This post is part of our ongoing series, Canadian Wine — specifically, Canadian wineries and the remarkable wines they produce. Today, Meaghan Carey shares the story behind TH Wines and takes us to British Columbia's Okanagan wine region, where Tyler Harlton's unique journey has led him to be a crafter of wines 'by hand,' contrary to industry norms.
They say life is a journey that can take you anywhere. For Tyler Harlton, his journey has taken a curious route that currently finds him in the Okanagan Valley below Giant’s Head Mountain, crafting wines under his eponymous TH Wines label.
In what seems like a story made for a movie script, Harlton’s tale begins on the family farm working the land and harvest each fall. From an early age he excelled at athletics and lived the dream of many Canadian children by playing professional hockey. In what may seem like a fairly lived life already, Harlton took his next step, leaving the world of hockey and pursuing a law degree in Montreal. It was during this stage of his life journey that he began to truly connect with wine.
Fortuitously, Harlton joined a friend who was studying to be a sommelier, thinking that it would be a way to earn money while completing his law degree. During his final year of law school, Harlton spent a semester abroad in Paris, which provided the opportunity for weekend excursions to vineyards around France. It was during those weekend excursions that Harlton had his aha wine moment — it was a wine from the Alsace region that completely changed his thinking. It opened a new world, in which he developed an understanding of the relationship between wine and food, and most importantly the relationship between wine and the land.
Moving to Vancouver to study for the bar exam, it took one month to realize his passion was with the vines. With the courage and conviction that most of us can only dream of having, in 2007 Harlton moved to the Okanagan and began as an apprentice at Osoyoos Larose Winery. And it was there that Harlton met his winemaking partner, William Adams.
Since arriving in the Okanagan, Harlton’s journey has included the titles of farmer, vineyard manager, wine merchant, field worker and winemaker. Each of these, along with the journey that brought him to the Okanagan, are present in his wines.
A childhood spent amongst the tall Saskatchewan grains instilled a respect of the land, passion for agriculture and a knowledge that a community is needed to succeed.
There’s a special joy in the work of the winery because we know it’s shared with the community that has helped us to grow our idea. It’s not unlike the community I grew up in, where a successful farm was as much a reflection of the community as it was the farmer.
The time in France solidified his appetite for wine, learning the tradition of wine, and methods of production that were natural and provided authentic representations of the land. This experience would guide Harlton to developing his winemaker philosophy of ‘by hand.’
In true form to taking a unique path, you won’t find Tyler Harlton Wines (TH Wines) among the hills of the Okanagan, but instead in an industrial area of Summerland, British Columbia. Differentiating TH Wines from many of their counterparts is that they do not own land or grow their own grapes; instead, Harlton works with farmers throughout the Okanagan Valley to source fruit for his wines. It’s this simplified approach that lets go of industry norms that allows Harlton and his team to focus on crafting exceptional wines. It also affords them a freedom to explore each year, not locked into a certain set of grapes or conditions, and ensures that the footprint of TH Wines is not encroaching on agricultural land.
Producing approximately 1,500 cases a year, it’s one of the smaller wineries in the Okanagan Valley. TH Wines are crafted ‘by hand,’ which means connecting with and working the grapes with human hands. The production methods at TH Wines step back from the industrial processes and machine use we see in modern wine making, and return to more traditional methods. ‘By hand’ also means choosing methods of production that intervene as little as possible. Harlton views his role in the process as one to raise the wine, not to make the wine.
Each year the wines tell the evolving story of Harlton’s journey and that of his team. They tell a story of ambition, of joy and contentment, and of hard work and commitment. The wines are pure, with clean fruit flavours and crisp acidity, well balanced and with long finishes. The integrity the wines are crafted with shines through. If you haven’t had the pleasure of trying TH Wines yet, now is the time to change that. The wines are all extremely food friendly, but a personal favourite is TH Wines Pinot Noir. The Pinot is an absolutely delicious offering with ripe dark fruits and a little bit of spice, all fused with fresh acidity, giving this wine depth and a rich, long finish. Serve it slightly chilled for the perfect pairing to sautéed wild mushrooms on fresh bread; oh my, it’s a simple pleasure at its finest. Be sure to try the Rosé as well (that’s if you can get your hands on this perennial sell out).
TH Wines are available in select British Columbia and Alberta wine shops, and can be purchased directly from the TH Wines website: www.thwines.com.
All images courtesy of TH Wines.
Canadian Wine: TH Wines was written by Meaghan Carey. Meaghan shares her musings on life as she attempts to cook good food for family and friends from her small kitchen, on her blog Un Assaggio of Food, Wine, and Marriage. Raised in Cape Breton, Meaghan returns home as much as possible and loves to welcome friends to this picturesque corner of Canada each summer. Connect with Meaghan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.