Photo: Winemaker Blair Gillingham (courtesy Ruby Blues Winery)
Ruby Blues Winery remains one of the few wineries without a
formal tasting fee. Owner Prudence Mahrer insists only that visitors smile.
There are plenty of reasons to smile when visiting this
Naramata Bench winery. It starts with the funky rock music emanating from
speakers amid the vines, reflecting the musical tastes the owner developed in
the 1960s. Then there are the spiky high heels on sale in the wine shop.
The smile will really become wide in tasting the wines,
which invariably are packed with flavour. The winery’s numerous awards include
four Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence for previous vintages of
My profile in John
Schreiner’s Okanagan Wine Tour Guide
set out to capture this winery’s funky
Prudence Mahrer is an
effervescent personality who grew up with the music and culture of the 1960s.
That included a Rolling Stones song, Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, about a
free-spirited young woman following her dream. That inspired the name of the
winery when, following her dream, she convinced her husband, Beat, to launch
their second Naramata winery in 2008. Unfortunately, an American restaurant
chain with 900 locations, Ruby Tuesday’s, has been around since the 1970s (with
a single Canadian location in Niagara Falls). When they objected, Prudence
renamed the winery Ruby Blues in an apparent allusion to a Beatles song. “Some
of the songs from the Sixties have so much meaning in them,” she believes.
Red Rooster Winery, which opened in 1997, was their first. They sold the chateau-styled
winery in 2005 to Andrew Peller Ltd., intending to retire. They travelled in
winter and piloted their floatplanes in summer. Prudence, who also spent the
summers running their 5.6 hectares (14 acres) of vineyard, soon discovered how
much she missed the winery and meeting the public. Had there been a support
group for ex-winery owners, she says, she would have joined it. That is why at
55 (she was born in Switzerland in 1953), she persuaded her husband to start
Ruby Tuesday. “That’s the reason why I wanted to start again,” she says. “I can
easily do another 10 to 15 years.” Believe it: she and Beat are remarkably
athletic, having run fitness centres in Switzerland.
Ruby Blues, with an
annual production between 2,000 and 3,000 cases (all from Naramata Bench
fruit), never will be as large as Red Rooster (16,000 to 20,000 cases).
Prudence found that there had been far too much administration and not enough
contact with clients. “I want to do what I really loved the most – producing wine,
quality wine of course; and then selling it myself to customers,” she says.
Winemaker Lyndsay O’Rourke, who trained in New Zealand, is a rising star among
Okanagan winemakers, having mentored with consultant Philip Soo.
The tasting room at
Ruby Blues sparkles with Prudence’s personality. The tasting fee? “The cost for
a tasting is a smile,” has become the winery’s slogan. If you are not smiling,
she will tease one out of you, perhaps by trying to sell a pair of shoes. The
wine labels have always included the red stiletto shoes that Ruby Tuesday might
have kicked off to chase her dream. In 2011 Prudence ordered 170 pairs of
ladies’ shoes from a cobbler in Vietnam.
Since that was written, Lyndsay moved on to devote full time
to nearby Tightrope Winery, operated with her husband, Graham. Before she left,
however, she mentored Blair Gillingham, the current winemaker at Ruby Blues.
Born in Victoria, he was drawn to wine after working a harvest in the Okanagan
Ruby Blues web site picks up the story: “Since then, Blair's experience has
covered the Okanagan Valley, Australia, New Zealand, and two years in Kamptal,
Austria. His biggest challenges were to work thee harvests in one calendar year
in two different continents, and learning different languages in Europe for
work and enjoyment.”
Ruby Blues sells most
of its wine from the tasting room. A number of private wine shops in BC also
carry the wines. There is a complete list on the Ruby Blues web site.
Here are notes on three current releases.
($20 for 762 cases). The grapes for this wine are from
a 38-year-old planting and it shows in the intensity of the aromas and
flavours. The wine begins with aromas of rose petal, spice and grapefruit, with
spice, citrus and lychee flavours. The wine is balanced to a dry finish but it is
so fruity that my tasting companion thought it to be off-dry. 90.
Ruby Blues Pinot Gris
($20 for 925 cases). This is a thespian Pinot Gris, beginning with bold
aromas of pears and apples. The palate delivers intense flavours of pear, guava
and ripe apples. The dry finish is refreshing. 91.
Ruby Blues Viognier
($25 for 702 cases). This begins with aromas of Asian pear, apricot
and spice, leading to flavours of stone fruit. The wine is clean and fresh with
a laser-like focus on the palate. The intensity of flavour is surprising, since
the alcohol is just 12.5%, somewhat on the moderate side for this variety which
usually develops flavours only with prolonged hang time. Perhaps this reflects
the 2016 vintage: bud break was unusually early, making for a long season for
flavour development. The pick dates for the three vineyards that supplied the
grapes were October 11, October 13 and October 28. The winemaker extracted more
flavour with an 18-hour cold soak of half of the crushed berries before