Choosing the second annual La Dolce Vita Winery of the Year Award was not an simple choice. The easy way out would have been to declare a two-way tie, but instead I will name one and reserve the other finalist for the 2016 competition.
No need to delay the announcement any longer. The winner is a remarkable success story in a community that many readers won’t be familiar with. Kaleden, a few kilometers south of Penticton, is home to Kraze Legz Vineyard and Winery (click here for the winery’s website).
Gerry and Sue Thygesen are owners and operators of this unusually named winery, with its lovely tasting room set in a picture-perfect vineyard that offers a view of Skaha Lake and many of the small parcels of mixed use land that slope down to the water. On a sunny day, there might be no more beautiful spot in the province. In inclement weather, the winery loses none of its appeal, with the personable owners exuding warmth, charm and boundless enthusiasm for their wines and the life they have chosen.
To be honest, Kraze Legz could have been in the running for the La Dolce Vita award (Note to Gerry and Sue: no need to clear space on the shelves. The award is name-only!) if only for the brilliant designs that are painted on all of the tall Bordeaux-style bottles. Before my first visit I just assumed that a professional firm had produced the winery name, label designs and playful wine names. I was startled to learn that the whole package was done in-house. After making my way through a tasting, I was shocked to learn than they make the wines themselves, without the help of an experienced winemaker.
This is, for the most part, a wine column, though, so it is the wines that have truly earned Kraze Legz this recognition. How good are they? It sounds almost ridiculous to repeat this bit of information, but after five released vintages not one single wine made by Sue and Gerry has failed to win a major industry award.
I have no intention of entering into a lengthy list of awards, but consider that just in 2014 Kraze Legz Vineyard and Winery was presented with a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence. Gold medals were won in the All Canadian Wine Championships, the BC Wine Awards, and Intervin International Wine Awards. And, in the Wine Press Northwest competition, which judges only wines from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and B.C. that have won gold medals in other competitions, Kraze Legz walked away with a double platinum, two platinums, a double gold and gold. I joked with Gerry and Sue that they would have to enlarge the tasting room to show off their hardware.
There is another angle to the Kraze Legz story in 2014 that I think says a lot about this amazing couple, too. Think about all of the time and energy that went into creating a marketing program built around a Roaring Twenties theme, and instantly identifiable labels that illustrate wines with names like Charleston Chardonnay, the Bee’s Knees Pinot Blanc, the Lindy Hop White Blend, Speakeasy Rose, the Black Bottom Stomp Merlot/Cab Franc, All That Jazz Red Blend, Cakewalk Merlot and Shhh… Icewine Merlot. Then stop a minute and think about getting a phone call from the winery’s bottle supplier, only weeks before bottling time last spring. “We can’t fill your bottle order”, Sue and Gerry were told. The bottle factory’s Bordeaux mold had been damaged, throwing a wrench in the production schedule.
With no other source to be found at that late date, the couple put their heads together and came up with a plan. They knew that some higher end restaurant buyers were snubbing their wines because the Kraze Legz label designs weren’t “serious” enough. They worked with an artist to have his dramatic picture of a horse’s head and mane tailored to their needs, adopted the name Skaha and ordered a shipment of Burgundy-style bottles. After bottling and (paper) labelling the new vintages, they then set about a new marketing scheme, and braced themselves to spend the year explaining to winery visitors that they were not completely abandoning the Kraze Legz Roaring Twenties theme.
The experiment has been a success beyond any reasonable expectations. Not to my surprise, though, because the Thygesens don’t seem to be hamstrung by reasonable expectations. They set unreasonable goals and they inevitably exceed their own reach.
Like last year’s inaugural La Dolce Vita winery of the year winners, Serendipity Winery in nearby Naramata, Kaleden’s Kraze Legz Vineyard and Winery is the whole package — great wine made by great people with a great story. What wine lover could ask for anything more?
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. His website, www.lorneeckersley.com, features a collection of columns, stories and photographs about wine, beer and spirits, food, travel and arts.