‘Why don’t you grow coconuts?’ This was the taunt Alex Nichol received when he planted Syrah on the Okanagan’s Naramata Bench. They were the first Syrah vines in Canada. It was 1991 and at the time British Columbia counted only 20 wineries, compared to almost 300 today.
For years, Nichol Vineyard remained an anomaly until viticulturist Richard Cleave laid the groundwork for expansion. Cleave, who started working in the Okanagan Valley in the 1970s, was instrumental in transitioning the industry from hybrid grapes to vinifera.
In 1996, when planting his own vineyard, Phantom Creek, Cleave was warned against Syrah. He swiftly accepted the challenge. The vineyard became a source for Sandhill Winery’s Small Lots program and gained renown through bottlings from winemaker Howard Soon. Cleave went on to establish Syrah vineyards for notable producers like Burrowing Owl, Mission Hill and Jackson-Triggs.