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At first glance of Phantom Creek Estates Winery in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, it’s clear that the winery is no ordinary wine estate. Yes, there are the typical vast views of the valley below. There are vineyards, a welcoming atmosphere and top-notch wines. However, the sheer size of the estate is quite unlike anything else in the region. Even the art is big, with two towering, six-metre-tall white angels, by Chinese artist Wu Ching Ju, dreamily soaring above the entrance walkway to greet visitors.

The larger-than-life atmosphere continues throughout the property, a dream that, for Vancouver-based entrepreneur Richter Bai, began in 2015 when he visited the Okanagan Valley and fell in love with the region and with its wine.

“The winery stands out as this beautiful oasis set within a rugged and untamed landscape.”

Mark Beringer, Phantom Creek Estates Winery

Richter, a longtime fan of Bordeaux-style red wines, set out to create one of the Okanagan’s biggest and finest wineries.

“When you arrive at Phantom Creek, you immediately feel a familiarity that resonates with many of the great wine regions and iconic wineries of the world,” said Mark Beringer, Phantom Creek’s director of winemaking. “However, there is a sense that this is something distinctly different and unique. The winery stands out as this beautiful oasis set within a rugged and untamed landscape.”

Phantom Creek had its first vintage in 2016 and then cautiously opened in summer 2020. The wines are now for sale in British Columbia, Alberta, and parts of the U.S. and China. Depending on the next few harvests, plans are in the works to expand to other parts of Canada and beyond.

Located along Black Sage Road on some of the best vineyard land in British Columbia, the estate includes vineyards in both the Similkameen and Okanagan valleys, including the historic Becker, Phantom Creek and Sundial vineyards.

Planted by legendary pioneering viticulturalist Richard Cleave in 1996, the Phantom Creek vineyard is a 10-acre plot renowned for producing some of Canada’s best red wine grapes, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon. The Becker vineyards date back even further, to 1977 when German viticulturalist Helmut Becker planted demonstration vineyards to see how traditional European vinifera vines would fare in the area. The Becker Merlot and Carmenere are both standouts, benefitting from the Black Sage Bench’s long, hot summer afternoons.

Mark Beringer standing, smiling in front of art installation
Mark Beringer, director of winemaking at Phantom Creek Estates Winery

Phantom Creek focuses on single-vineyard Bordeaux-style reds and Alsatian-style white wines, primarily Pinot Gris – their most popular white – and Riesling. They also grow some Grenache, Mourvedre, Malbec, Viognier, Carmenere and a scant two acres of Syrah.

Styles cover the gamut: A sparkling brut made in the traditional method, dry red table wines, blends and single-varietal reds, whites and a rosé. Recognizing the founding family’s roots, they also released a special edition Lunar New Year magnum package earlier this year.

All the vineyards are organic and the team is in the process of getting biodynamic certification, too.

Phantom Creek focuses on single-vineyard Bordeaux-style reds and Alstian-style white wines, primarily Pinot Gris – their most popular white – and Riesling. They also grow some Grenache, Mourvedre, Malbec, Viognier, Carmenere and a scant two acres of Syrah.

Then there are the actual winery facilities, designed by John Taft of California’s Backen & Backen Architecture, longtime winery architects whose other projects include Cliff Lede Vineyards, Larkmead Vineyards, Dana Estates and Lokoya Winery in Napa Valley.

The first Phantom Creek vintage was created in 2016 in a temporary facility created on site, while Taft and his team built. Due to construction delays and the COVID-19 pandemic, the grounds opened in 2019, but the primary winery space didn’t officially open its doors to the public until June 2020.

The 78,000-square-foot facility features an imposing tasting room and a massive, custom, starburst-like chandelier artwork by renowned American sculptor Dale Chihuly. Private tasting rooms are also available, and there is a 200-seat patio and a restaurant. With seating for 130, the restaurant was named one of Canada’s best new restaurants in 2022 by Canada’s 100 Best. A 500-seat outdoor amphitheatre allows the winery team to hold concerts overlooking the vineyards, too.

Public and private tastings are available; depending on the option chosen, customers may receive tours of vineyards, art installations and the Founder’s Cellar.

Mark became Phantom Creek’s director of winemaking in 2021, drawn by the opportunity to work with a brilliant international team (with team members from France, Australia, Mexico, the U.S. and India), the lengthy list of award-winning, globally-recognized and family-owned wineries in the region, and the challenges and the potential for the future.

“I had been making wine in Napa for 35 years and I was at a point in my career where I was ready to try something different,” he said. “This [was] an incredible opportunity.”

Mark Beringer
Mark Beringer

From a winemaker’s perspective, Phantom Creek has much to offer. The gravity-fed winery has open-top wood tanks for the reds and Austrian oak casks (Stockinger foudres) for gently aging some of the whites. They also have one of Canada’s only optical sorting lines for grapes, which helps to increase quality and yields. “We have every toy a winemaker would want here,” Mark said.

As long-time California wine fans will know, Mark is no stranger to top wineries. In fact, the news of him joining the Phantom Creek team made headlines around the world. The great-great-grandson of Jacob Beringer, Mark grew up in the Napa Valley wine industry. He holds an enology degree from California State University and worked at Benziger Family Winery, where he climbed his way up to become vice president of winemaking. He returned to his roots in 2015, joining Beringer Vineyards as chief winemaker and now, Phantom Creek.

These days, Phantom Creek’s director of viticulture, Mike Anderson, who took over for Amy Richards, works closely with Mark, as well as white wine maker Karin Grosstessner-Hain and lab manager Stefanie Galicia Hernandez. Sarah Bai, Richter’s daughter, is the managing director, splitting her time between Vancouver and the winery.

Since Day 1, the team has also worked closely with consulting winemaker Olivier Humbrecht, who visits a few times a year to advise, especially on the Alsatian-style white wines. The team has been focused on making terroir-driven wines with minimal intervention – pure expressions of each unique vineyard.

“It’s bad. Really bad. We’re thinking if we get anything at all, it’ll be very little. We’re just hoping we’ll see some growth in the spring, so we don’t have to do an entire replant. We’re going to lose vines, though.”

Mark Beringer, Phantom Creek Estates Winery

That isn’t always easy, especially over the past couple of years. As of March 2024, most of the Okanagan wine conversation had been focused on frost and the vineyards. The 2022-2023 winter was hard enough, with an estimated 54 per cent of vineyards lost, but January 2024 was even worse. Talk is everywhere of catastrophic crop losses and, according to Vancouver’s Cascadia Partners, for many, if not all wineries, “an almost complete write-off of the 2024 vintage.”

The revenue losses to vineyards and wineries is estimated to be $340 million to $346 million. “It’s bad. Really bad,” said Mark. “We’re thinking if we get anything at all, it’ll be very little. We’re just hoping we’ll see some growth in the spring, so we don’t have to do an entire replant. We’re going to lose vines, though.”

However, he is trying to remain optimistic and find a survival plan for the next couple of seasons – not just for Phantom Creek, but the region as a whole. “If we don’t have enough wineries functioning, we’re going to lose a lot of our talent in the valley. They’ll go elsewhere for work, and it’ll be hard down the road to get people to come back,” he said.

“We’re trying to just support the industry and find a way to move forward.”

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