By John Schreiner
reprinted with permission
David and Melanie Flotten (left); Christy and Daniel Bibby
2735 Green Lake Road,
Okanagan Falls, BC, V0H1R0
Seven or eight years ago, Daniel and Christy Bibby spent a weekend at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and came away wanting to be in the wine business as well.
In British Columbia’s burgeoning wine industry, that’s a familiar story. It just took time to realize the dream of Nighthawk Vineyards, which opened this summer on a vineyard a kilometre or so past See Ya Later Ranch Winery.
In fact, there is a Nighthawk sign on the See Ya Later Vineyard; and visitors to Nighthawk often are referred by See Ya Later.
“They have been fantastic neighbours to us,” says David Flotten, a partner at Nighthawk with his wife, Melanie.
“One of the nice things about the Okanagan wine industry is that there are so many small wineries,” Daniel adds. “They really work together and help each other out. We have had everything from viticultural advice to loans of equipment … all kinds of different things. It is a great community.”
Who would not want to be part of a community like that?
Born in Edmonton in 1968, Daniel has come into the wine industry by way of the hospitality business.
“I was an executive chef for a number of years,” he says. “Then I became a director of food and beverage; then a director of operations; a hotel manager and a general manager. Christy and I and the kids have transferred back and forth.”
Currently, he is the general manager of the Delta Grand Okanagan, one of Kelowna’s major hotels, and the ninth hotel at which he has worked.
Christy was born in Brampton, ON, and grew up in Vancouver. The mother of four grown-up children, she is an education professional, specializing in special needs and behaviour. She also looks after Nighthawk’s wine shop and the accounting.
David, their partner, was born in Edmonton in 1969. He was in the same Grade Two class as Daniel. Later, the two worked together in several restaurants.
“When I left that behind, I became an electrician,” David says. With that skill, he now installs diagnostic imaging equipment for the medical industry in western Canada. Melanie has had a career in government and currently is the executive assistant to Agriculture Canada’s regional director in Summerland.
“We have complementary talents,” David says. “Dan is a very good businessman, a good spokesperson, a good sales person. I am excellent at keeping equipment working, and at production. But we all cross over: this is a huge team effort here. We all do a bit of everything.”
“We have always loved this valley,” Daniel says, referring to the Okanagan. “At the hotel, we started to have more and more visitors and clients who would ask to be taken to wineries. We had to find different pockets of wineries all the time. We ended exploring the whole valley from top to bottom. Eventually, we started falling in love with it.”
Then came the weekend at Burrowing Owl.
“We woke up in the morning and said, how can we make this our lifestyle?” Daniel recalls. “On our drive back, we started to see a few vineyards for sale. We started to do some research. We happened to be looking on line and we found this place.”
Nighthawk Vineyards is a charming place, with a log house and another building now the wine shop, perched on a plateau. It looks out over the vineyard which slopes toward Green Lake, an alkaline but spring-fed lake.
Daniel and Christy’s initial offer for the vineyard fell through. The capital they needed was contingent on selling their home in Kelowna and, at the time, they could not do it. But the vineyard nagged at them for years.
“We would come up here every year for five years, driving past the gates, looking in,” Daniel says. “Eventually, the owners called us back.”
The situation had changed by this time, which was 2014. The owners had an urgent reason to sell. Daniel and Christy had partners, and both couple were able to sell their homes.
David and Melanie, also wanting a lifestyle change, had just moved to the Okanagan in 2014 from Nanaimo.
“We had been talking about this dream for quite some time,” Daniel says. “Dave and Melanie are very good friends of ours. As the dream started to come together, we said, let’s work together.”
The 10-acre vineyard is planted to three varieties: five acres of Gewürztraminer, three of Pinot Noir and two of Chardonnay. Some of the vines are 15 years old.
The previous owner had been selling the Gewürztraminer to Desert Hills Estate Winery and that winery had been winning awards with that wine. When Daniel and David acquired the vineyard, they also arranged to have Desert Hills make some of the initial Nighthawk wines. In the 2015 vintage, they turned to Matt Dumayne, the chief winemaker at Okanagan Crush Pad Winery.
“We are doing part of the winemaking here, but under Matt’s watchful eye,”
Daniel says. “It is a great learning process for us.”
It is likely it could be all in the family one day. Daniel and Christy’s son, Dakota, who worked the 2015 crush at a major winery, is studying viticulture and enology.
“We always plan on remaining a farm gate winery,” Daniel says. “I always want to be in touch with our guests. What is a real charge with us is to be able to walk the vineyard with people and talk about what makes the grapes grow; and to taste them off the vines.”
The goal is to grow the winery to a production of 4,000 or 5,000 cases, using their own grapes and purchased grapes, including a long term contract with a grower near Oliver.
The winery name, and the vineyard name before that, is rooted in nature.
“It was named for the nighthawks that come and nest in this valley,” Daniel recounts. “They are a unique bird to Canada; usually a warm climate bird. They come here because this is the northern tip of the Sonoran dessert.”
The labels are by Kelowna artist Alex Fong, reflecting the enchanting views of the vineyard that inspired him to paint two canvasses for the partners.
Here are notes on the wines.
Nighthawk Pinot Gris 2014 ($18.90 for 56 cases). Forty-eight hours of skin contact contributed to this wine’s cleanly focussed aromas and flavours … melon, apple, citrus. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.
Nighthawk Gewürztraminer 2014 ($19.90 for 112 cases). This wine has the intense aromas and flavours – lychee, spice and ginger – for which this terroir is noted. The wine has a lingering dry finish. 90.
Nighthawk Viognier 2014 ($21.90 for 112 cases). The winery describes this as “decadent” – which I take refers to juicy, fleshy texture. The aromas of apricot and peach are intense, lingering on the long finish. 90.
Nighthawk Merlot 2011 ($24.90 for 56 cases). This wine had 18 months in French and American oak barrels. It has aromas and flavours of black currant, plum and black olives. 88.
Nighthawk Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($29.90 for 112 cases). Ths wine spent 20 months in French and American oak. It begins with aromas of toasted oak, vanilla and cherry. It has long ripe tannins but with a firm, ageworthy texture. 89.
Nighthawk Syrah 2011 ($31.90 for 56 cases). This wine spent 20 months in oak. Big and bold, the meaty and berry flavours are bracketed by pepper on the nose and on the finish. 91.
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