Meet Severine Pinte, a French winemaker who lives and works in Canada. I was privileged to meet her on a recent Canadian Wine Tasting event and the moments I spent talking to her left a strong mark in my memory. She is a passionate, dynamic and highly experienced winemaker with a strong viticultural record in her books, one who knows her grapes well and wine making even better and is making a mark in the Canadian wine industry. Severine is the lead viticulturist and wine maker of two established wineries in the Okanagan Valley in Canada ‘Le Vieux Pin’ and ‘La Stella’. Located in the south of Okanagan along the warmest fresh water lake, Lake Osoyoos, are the vineyards from where grapes are picked for these two wineries. The warm ecosystem of the lake coupled with the semi-arid desert surrounding it, result in hot dry summers and mild winters which make grape growing very feasible. This region is made up of glacial run-down soils that are deep, warm and sandy as opposed to north of the valley which sees significantly more gravelly structure.

To give you an overview, the 160 km Okanagan valley, in British Columbia runs north-south on the western side of Canada between the Coastal and Monashee mountain ranges, about 300 km away from the Pacific Ocean and experiences continental type of climate. Because of the length of the valley, areas in the south, such as Osoyoos where Severine’s wineries are located are known to be atleast 4-5 degrees celsius warmer than the north. This makes it a more likely region for red grape varieties.

In particular to note from the Le Vieux Pin wines, are the varied styles of Syrah she produces. All three styles have received international recognition. The ‘Syrah Cuvée Classique’ is meant to be intense and very deep with a muscularly dense structure made from grapes picked from deep alluvial mountain soils that give it a richer style albeit austere when youthful, while ‘Syrah Cuveé Violette’ shows soft, floral and silky notes that make it graceful and more delicate for ease of drink. Addition of 1% Rousanne grape bring in textural softness, perfume notes to heighten the grace of the wine. In between these two styles is the ‘Equinox Syrah’ which is well balanced showing both elegance and power and in terms of expression falls somewhere in between the Classique and Violette. On the other hand, her La Stella winery makes wines from a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, aiming to bring out the ‘Super Canadian’ equivalent of the Super Tuscan wines. The vineyards that grow Sangiovese are one of the last to pick these grapes in the region.

Severine Pinte, at her La Stella Winery doing a barrel tasting

Severine Pinte, at her La Stella Winery doing a barrel tasting

Here is a brief of my interview with Severine Pinte:

Sumilier: Please share with us your qualifications and working background before you moved to Canada

I came to Le Vieux Pin in 2010 with 14 years of international winemaking experience under my belt and 8 years of vineyard management.

A graduate of the esteemed ENSAM (Ecole National Superior Agronomic of Montpellier), I acquired my Masters in Viticulture and Oenology from here(in France, it is an agronomy engineering course specializing in viticulture and enology diploma), and following this achieved a National Diploma in Oenology. At ENSAM, I had the opportunity to learn in detail about the Science behind wine growing and wine making: starting from baby plants in the nurseries, working in the vineyard to growing quality grapes, making the wines, ageing them, bottling them, selling the wine, all the way upto learning about Marketing and Finance in the wine industry and marketing. It was an amazing in depth experience learning about the versatility and also the vulnerability of the industry and the ability to create a beautiful piece of art from a product of the earth!

After graduating from ENSAM, I apprenticed at the Cave de Tecou in the AOC Gaillac before coming for the first time to British Columbia to work for Domaine de Chaberton, as an Assistant Winemaker. In 1999, I returned to France and worked for a year in Bordeaux as a Director of the Pessac-Leognan Appellation, under the direction of Andre Lurton and then went back to my origin in Languedoc. For 9 years I was the Head Winemaker and the Viticultural Council for ‘Le Vignoble des 2 terres’ a highly established Cooperative winery in Terrasse du Larzac, an Appellation within Côteaux du Longuedoc in Southern France.

During one of winters in 2003, I got an opportunity to work in the harvest team with Frankland Estate winery in Western Australia and enjoyed working and learning a different take on Syrah and Viognier. In order to pursue more challenges, I decided to move to Okanagan. I find a very unique cool climate and terroir in this region which made me decide to relocate here and work on bringing out the best of Okanagan.

