By: Adrienne Roman
The Canadian Pacific Railway was built between Eastern Canada and British Columbia in the late 1800s. Thousands of Chinese laborers were contracted to work under extremely dangerous conditions. One of these brave men, Sam Suey, decided to abandon his unrelenting position on the railroad in favor of opening his own Chinese Laundry Service in lower Summerland, B.C.
With the nearby wharf home to an abundance of local freight and passenger traffic from the Okanagan sternwheelers and plenty of folks circulating in dirty clothes, Suey’s enterprise swiftly gained popularity. The downstairs served as a laundromat, while upstairs clients were free to drink, gamble, and as the story goes, enjoy the company of a few scantily clad women. The locals managed to keep the house of ill repute “hush hush.”
Honoring Summerland’s history, Dirty Laundry Vineyard brings an air of intrigue to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley wine region. With a collection of cheeky names like Dangerous Liaison, Secret Affair, and Bordello, Dirty Laundry’s wines are cloaked in mystery, a pinch of rebellion, and a healthy dash of naughty.
However, there’s no secret when it comes to the quality of the wines they produce. Their Hush Blush is an award-winning blend of Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. They create the blush using the saignee process. During early fermentation, the Pinot juice is removed, and the Merlot and Cabernet undergo a cold soak to enhance their color before pressing.
Gold medals have been awarded to Dirty Laundry’s Merlot and Au Naturel Gewürztraminer at the National Wine Awards in 2018. Their Reisling won gold at the San Francisco Wine Competition 2017, and their Syrah also brought home gold at the Pacific Rim Wine Competition 2017. Va va voom.
Woo Woo: Where Wine Is Fun
Dirty Laundry winemaker, Mason Spink, grew up in Victoria, B.C., and completed his honors degree in Oenology and Viticulture at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario. After returning to B.C after college, he worked with See You Later Ranch as assistant winemaker but was quickly promoted to winemaker for seven vintages. Spink joined the team at Dirty Laundry Vineyard in 2013, where he’s thrilled to be producing small lot fermentations where each parcel is handled with care to ensure its finest attributes are expressed in each wine. The Grapevine Magazine was invited to speak with him about what it’s like to make wine in the Okanagan Valley.
Grapevine Magazine: What would you like visitors to know about Dirty Laundry Vineyard?
Mason Spink: Wine should be something that’s enjoyed. You tend to lose the fun with too much sophistication. We want our guests to enjoy themselves, feel completely free to ask questions and drink some excellent wine at the same time.
GM: Dirty Laundry’s Woo Woo Gewürztraminer has made quite the name for itself. Can you tell us a little more about it?
MS: Our Gewürztraminer grapes are Dirty Laundry’s oldest ones and were propagated by the original vineyard owner Edgar Scherzinger in 1978. Prior to that, there was a cherry orchard here.
It’s common to see Vinifera at the top and vine grafting on American rootstock, but all of our Gewürztraminers have their original root systems. There have been cases of the root pest phylloxera in the valley, but luckily it doesn’t seem to affect us here. We have five different Gewürztraminers, each with their own levels of sweetness. Our Grande Dame Gewürztraminer is made from the oldest vines on site, and our bestseller still remains Woo Woo, which is a middle of the road sweetness, often described as having melon, lychee, and pineapple notes with a subtle hint of ginger spice.
GM: Tell us about the Okanagan Valley and British Columbia.
MS: It’s really stunning. Sometimes it’s easy to get used to all that we have here. I just returned from Chile where it’s an entirely different kind of beauty, but coming home you realize how lucky we are to live here.
It’s truly an incredible place. I love that we have such diversity in grapes. Down south, we find Syrahs in Oliver that are similar to jammy Australian ones, while we have more of the Northern Rhone French style up North.
G.M: Can you give us a sense of the terroir in Summerland?
M.S: Dirty Laundry has approximately 100 acres of vineyards, with a new vineyard in Prairie Valley. There are sandy volcanic soils, many on rolling hills and silt-rich slopes. We see a variety of vine direction, north, south, and west facing. The valley terrain definitely allows for a variety of growing ability.
Traditionally B.C. has always been divided by into four “Designated Viticultural Areas” by the VQA. These include The Okanagan Valley, Vancouver Island, Fraser Valley and Similkameen Valley. The VQA is currently in the midst of changing their Appalachian areas to honor the diversity of the land, adding five or six new sub-Appalachians to reflect the many smaller vineyards on Bottleneck Drive. There’s such a wide range of grape characteristics due to the diverse landscape here. It’s often an interesting juggling act to get all of our grapes harvested at the same time. We try to control what we can, but in fact, we rely on Mother Nature above all else.
GM: What does Dirty Laundry’s elevated tasting experience include?
MS: Our wine shop is a favorite spot, but often people want a more personal experience where they can learn more about our wines and find out how they’re made. Our boardroom overlooks the vineyards and patio, guests can enjoy a cheese and wine pairing, and if they’d like to enhance their experience, they can also take a scenic vineyard tour.
The second largest wine region in Canada, The Okanagan Valley boasts approximately 4000 hectares of vineyards and produces 90 percent of the wine in British Columbia. Picturesque landscapes run for miles along Okanagan Lake and the communities of Kelowna, Penticton, Naramata, Oliver, Osoyoos, Summerland, and Okanagan Falls.
The dry, warm climate of the southern B.C. interior is the perfect recipe for excellence in viticulture, and the coastal mountain range protects the grapes from any potentially threatening weather. The many lakes running in the valleys control both the heat in the summer and the colder winter air. Moderate moisture combined with consistently strong sunlight allows the grapes to ripen to full maturity, and the night air helps them retain higher acidity. The microclimates in the Okanagan attract vintners from Australia, California, France, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Sassy and Classy
Voted “the cheers of wineries” by Yelp, and “best place to taste wine” by the readers at Okanagan Life Magazine, Dirty Laundry Vineyard is all about the art of creating fun for their guests while helping them develop a better understanding of some of the subtleties of viticulture.
For Spink and the other team members at Dirty Laundry, there’s no reason you can’t educate yourself, have a good time, and enjoy a high-quality experience. Their “where wine is fun” and “time to wine down” attitude is evident around every bold corner. They eliminate the pomp and deliver an unpretentious, colorful, and uniquely engaging experience. Stop in at the winery’s Red Iron Grille for an Italian Forno wood-fired pizza, and unwind with locally made gelato and live music on Friday nights. Beer lovers can indulge in the craft beer selections at The Bottoms Up Saloon. Experience a historic ride on The Kettle Valley Steam Train, built between 1910-1915, where visitors are whisked along the only remaining preserved section of the Kettle Valley Railway, winding their way through picturesque orchards and vast vineyards and stopping to catch breathtaking views of Okanagan Lake. Perched on top of the canyon on Trout Creek Trestle Bridge, 238 feet above the creek, it’s easy to understand why you’ve arrived at the most painterly point in Summerland. Don’t forget to see Dirty Laundry’s General Store and peruse their portfolio of award-winning wines, witty merchandise, clothing, and gifts.
Sassy and classy, Dirty Laundry Vineyard’s vintage charm is sure to please.
Dirty Laundry Vineyard is located at 7311 Fiske Street, Summerland, B.C. Their tasting room hours are 11:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Sunday. For more information visit their website https://www.dirtylaundry.ca/