Big Interview With Winemaker Tyler Harlton of Summerland’s TH Wines

For our latest Big Interview, we head to TH Wines in Summerland to meet winemaker Tyler Harlton. Unsurprisingly, beyond resulting in delicious wines, his honest attitude and “by hand” approach to grape harvesting and winemaking also makes for a great interview…

All photos courtesy Tarynn Liv Parker

What was it like growing up on a grain farm? The best part? The worst? There is nothing like the harvest. You’re standing in front of ripe golden fields with your family, your buddies, some trusted equipment, and a shaky pact with nature to fill the bins. And like a miracle it always happens, and the accomplishment is always amazing, even when the crop is poor.

Biggest culture shock when you moved from Saskatchewan? Cosmopolitan people, people with all the answers.

The thing you miss most about the prairies? Being walled in by the elements and the crop.

Where did you study law? Studied law in Montreal with a semester in Paris.

The different career path that you could have gone on? I’ve had small failures in professional sports, law, and farming. Now I try to avoid new career paths.

What keeps you up at night? Fear, an itch, a longing, the sound of a big truck downshifting on the highway. Always something in the air.

What makes you laugh out loud? Had good laughs at a recent production at Scotiabank Dance Centre called “Hardly Ever”. Bizarre imaginings played out by a small cast. Really bizarre.

Your cry song? No, but the string of Leonard Cohen songs at Chelsea Hotel production at Firehall Arts Centre had good feel.

“The luckiest things were failures that forced me off the path.”

Dogs or cats? An amazing dog is an amazing dog, but a good cat is damn close.

Shoe of choice? Fancier shoe by East Van’s Love Jules Leather Shoe Company. Work shoe by a Winnipeg boot company.

The era in time you’d most like to visit? Anywhere but the future.

The last film you saw in a theatre? Dunkirk. Though the short trailer I saw in the IMAX accomplished most of what the movie did.

Your three role models? Selected from my family, but a mash-up to weed out a few of the vices.

The three words that your best friend would use to describe you? “Seasoned, cryptic.” He stopped at two.

What was the luckiest moment in your life? The luckiest things were failures that forced me off the path.

It’s five years ago. You just clocked out. Where to? 5 years ago I was still growing ground crops. At this time of year I’d be leaving the winery to check the greenhouse.

The local restaurant you wish was open 24 hours? Nelson the Seagull. I could tuck into one of their tables any season, any day, any hour.

The meal you cook for yourself at home? I grew up on meat and potatoes. It’s my fallback.

The thing that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? When I travel with my Dad he brings little packets of cheezies. Can’t stop.

First album you bought yourself? Stray Cats? Wham? Something post 8-track.

The last live concert you saw? Saxophonist Gary Smulyan at Pyatt Hall.

Your all-time best Halloween costume? Darth Vader back when child safety was not an issue for mask manufacturers. The laboured loud breathing was real.

The tool that you wished existed? In this age? A dampener for the loud and righteous so that regular people could have a conversation.

The piece of technology you can’t live without? Nail clippers. During harvest I hate getting stems rammed underneath my fingernails.

“Five years from now I’ll have moved the winery to a ship on the ocean. Ten years from now it’ll be sunk.”

A bad habit? Anything related to looking at a handheld device that was invented in the last 20 years. I’ve got nothing against compasses.

A daily ritual? Check the sky first thing.

The strange talent that you possess? Used to give a good Daniel Day-Lewis speech from There Will Be Blood.

What game did you love as a kid? Ball hockey. Played on ice, grass, cement, gravel, or a combination thereof.

Where do you go to be alone (with a glass of wine)? I store my best bottles in the basement on the farm in Saskatchewan. West-facing patio is the place to open one.

The wine you break out for a celebration or when you want to impress? Long long ago I fermented some cider which overcarbonated. When I want excitement I open one of those.

Your favourite non-grape beverage? Black tea in the morning, green tea at noon, herbal at night.

A wine you’re cellaring that you can’t wait to open? Some secret French stuff. Can’t reveal source because I don’t want people buying it.

Coffee or tea? Remember the praise I lavished on tea? I actually prefer coffee.

A recent encounter that surprised you? April snowstorm on the Coquihalla. Winter makes Vancouver a little bit further.

All photos by Tarynn Liv Parker

Your favourite curse word? I’ll tuck a curse word into a sentence for colour, but they’ve all lost their meaning. Hard to find a good one anymore.

Least favourite smell? The smells of winemaking faults, which is why I’ll never be a hardcore natural winemaker.

The most beautiful place in the world? Ethiopia. I love it when reality blows away the commonly held view.

Describe TH Wines in 10 words or less. Authentic wines that taste delicious.

Your first wine experience? Box wine pours at family dinners of long ago.

The moment you fell in love with winemaking? When I realized that what was in that wine box could come from a farm and a community much like ours in Saskatchewan.

The best thing about winemaking? A beautiful white wine is very difficult to make. It’s worth the effort.

The worst thing about winemaking? Booze industry is heavily regulated, easy for big corps but hard on little guys.

What has been the biggest learning curve in winemaking? Restraint. Trusting the fruit and the tradition.

The chef/restaurant that you would most like to collaborate on a pairing with? Grandma turns 100 this year, that makes her chef de cuisine for about 86 years. She plates, I’ll pair.

Wine trend that needs to die? Produced Wines. The manipulation dishonours the tradition.

Your first memory? The love and affection of my two older sisters (paid placement).

How would you like to be remembered? Probably the exact opposite of how I’ll ACTUALLY be remembered.

Where do you see yourself in five years? A decade? Five years from now I’ll have moved the winery to a ship on the ocean. Ten years from now it’ll be sunk.

A piece of advice that you wish you’d taken? “Never give all the heart.”

A piece of advice that you wish you hadn’t taken? I’d like to erase the effect of 99% of the advertising bullshit that’s been drilled into my head over the years.

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