My childhood has lovely memories of running around in wine cellars while my parents were learning and tasting from barrels. At that time clearly I never had any desire to work in the cold cellars but somewhere along the way, those memories instilled the way forward for me in this career (smiling…). Now, I cannot imagine changing careers or being someone else than a winemaker! I love my work!

Sumilier : What lessons have you learnt from your experiences that you use in your current role as a winemaker?

I think being a good winemaker is being able to understand the big picture, being able to understand, organise and assimilate what nature gives us (and note that it changes every year!) and work around the nature’s product to create excellent quality wines and in this process also very important to run a sustainable business. Making wine can be glamorous but only for a short period of time….I would say 60% of my work is spent around organization and the balance 40% is the summing up of actual vineyard and winery work to fit into the organised frame. Without doubt, my experience working in a big Cooperative winery in France (Longuedoc) allowed me to understand every aspect of the winemaking starting from the vineyard all the way to bottling and marketing. Today, I use all the tools I learned from there to manage the two wineries in the Okanagan.

Sumilier : What words best describe your wines?

Lovers of my wine describe them as balanced, holding a lot of elegance and finesse. I have been also told that my wines have a “soul” (with a bright grin!). May be they can feel my passion in it ?!

Sumilier : Three things that you really enjoy while working in this industry

  • I enjoy walking through the vineyards at different times in the year and watching how the vines are adapting each year to what mother nature is giving us….the berry tasting close to harvest is one of my favorite time of the year
  • The first bin that comes on the crush pad: most exciting times but also the most stressful time!
  • Art of Blending: After tasting each of the barrels, I get to create the blends for our 3 Cuvees of Syrah….it is like watching the different components of Syrah come together on a piece of canvas and I get to pick which aromas, structure, texture I can put together to create the character and style I am aiming for!

Sumilier: What challenges you have faced in the course of your career?

One of them was coming in as young woman working in a male dominated environment. I had to work twice as hard to achieve the same results as people did not trust my abilities. But it only made me stronger and work harder so I have no regrets.

The other challenge I have to be ready for us unpredictability. Not a year has been the same since I first made wine in 1997. To constantly adapt, to change with changing weather and still make good wines irrespective of what the nature provides requires a lot of time and patience. Some years are way harder than others.

Sumilier: Your favourite drink on a Friday evening (when not working?)

Depends on the weather and if I am cooking or not!

If its summer and its beautiful, sunny and relaxing: a glass of Vaila rosé from Le Vieux Pin

If I am cooking at home for friends or family : I enjoy it with a glass of Syrah Cuvee Violette from Le Vieux Pin

If I am out with some friends: I love to share and explore wines from other producers (BC, Ontario or any other part of the world)

If I have had a stressful day: no wines…its nothing but a Mojito!

Sumilier :  Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I would love to be in the Okanagan Valley, perfecting what I have been working on since I arrived at Le Vieux Pin winery and La Stella winery: it took me a while to get to know the different vineyards I was working with and to adapt myself and my wine styles to the climate and the culture. I enjoy working in Canada and there is a lot of potential in this region still undiscovered. I am now working towards “Precise Viticulture”  for which results will take time to show . Patience and perseverance are key words for me. We get one chance a year to make wines from grapes growing through the year and one chance in a few years to experiment with changes. So I would like to continue my journey and hopefully in 10 years, I would be here to witness the fruits of our labour!

Lake Osoyoos and the desert scenery around it, BC, Canada

Lake Osoyoos and the desert scenery around it, BC, Canada

Sumilier: Do you see many women in the industry? 

There are women joining the industry but it is still a male dominated industry in the production side from what I observe. However, increasingly. I  see more and more women joining the sales and marketing side of the business which is encouraging.

Sumilier: Message for women who want to enter the wine profession?

I would like to say ladies, nothing should stop you from going for it but be aware like any other career, this is challenging too – the job involves physical labour, you are expected to perform as well as men and most of the time we have to play multiple roles. I often say to my friends that I am more than one person in one at any time: a winemaker, viticulturist, cellar administrator and a full time  mum. It will take a lot to find a balance between the roles, and even in the wine job, you will see yourself multitasking and you must be ready face that pressure. One thing I can assure you though is that the adventure and the fulfillment you will receive is thrilling and I strongly believe that as women, we have a different sensitivity towards making and tasting wines and our sense of smell is probably more evolved! So, in a way a career in wine is meant for women.

(Photo Credits: Enoteca wineries and resorts)