10 QUESTIONS with Sage Hills Organic Winery

Rick Thrussell, the owner at Sage Hills Winery

Sage Hills Winery is a family run winery and vineyard in sun-kissed Summerland and it is located by the rolling hills of sage and vines with a sweeping view of Okanagan Lake.

From the very beginning in 2006, they choose to go down the natural wine making road and produce wines that are 100% organic and vegan. Not only that, Sage Hills has also been good stewards of the land they grow their grapes on and they continuously challenge themselves to a healthier approach to wine making. Impressively, the winery has definitely elevated themselves to the another level since our last summer visit.

In the vineyard, they do not use pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizers. In the winemaking, they no longer buy commercial yeasts. Instead, they use yeasts that exist in their very vineyard for all of their varietals fermentation process.

The care for the environment goes much deeper. They also practice salmon-safe, ecological sustainable agricultural practices that protect water quality and native salmon. This April, the bar was raised even higher by the winery becoming one of the largest generators of solar energy in the entire district of Summerland. Sage Hills is now the first net zero winery in the Okanagan Valley, meaning they actually produce more power than what they consume. With 60 solar panels on the property, they create 100kwh of power per day. This energy runs everything including the tasting room, winery and their own home. The excess power is giving back to the community and used fo other Summerland homes.

Those sustainable facts are enough to make feel good about Sage Hills, right? Wait until you try their wines. They are worth the drive down a quaint road and you will feel a natural goodness in their small batch, premium wines. Their organic, biodiversity and ecosystem-inclusive approach to wine making just could be the future of the Okanagan winery scene.

Now VOICE gives Rick Thrussel, the owner of Sage Hills, 10 QUESTIONS challenge.

Q1: How was your summer 2021?

R: “It has been a mixed bag. It started out well despite Covid. Our numbers were up, but after the smoke and the travel advisory to Okanagan region, we have definitely seen a decline from where we hoped to be at this point of the year.”

Q2: Climate change is one of the most pressing issues today. How have the recent wild fires affected your business or your approach to winemaking and farming?

R: “It certainly has a big impact on tourism and the number of people coming to our winery. From a farming aspect, it hasn’t been that problematic for us because it hasn’t had a big impact on our vineyards yet. There is no doubt that a global warming has very negative impacts on many aspects, but it doesn’t stick around long enough to be a problem with our grape vines.”

Q3: On top of the climate change, there is a pandemic. How do you see your winery evolving through the pandemic time and in a post pandemic world?

R: “I think we are still evolving. Everybody who works for us is double-vaccinated for their own safety and the safety for our customers. We wear masks inside the tasting room. We are extra diligent about washing our glasses and also our hands. We have been very lucky that we haven’t had any issues, and maybe that’s because we are facing up to the fact that this viruses are going to be around for a while.
Also, a huge turning point for us this year was our new outdoor patio. We started construction from February and it opened just in time for the summer season in mid-July. It is absolutely gorgeous, overlooking the beautiful Okanagan Lake! The tasting room was only allowed 12 people, which is half of our normal capacity. The patio is allowing us to have 50 people in a safe, relaxing environment. You can enjoy wines by the glass or the bottle and regular or vegan charcuterie box. We have some small weddings booked out here and some other fun events that are also coming up.”

Q4: What is the biggest joy working in a winery?

R: “Working with my kids. They are part of the operation and I really enjoy working with them.”

Q5: If you were not in the wine industry, what would you be?

R: “I would probably be in the business I was in before the winery; I was a builder. I enjoy that. I’ve built my house, my winery, and the new patio. I like working with my hands.”

Q6: What is your current favorite wine and how would you like to enjoy it?

R: “That’s the question people ask me all the time and it is like choosing my favorite child! I try to avoid that question, but I must say I really do enjoy our beautiful Pino Noir occasionally. I am also liking our Ancestral Method Gewürztraminer. It is really nice easy drinking wine.”

Q7: “Where is your go-to-spots when you are off work?”

R: “I like going to Pizzeria Tratto in Penticton. Another one of my favorite places to eat in downtown Summerland is called Just Delicious Japanese Bistro. It is an amazing sushi restaurant run by very nice Japanese couple. You have to go there when you are in Summerland!”

Q8: How can people enjoy Okanagan in the fall?

R: “The fall is a great time of the year here, because it is not as hot but it can still be nice and warm. This is the time when a lot of the vineyards are harvesting. You can go around and watch people picking grapes, pears, and apples. The cidery is making new ciders with the fresh picked fruits. There is a lot going on during the harvest time and it can be very interesting time to be.”

Q9: How is this year’s harvest looking like?

R: “It is looking very good. We are really excited. My son, Keenan, and his team are working hard in the vineyard to make sure that all grapes ripen to their best.”

Q10: In a few words, how would you best describe Sage Hills?

R: “It is very unique, organic, ever changing environment that promotes sustainability and a healthier approach to wine making. There’s a lot of people that talk about what they do, but it is more important to do it.
That’s what we always believe in and show people that we are really doing these things.”

All flowers on the patio table are from Toby’s (Rick’s wife) organic flower garden.