Q&A: John Skinner, proprietor at Painted Rock Estate Winery

The winery owner on B.C. wines, the venue and the best pairing with his Chardonnay.

Sitting high atop a bluff, overlooking Skaha Lake in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley is Painted Rock Estate Winery, which has a stunning collection of vineyards, striking new tasting room, and one hell of a view, to boot. Much more than just a pretty face, Painted Rock makes some seriously delicious wine, from its signature Bordeux blend to single varietals: Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Consumers in Eastern Canada may not have had the pleasure of experiencing wines from the Okanagan aside from those of industry giants, like Mission Hill, Gray Monk, Burrowing Owl and Quail’s Gate. We had the chance to chat up John Skinner, proprietor of Painted Rock, to find out just how special this winery is, and why the wine is so damn good. Trust me, it’s that good.

You’ve owned the land that the vineyard is on since 2004; how long did it take to plant the grapes and for them to mature enough to make the wine?

We spent 2004 preparing our site, devising our planting strategy, assembling our team and sourcing the varieties and the specific clones. We planted in 2005 and harvested our first crop in 2007.

Why did you choose the area south of Penticton over anywhere else in the Okanagan?

I spent a few years looking for the right property and the more I looked, the more I learned. The Okanagan has incredible diversity in soils, temperatures and site influences. I was intent on finding a property that was worthy of a very aggressive mandate. I thought: if your property is a nine out of 10, you can only produce a wine that’s 9 out of ten, at best. I was looking for a 10.

When the B.C. government published a study on micro-climates in the Okanagan that rated properties on their suitability, I'd check out every property I looked at in that study. If there was a negative, I'd press on. When I found our property, I ticked all the right boxes.

Why wine? Is it something you’ve always been interested in?

Yes, I was a pretty serious wine collector and had grown up ashamed of our B.C. wine industry. After the vinifera program was introduced, the quality of wines started to improve substantially. I thought there was a golden opportunity to participate in the industry’s growth and improvement.

The new tasting room is stunning. Can you tell us a little bit about the designer and the concept behind the building?

Thank you, I am very excited about it.

I always knew the site deserved serious architecture but I was determined to focus on the wine until our business earned it. We wanted to build something that was on brand, honoured our customers and offered other opportunities to enjoy the spectacular site. We wanted to host weddings, corporates events and dinners, in addition to tastings. When we were ready, I contacted Robert Mackenzie Architecture. He employed a designer named Dominic Unsworth who ultimately came up with a design that would function perfectly for all our events and was truly worthy of the site.

What sets Painted Rock apart from the other wineries and vineyards in the area?

It's all about the site. I've always known that we have a spectacular property; it's my responsibility to do it justice.

The Okanagan has produced the finest fruit crops in the world over, there is no reason it can't produce the finest grapes. We look to what the finest producers in the world are doing, from expertise to equipment to mandate; they are our competition!

You have primarily red wines at Painted Rock. What led you in that direction?

We did a lot of due diligence with pre-planting in the [first] year we owned the property. I had very skilled advisors who contended that our site was uniquely suited to the hard-to-ripen red varieties for a number of reasons, but particularly because of its proximity to Skaha Lake.

What’s your favourite Okanagan wine (aside from yours, of course)?

I am very excited by the progress of our young industry. I'm fond of Foxtrot, Tantalus, Meyer, Stoneboat, Blue Mountain, La Vieux Pin, to name a few, and particularly excited by the impact that wineries of their size are having on the improvement of our region’s wine brand.

What do you drink at home?

I enjoy and am very excited by the wines produced by my peers, but I continue to collect and enjoy wines from all over the world to maintain perspective. I particularly like to share them with my staff so we can learn together.

Lastly, what’s your ideal food and wine pairing with your wines?

I am really excited about our newly-released 2013 Chardonnay, and recently enjoyed it with my absolute favourite fish: halibut, which just happens to be in season right now.