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Graham Pierce joins Ruby Blues
When veteran Okanagan winemaker Graham Pierce joined Kitsch Winery in Kelowna in 2020, he was asked what his favourite winemaking grape was. Without hesitation, he replied: “Syrah.” It was a surprising answer, given that he was taking over the cellar at winery making its reputation with Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. However, Trent and Ria Kitsch, the owners of the winery, gave him the green light. He found a three-acre Syrah block beside Osoyoos Lake and a fine 2020 Syrah joined the Kitsch portfolio this year.
I wonder if Graham was asked the same question this month when Prudence Mahrer recruited him for her Ruby Blues Winery. Perhaps it was unnecessary. The portfolio at Ruby Blues includes a $50 Reserve Syrah and two red blends incorporating Syrah. If Graham was looking for a Syrah house, he has certainly found one. Judging from the different cellars in which Graham has worked during the past twenty years, he is one of the Okanagan’s most seasoned winemakers. Born in Vancouver in 1971, Pierce came into wine through an early career in food service. He came to the Okanagan in 1997 as the culinary director at Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s first restaurant.
When he developed his interest in wine, he joined Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery as an assistant to winemaker Dr. Alan Marks. Graham enrolled in winemaking courses at Okanagan University College and took over as Mt. Boucherie’s winemaker in 2003. Five years later, he moved to Black Hills Estate Winery where, over the next 10 vintages, he got to work with Syrah and the other big reds grown in the Black Hills vineyard. The winery’s flagship Nota Bene, a Bordeaux blend usually anchored with Cabernet Sauvignon, was already an icon. Graham improved it significantly in the 2014 vintage by extending the wine’s barrel aging from 12 months to 16 months. In 2018, he became the wine director at TIME Winery in Penticton. The opportunity to put a stamp on that portfolio evaporated when founder Harry McWatters died, leading to a change of ownership and a restructuring at that winery. Graham moved on to Kitsch, a small but fine winery in North Kelowna. The move to Ruby Blues once more should give him a bigger canvas to work with. Ruby Blues is planning to add a tier of super-premium wines to what is already a solid portfolio.
The winery was opened in 2009 by Prudence Mahrer and her husband, Beat. Previously, they had operated the Red Rooster winery until selling it in 2005 to Andrew Peller Ltd. They had continued to farm several vineyards on the Naramata Bench. Ruby Blues was created after Prudence discovered she missed the wine business, and especially the interaction with customers. “We are excited beyond belief to have Graham come on board as our winemaker,” Prudence said in a statement. “He understands and supports our stylistic direction of our wines and desire to remain a small, high-quality, hand-crafted winery. Even better, we are developing plans to enable Graham to produce some very high-end wines for us that we feel will become icons in the BC wine industry.” “I feel an affinity to this style of wine and am attracted to the very innovative winemaking culture they have created here,” Graham is quoted in the statement. As it happened, I tasted with Graham in June at Kitsch; and before that, I tasted with him at Black Hills and TIME. There is no doubt that Prudence has landed a talented winemaker.
Ruby Blues is a small funky winery on the Naramata Bench, owned by Beat and Prudence Mahrer, They formerly owned Red Rooster Winery. In a song by the Rolling Stones" Goodbye Ruby Tuesday " there is a line: " catch your dreams before they slip away." It reflects why the Mahrers returned to start a second winery to allow Prudence more contact with the people. On the production building there is a 30 meter mural symbolizing the lyrics from the song. However they had to change the name to Ruby Blues due to copy-rites issues.
The winery plans to stay small producing about 3999 cases. The wines are Viognier, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. In the Reds: Syrah, Merlot and Cab. Sauvignon and their signature blend Red Siletto.