If you are familiar with wine in British Columbia, then you are likely familiar with Blue Mountain Winery — whether you know it or not.
Over the years, the view of the vineyard and the expansive vista that backs onto McIntyre Bluff in nearby Oliver, B.C., has been used as the near de facto image of BC wine. The iconic image of the vineyards and the "blue mountain" has been used in countless print ads, TV commercials, and also at one point adorned the side of the B.C. Ferries fleet. Some of these ads are for companies or organizations that historically may not have aligned with the winery, but the view is so good, and so recognizable, that they used it anyway.
Back in the day, when pioneers of the local BC wine industry were cutting a swath through the bureaucracy of winemaking in the province, there emerged a significant divide between those who chose to bond together and align themselves with the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) organization, and those who would go it on their own — Blue Mountain went on its own.
Since then, the B.C. wine industry has boomed, and Blue Mountain rose to cult status over the years with their famous and famously hard to get Pinot Noir at the helm.
Using the word cult can imply something sinister, but in this case it reflects how unassuming the winery was during a time in which they were one of the few to pave the way for quality wines in British Columbia. This in a time when that alone was outside of the norm, and certainly beyond the quality of the low cost wines being produced in the Okanagan at the time.
The unwillingness of the Mavety family to participate within the guidelines of industry colleagues in the early years was often perceived as being difficult, when in fact it was actually based on a desire to just put their heads down and work — an easy miscommunication to make in a time when we weren't all hyper-connected. This insular attitude and focus solely on winemaking and viticulture, but not community, did in fact cause some rifts within the industry, most of which are now wine under the bridge.
I have had the good fortune of spending a great deal of time in the estate vineyard at Blue Mountain, and at the winery with the family, taking photos and exploring the rows of this iconic vineyard, and as the wine industry has evolved since my 2006 arrival in the Okanagan, so has Blue Mountain.
As the next generation at the winery takes over, there is a sense of respect for the immense hard work of the past, but also an openness to innovation and evolution within the brand and the wine. This is partly due to the shift in culture within the local industry and in the world, but also due to the expanded resources of being an established winery.
In this next chapter of things at Blue Mountain, it has become clear to me why this winery has continued on a tangential path to success, and it boils down to one thing: good old-fashioned hard work.
If you're in the Okanagan area, be sure to stop by the winery for a tasting of some of the region's best Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sparkling Brut. I know they would be happy to host you.
Chris Stenberg is a creative director, photographer, filmmaker, and traveller. In his spare time you can find him biking and boarding in the mountains of British Columbia.