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Peller Takes Sandhill to the Street

Owner of Canadian wineries opens tasting room in industrial section of Kelowna

by Peter Mitham
Sandhill Wines' new tasting room features a post-industrial interior that includes exposed beams, a resealed concrete floor and 65-inch touch-screen displays that provide visitors with virtual vineyard tours.

Kelowna, B.C.—The newest addition to British Columbia’s oldest family of wineries now has a tasting room.

Occupying an 8,000-square-foot industrial site at the corner of a 7-acre property in Kelowna’s gritty north end, the new Sandhill Wines tasting room puts a distinctive face on the B.C. operations of Grimsby, Ontario-based Andrew Peller Ltd
“We’ve got an awesome portfolio of Sandhill Wines, and we really needed to do something with those,” said Mark Torrance, director of estate wineries for Andrew Peller. “People are enthusiastic about Sandhill Wines, and we really didn’t have a way to capture that enthusiasm.”

Sandhill, launched in 1997 by Cascadia Brands Inc. and acquired by Andrew Peller when it acquired Cascadia in 2005, has long been a flagship for its owners. However, the 40,000-case winery has been without a home port despite plans prior to the recession of 2008 to develop a 10,000-square-foot winery near Osoyoos to showcase its production.

The new facility, opened at the end of May, features a crisp post-industrial interior with exposed beams and the resealed concrete floor of a space that’s been used for both wine and beer production during the past few decades.

It represents an evolution of Peller’s vision for Sandhill with a functional, chic and thoroughly urban space.

Designed by Oakville, Ontario, architect Gren Weis, whose firm has handled projects for Peller in Eastern Canada, the tasting room is oriented around a central structure that recalls the glaciers that sculpted the Okanagan Valley. On one side, a tasting bar and retail area showcases the wines; on the other, two stations featuring 65-inch touch-screen displays provide visitors with virtual tours of the six vineyards—five in the Okanagan and one in the neighboring Similkameen Valley, totaling 578 acres—that supply fruit for Sandhill’s wines. A barrel-aging room for Sandhill’s acclaimed series of small-lot red wines offers yet another tasting venue.

Highlighting the connection with its vineyards was as much a practical move as one driven by the romance of the industry.

Sandhill’s tasting room is a sliver of the 160,000-square-foot plant that’s the primary production facility in Western Canada for Peller, Canada’s largest domestically owned vintner (the Kelowna facility alone has a production capacity of 18.5 million liters). Visitor access to the crush pad and other production areas is impractical, and in Torrance’s view, not necessarily the best expression of what makes Sandhill unique.

“When we were thinking about our ambitions for the space and what we wanted the experience to be, everything we thought about was the unique part of our story—that every single wine is from a single vineyard,” he said. “We thought that was a compelling point of difference. And the growers that are in each of these vineyards are real characters who are as passionate and hard-working and excited about grapegrowing and wine as anybody on earth.”

Cutouts of Sandhill’s growers are pasted along a wall, along with that of winemaker Howard Soon, who has spent 40 years developing the wines that are part of Sandhill and its sibling brands—one of which, the budget-conscious Calona label, traces its roots to 1932 and the start of the modern B.C. wine industry.

But if the facility is steeped in a sense of place and history, Torrance said it also challenged Peller to address the challenges of inviting visitors to explore fine wine in what might well be the beer of neighborhoods (indeed, neighbors include Tree Brewing Co., a local craft brewery, as well as an auto body shop and metal fabricator).

“It was a new way of looking at a winery experience,” Torrance said. “Typically we drive along a long driveway through vineyards and arrive in a bucolic rural setting to begin our winery experience, whereas in this case being right downtown it straight-away has a different feel.”

Sandhill Wines' new tasting room in Kelowna, B.C., is located in a formerly industrial area.

However, the neighborhood is also poised for dramatic change, with the redevelopment of the block across the street with a mix of commercial space including offices, a market and a 58,000-square-foot craft brewery.

Renovating, rather than relocating, allows Andrew Peller to be at the head of the charge and the heart of the changes.

“It’s an exciting neighborhood, and we’ve got high hopes for how we can be a part of its evolution,” Torrance said. “If your ambition is to connect with as many wine lovers as you possibly can, then obviously being in the spot where most of them are and travel through made a lot of sense, too.”

The facility also builds on Peller’s long-standing connection with the West Coast.

Hungarian immigrant Andrew Peller established the company in 1965 as Andrés Wines Ltd., but when the Ontario government wouldn’t grant him a license he opened a plant in the Vancouver suburb of Port Moody. Andrés consolidated its B.C. and Alberta operations at Port Moody in 2002, but its big break came with the acquisition of Cascadia in 2005, followed shortly after by a deal for Red Rooster Winery (see “Andrés Powers Up In B.C.” in the May 2006 issue of Wines & Vines).

The transactions gave Peller a foothold in B.C.’s growing premium wine business, building on its successes in Ontario with the Hillebrand label and others. It now boasts annual sales of $297.8 million, almost entirely within Canada, where it claims 13.4% of all wine sales.

The purchase of Cascadia, with its facility in Kelowna, was key to its growth plans.

“We now have a strong, central facility in the Okanagan,” Anthony Bristow, COO of Peller, told Wines & Vines in 2005. “We like the facility because it is in the middle of the grapegrowing region.”

Now, that facility is giving it a street-front presence for some of the best wines the region makes, and Torrance doesn’t rule out further renovations of the facility to better showcase its other labels.

“The Sandhill evolution is a start rather than an end,” he said.


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