Maverick Estate Winery
Maverick Estate Winery still feels like a family after sale to new owners
When Maverick Estate Winery launched more than a decade ago, it was a family operation run by South African immigrants.
The family of Schalk de Witt, his daughter Elzaan and her husband Bertus Albertyn purchased an organic orchard in 2008 and over the next two years they transitioned it into a vineyard. Their first vintage was 2011.
The winery’s main building with the tasting room was designed by architect Robert McKenzie to reflect the founders’ South African culture, with open beams, standing seam metal roof and stucco exterior.
The logo, “Maverick Man,” represents both the pictographs of South African cave art as well as those of Canadian Indigenous art.
In April 2020, the founding families sold the winery to Andrew Windsor and Jan Nelson, who partnered with Bob and Barb Shaunessy, two of the original founders of nearby Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.
Today Windsor and Nelson are building on the original vision of the De Witt and Albertyn families, while expanding the vineyards and adding their own touches.
What do those changes look like?
“It’s more just the people,” said Windsor, winemaker and viticulturist. “The people drive the change. People have different personalities, different passions, and different tastes… We’ve been fortunate enough to find good people.”
Some of those people, he adds, came from Tinhorn Creek, as he did.
This includes Korol Kuklo, assistant winemaker, who works closely with Windsor and came to Maverick a year ago after 23 years at Tinhorn. She is one of a small number of women winemakers. This year marks her 25th vintage making wines in the South Okanagan.
Kuklo grew up in Kelowna and she watched her mother make homemade wines in the 1960s and 1970s – before the big pullout of the 1980s when inferior Labrusca grapes were replaced with European vitis vinifera grapes, hybridized to better withstand frost.
While she worked in a small restaurant in the 1980s, some representatives of Gray Monk gave a pitch that impressed her.
“They sold me,” she said. “I was like, ‘Why are we drinking other wines? We should be drinking BC wines.’”
She became a passionate advocate as she grew up, held dinner parties, and asked guests only to bring BC wines.
She was working in healthcare in Vancouver when she remarried, moved to Osoyoos in 1997, and decided she wanted a new career. So she enrolled in the winery assistant program at Okanagan University College where she was a classmate of others who are now well-known winemakers.
“I found out how to make wine at that course,” she said. “I just fell in love with it and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
That’s when she took her first winery job at Tinhorn Creek, working on the bottling line, advancing to the tasting room, and later working with Windsor on winemaking.
Her knowledge includes knowing which wine varieties grow best in which “terroir,” the microclimate and local geography that is based on soil type, slope, and other factors.
Maverick’s 11 acres, as well as leased vineyards north of Osoyoos, have ideal silty soils, hot days, shady evenings, and cool nights. Red wines like Syrah and Merlot are planted in warmer locations, while Chardonnay and some other whites are planted in cooler vineyards.
Maverick recently acquired land on the mountainside south of the winery, which was planted with 27,000 new vines that will take a few years to fully mature.
“[It is] now one of the highest vineyard blocks in the South Okanagan,” said Kate Collins, DTC (direct-to-consumer) manager. “We put those plants in the ground last June, so it will be three or four years before we see a full crop of fruit from them. But that’s incredibly exciting for all of us. It was a huge project, a lot of work, and we’re really pleased to see how well it’s doing.”
Kuklo notes that weather has a big impact on each year’s vintage and can influence which wines are more successful.
“Some years we end up with more whites than reds,” she said.
This year got off to a slow start with a cold, wet spring, but excellent weather in late summer and fall have made up for it. The grapes require a longer growing season because the South Okanagan is farther north than some other wine-growing regions.
“If the flowering gets interrupted by rain or cold, and it was like that this year, then your crop is less than you want,” Kuklo said. “If that goes into a cool summer, it’s hard to get your grapes ripe, so then the flavours are not what you’re probably looking for and they’re more unripe and acidic.”
August, she said, was great this year and thankfully September has been exceptional. The good weather continued into October, helping to make up for the bad spring.
Kuklo’s work is varied.
“I do a lot of organizing and a lot of logistics and lab work,” she said. “Andrew [Windsor] will tell me what he’s looking for and what to do with the wines and I get everybody working on it, so I’m like the person on the ground.”
The lab work involves periodic testing of the wine to make sure it’s fermenting properly, to check acidity and sugars.
The wine is sold through Maverick’s tasting room, direct to consumers online or through their wine club, and to some restaurants and private liquor stores, said Collins, the DTC manager.
“We sell quite a bit of wine to our wine club, which is extremely popular,” Collins said. “But we are small and so we’re mainly servicing the BC market.”
Besides the wine tasting, visitors may also take a wine tour through the vineyards, and depending on the time of year, they may be able to taste the fruit while it’s still on the vines and compare it to the finished product.
Collins wants visitors to know that Maverick is a small winery, “dedicated to sustainable farming practices and making low-intervention, delicious wines.”
“The team are very passionate about the wines and that comes across, I think, to the guests,” said Collins.
Kuklo shares that passion.
“I love the industry and I love being here,” she said. “It’s like a family. And that shows in the wines.”
Story by Richard McGuire. Photos by Kate Collins and Richard McGuire.
Maverick Estate Winery
3974 Highway 97
Oliver, BC V0H 1T1