number of years - Aaron, most notably, the vineyard manager and assistant winemaker at Orofino for 9 years, and Murray and Maggie, owners of a 6 acre organic vineyard planted to Syrah and Riesling - equips them with the necessary experience for such a project.
Photo: The Godard's Photography
The ethos is simple: farming is the primary focus. Organic practices help promote biodiversity, permaculture and healthy microbial life in the vineyard and soils, which in turn lead to a healthy microbe and yeast population in the wines. All this combined is key to self sustaining vines.
Aaron is a breath of fresh air - his candour was welcomed and appreciated - sharing unabashedly many of the challenges they've encountered. The adage I seem to keep hearing in the natural wine community rang particularly true: you can't make real and honest wine without embodying the same traits yourself.
An approach utilising new research and technology, coupled with the wise ways of farmers of lore, has enabled Scout to produce beautiful expressions of minimal intervention Riesling. Currently, they make three examples: two from single vineyards, and one skin contact.
Photo: The Godard's Photography
All the wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts in neutral barrels and qvevri, aged on the lees and undisturbed for 10 months. While they avoid a dogmatic approach to sulphur, it's used only unless absolutely necessary.
The team has bootstrapped the whole project from acting as sales reps to designing labels and even building their own website - all while financing the project on a shoestring budget and working full time jobs.
Plantings of other varieties will likely happen in the near future. At 420 meters elevation, the climate is dry and hot, and the growing season short. Summer brings hot daytime temperatures and cool alpine evening winds. This allows ripening of varieties like Syrah that are planted in rocky, granitic soil, which slows and naturally manages growth on vigour.
Scout aims to push the wines to their limits, in anticipation of understanding what is possible.
More of my conversation with Aaron, below:
Do you ever drink conventional wine?
Yes, but I have to say that I don't draw a firm line between natural and conventional wines. I think all wines are on a sort of spectrum, some closer on that spectrum to natural ways, and others closer to highly industrial ways. In my experience, there are many people in between that still have a respect for the land and a gentle hand in the winemaking. I think some of these wines can be beautiful and compelling, even if I do tend to lean towards more naturally grown/made wines.
If you could describe your wine through other mediums like music, food or fashion, what would it be and why?
I like cooking so if I were to liken Scout to a food or style of food, it would probably be yakitori. It can be a simple food, just chicken cooked over charcoal. I’m drawn to the Japanese obsession of taking something simple, and through lots of repetition, discipline, and patience turning it into something beautiful. Not that I think we have even come close to achieving that but it’s something to aspire to. I studied fine arts in university and cooked in restaurants for many years and have thought about this often, particularly where wine and food intersect with art. Some people like to say winemaking is an art but I like to think of it more as a craft. Art tends to be a creative task, whereas a craft is honed through discipline and repetition. If our focal point were the winemaking, then the winemaker and the creative process take centre stage, but if the focus is the farming, which we are trying to do, then the farm takes centre stage. In which case, it is less of an art and more of a craft, honed with discipline, time and lots and lots of repetitive labour.
Do you think there is elitism in natural wine?
Sure, there are those who sit on their moral high horse looking down on anyone who isn’t making wine according to their dogmatic standards. This is unfortunate since it creates a divide between those in the “natural camp” and those who are not, which in the end just alienates people rather than bring them together. If we really want to see true changes in the way we farm and make our wine, we need to create a community that is inclusive. That said, most of the people I know that make wine in a more “natural” way, both abroad and here in BC have been nothing but generous and welcoming.
What do you think will become of the natural wine movement?
I do hope that one day it will just be called "wine" again and we can get away from worrying about what was or wasn't used in the winemaking or how much sulphur was added. Sure, all these things matter to us, and we think it is important to not have additives in the wine or manipulate it's natural course, but our end goal isn't "natural" wine, rather it is pure, balanced wines that say something about the place it comes from. I think this is where the natural wine movement is headed, as it matures and enters the next stage, it seems many winegrowers are talking less about the process and more about the farming. We would much rather the conversation shifted to the farming and what our responsibility as winegrowers is improve the health of our soils and environment.
If you could describe your winemaking style in one word, what would it be?
This was a hard one. I think because we are still just at the beginning of our journey we don't have a winemaking style yet, but for now, I'd say "transparent". It has been our shared ethos that we always be transparent with our farming and the winemaking process. We choose to make our wines minimally because they are more transparent and the farm its grown on shines through more brightly. Due to limited funds, we have a very low-tech operation (we wouldn't do it any other way). Most of our equipment was borrowed, thanks to our very generous friends. When you are working with few resources and equipment, and making the wines minimally, there is little to hide behind. It's more transparent, for better or worse. Hopefully for better.
Follow Scout vineyards on Instagram: @scout.vineyards. Their wine isn't for sale - yet - but it will be very soon! Follow their page for updates so you can snag some delicious juice as soon as it's released. Rumour also has it there could be a Crushable feature on the horizon - make sure to sign up so you don't miss out: www.crushable.club