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From Collaboration to Climate Change with Winemaker Severine Pinte

Scout catches up with the oenologist, viticulturist, and decorated Executive Winemaker at the Le Vieux Pin and LaStella wineries to ask a few questions about the complexities of the wine industry...

From Collaboration to Climate Change with Winemaker Severine Pinte

Severine Pinte is an oenologist, viticulturist, and decorated Executive Winemaker at the Le Vieux Pin and LaStella wineries. She completed her studies in France, where she also worked in various wine regions, as well as doing a stint in Western Australia – but it’s BC’s Okanagan terroir and climate that has piqued and held her interest since 2010.

Pinte clearly cares a lot about the land she works with – both Le Vieux Pin and LaStella, as well as their eight vineyards, were certified by the Sustainable Winegrowing BC program under her leadership back in 2021. Today, Scout catches up with the talented winemaker to ask a few questions about the complexities of the wine industry, highlighting her deep connection to the vineyards she passionately oversees and the various nuances of her intimate relationship with her vines (not without its share of challenges)…

Ingenuity, adaptability and resilience are essential in winemaking – as traits in both people and plants. What important insights or lessons have you observed in plants that you have then been able to apply to your human role as a winemaker?

This is a tough question. I have learned from the vineyard, but I would probably turn it around and say that it is because I have been able to adapt to the climate and what Mother Nature is throwing at us that we have been able to adapt our practices in the vineyard and help the plant to adapt to new challenges. It is really a team effort, a collaboration between the plant and humans. We, as farmers, try to improve the health of the soils, which will improve the health of the plant and, with time, will minimize our actions on the plant. So I guess, yes you could say that we learn a lot from observing the plant and how it reacts to the environment.

Do you talk to your vines?

I actually do LOL! The other day as I was pruning, I caught myself asking the vine what she had in store for me; and as I was studying what had grown last year, I asked her how I could help her this season.

Over the last couple of years, La Stella/Le Vieux Pin have lost a lot of grapes to brutal cold snaps. To see your vines die must be a profound and saddening experience… Putting logistics and economics of winemaking aside for a moment, how do you stay optimistic? What inspires you to continue to persevere?

We lost 35% of our crop in 2023, and 5% of our vines, as we were lucky enough to have our vineyards located in various parts of the South Okanagan, and not every location was affected the same. Farming is like a big giant gamble playing field. I have learned over the years that there are certain things I cannot control, and I just have to be patient, wait and see. Having an open line of communication within our team to speak about our feelings and our fears has been essential to keep moving forward.

OK, now let’s backtrack and talk logistics and economics: what practical measures could the government take to support the BC wine industry right now?

It is essential to support the grape growers, as the loss of revenue due to crop loss is/will seriously impact their cash flow, and we have seen that the vines still need care. If vine death has also been occurring, there will be a huge additional cost for replanting. We are talking about $42,000/acre. So they need help. Wineries will need help covering the loss of revenue due to less wine being made: a lot of ideas are put out there and all the industry associations (WGBC, BCWGC, BCGA and BCWA) are working together to propose a list of actions/steps the government could take to help the sector as an emergency measure.

We know that forecasting is a tricky business, especially in the face of accelerating climate change related issues. But, with that in mind, please share your predictions or thoughts on the future direction of the Okanagan wine market over the next decade – particularly with regard to the potential long-term environmental impacts.

If the greenhouse gas emissions don’t start to decrease, the climate models are predicting increased temperatures in the Okanagan, a lot less snow during the winter month, and more rain. That means a lot less water available during the vine growing season. I am hoping to see a lot more vineyards and wineries adopt sustainable practices and get certified with the Sustainable Winegrowing BC program. The vineyard and winery standards are helping the growers and the winemakers to adapt to climate change. Monitoring our irrigation practices will be one of the priorities, as well as looking at replanting the correct varietal, whether being Vitis vinifera or some hybrid, at the correct site.

From bitter cold to fire and smoke, the Okanagan has been experiencing extremes, and as a consequence, you’ve bottled very different taste profiles over the last few years – somehow always ending up with a beautiful product. Is there a vintage that stands out to you as delivering the biggest (and tastiest) surprise and/or exceeding your expectations?

In the most recent years, I love the wines coming from one of the longest growing season, 2022. It was a cold and wet spring. Bud break was one of the latest, but the long sunny days of the fall ended with some miracles. Despite higher yield, and thanks to a longer growing season, the flavours and textures I tasted in the grapes before harvest ended up showing extraordinary potential in the wines. Beautiful vibrant aromas were seen in our white Rhone blend, ‘Ava’. We are currently bottling the 2022 reds and we are perceiving this elegant underlying natural acidity on the palette. The wines are lifted, yet showing some bright red and dark fruit notes and some delicate tannins.

The Okanagan is home to both small-scale and larger, more commercial vineyards. Where do LaStella / LVP fit into the equation? What strengths do small-scale wineries, specifically, bring to the table? What do the big guys do for the industry?

Both Le Vieux Pin and LaStella still fit under the small winery category, with less than 10,000 cases each per year. But I don’t think the scale matters in terms of wine quality, as it all starts in the vineyard. If all efforts are guided towards producing the best grapes possible, then being a small, medium or large winery, doesn’t matter.

A lot of people – even the most experienced/avid and knowledgeable wine drinkers – don’t realize all of the steps, nuances and considerations that go into winemaking, on a day-to-day and vintage-to-vintage basis. Please help enlighten us! What is your favourite part of the wine process? Least favourite? Most under-appreciated or unexpected aspect of it?

Growing the best grapes possible is, for me, the most important piece of the equation, then deciding on when to pick. I spend hours tasting the berries, chewing them, spitting the chewed skin and the seeds in my hand, making mental notes, noticing imperceptible changes in the maturity process and recalling similar tastes from prior years. Picking the grapes is a final decision and there is no turning back. Picking at the optimal maturity while having in my mind the style of the wine I want to make is the most stressful part of being a winemaker, but the one I like the most. This is when the creativity comes to life and, as a painter starts putting colours on the canvas, this is when ideas come through.

My least favourite is the bottling process, as this is the final touch, under my control, to the art piece. Every single step is essential and rigorous. One little setback and the whole process is compromised. This is the time when the wine is released to the public to be judged, and waiting for the feedback reminds me of my past, waiting for exam results.

I think very little people know the hard work behind the scenes to produce a bottle of wine: getting the vines to produce the most balanced berries, then the organization from the grape picking calendar, to the tank space, to preparing bottling and to securing a great crew…

What sort of wine-drinker are you, personally? What do you look for when purchasing a wine (not yours) to drink at home? And what questions do you ask/aspects are important to you when you are ordering from a restaurant?

I spend so much time analyzing, questioning my decisions and thinking about the wines we make that when I go out, I want to feel my wine, with the wine being there to stimulate my senses and bring me some joy. I am looking more into being pleased with the wine. The type of wine I am going to choose also depends a lot on my current mood. One of the criteria, though, is no residual sugar.

A word or term used in the wine industry vernacular that makes your skin crawl?

‘Natural’.

One (existent or non-) that you would like to be used more?

‘Collaboration’.

Certain areas of the world are obviously renowned for and protective of their winemaking traditions, which go back centuries. Relatively speaking, BC wine is still in its infancy. From this lens, how do you envision the Okanagan shaping up over the years? What do you hope will be its wine legacy, 100+ years from now?

Oh, I wish I could answer this question with a perfect answer… What will be there in 100 years will depend so much on what we are going to do in the next 10 to 20 years. My ideal would be to still see the flourishing vineyards of the Okanagan covering our valleys and plateaux, and seeing a lot more family-run vineyards and wineries with their soul found in the dirt and in their wines.

Picture yourself in a vineyard on the brink of harvest. Close your eyes; what scents surround you?

Sage, sweet aromas of ripe fruits, pine needles.

If these aromas had a colour, what colour would they be?

Probably a mix of green, blue and red, but mostly the colour that pops in my mind as I close my eyes at the top of this vineyard overlooking this bountiful valley, is a bright yellow shiny colour full of hope and enveloping me in its warmth and protective halo.


Le Vieux Pin Winery
5496 Black Sage Road, Oliver
LaStella Winery
8123-148th Avenue, Osoyoos

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