Small batch winemaker pays attention to detail

Small batch winemaker pays attention to detail

James Schlosser finds his niche

  • Mar. 18, 2020 8:30 a.m.

– Words by Angela Cowan Photography by Darren Hull

A conversation with winemaker James Schlosser of Niche Wine Company

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Vancouver but my family moved to West Kelowna when I was three, so the Okanagan has always been home.

Where did you train?

I did my undergrad in biology at the University of Victoria and then moved to Ontario to complete an honours and a Master of Science degree in oenology and viticulture.

How long at your winery?

My wife Joanna and I incorporated Niche Wine Company in 2009 and released our first vintage in 2010.

How did you get started in the wine business?

I was inspired by my mom and dad. My parents bought this beautiful West Kelowna property when I was just a kid and I was lucky enough to grow up here. In the late ’90s my dad read the book The Heartbreak Grape and fell in love with the idea and the challenge of growing Pinot noir grapes. Not long after, my parents took the plunge and planted a vineyard and when I came home from UVic that summer, they asked if I would be interested in working on the farm. By the end of the summer, I was registered in winemaking school and on my way to Brock University in St. Catharine’s. I guess the rest is history!

What is your winemaking style?

Have you ever heard the expression: “The best fertilizer for a vineyard is the winemaker’s footsteps?” It’s true. Our small-batch operation demands that attention to detail. That being said, over 15 years of winemaking experience has taught me that although it’s important to be attentive throughout the process, ultimately wine is an expression of things you can’t control. The wines I make are made with little intervention and a lot of farming effort.

How do you know when you have a particularly good vintage?

The weather in a given season usually dictates the outcome of any vintage, but harvest can also be full of unexpected impact. Even if you’ve got the best growing season in the world, it doesn’t mean you’re going to come out with a great vintage. The stars have to align. And the unexpected is sometimes a good thing. It’s one of the things I love about wine — it’s one part mystery and two parts miracle.

What is one of your favourite varietals to work with and why?

Pinot noir is far and away my favourite. It’s funny, because Pinot noir can be quite difficult to grow and hard to work with, so you would think it would be my least favourite. For me, making Pinot noir is truly a labour a love. All of our Pinot is produced exclusively with grapes grown by my parents on the farm where I grew up. There is something really special about this place. The vineyard sits at an elevation of 620 metres and when it comes to growing Pinot, elevation is key.

In the world of wine, who do you most admire and why?

Who influenced you? There’s a smattering of people. One of them is my prof from Brock University, Andy Reynolds, who’s more of a viticulture guy. I spent years with him, and he really taught me a lot about growing grapes and making wine. Sandra Oldfield, former CEO of Tinhorn Creek, is another inspirational player in the wine industry. We are currently working with her through a Scale Up mentorship program offered by Accelerate Okanagan. Her advice and coaching have been instrumental in our growth, and she’ll continue to be a key figure in the success of Niche.

Do you have a favourite wine or vintage that you have made?

The diversity of the wines you can make is exciting: white, sparkling, rosé, red. With Pinot noir, it truly showcases the place where it is grown and produced. If you think about a Merlot, there’s a certain expectation that it’s going to have a consistent nose and palate. Pinot noir has carved out a niche and is celebrated for its regional nuances.

What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?

Winemaking at our scale is a very physical job. With each vintage I gain more experience, but I also find it increasingly hard to balance the demands on my knees and my back. There is no question that this job comes with a lot of heavy lifting and power washing. The other challenge is that winemaking can be fairly unpredictable; we often find ourselves at the mercy of Mother Nature.

What is one of the most rewarding aspects of your job?

I love that the winemaking process is so cyclical and dependent on place and time. On the one hand, you’re always looking forward and there is all the possibility of what the next vintage holds. That anticipation, it really is fun. And maybe a little addicting. On the flip side, there is this reflective process with wine. We’re always looking back, tasting cellared wine and talking about “ageability.” I truly believe wine is a conduit for spreading joy and creating connection. Being a maker of that kind of experience is wildly rewarding.

Hobbies?

Skateboarding. I recently picked this one up again. I have a longboard and a skateboard I bought in Maui, and it’s been fun getting back into it. And woodworking. I am a YouTube woodworker, but if I’m being honest, I’m better at watching the videos than I am at making the products. It’s a work in progress.

Anything else we should know?

Currently, our winery is not open to the public, but we recently launched a wine club designed for lovers of craft, small-batch wines who are passionate about buying and drinking local. The shipments go out three times a year and contain our latest lineup of wines and other locally sourced goods we think pair well. Because of the limited nature of our production, it’s a great way to ensure you get a taste of what we’re up to. From our farm to your doorstep!

nichewinecompany.com/club

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Food and WinewineWinery

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
81 new cases of COVID-19 detected in Interior Health Friday

One additional staff member at Kelowna long-term care home tests positive, no new deaths

Eight players aged 19 and 20 on the Kimberley Dynamiters are currently unable to practice with the team due to new COVID-19 restrictions. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL games postponed until December 31

Dynamiters coach reacts to new restrictions

The 2020 Wasa Triathlon was cancelled. Above, the bike portion of the 2019 event. Bulletin file
Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon committee is going ahead with planning 2021 event

Lots of uncertainty, but the committee has decided its too early to cancel

Dr. Albert de Villiers, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
‘People need to start listening’: IH top doc combats COVID-19 misconceptions

Dr. Albert de Villiers says light at the end of the tunnel will grow in step with people’s adherence to PHO guidance

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

A snow moon rises over Mt. Cheam in Chilliwack on Feb. 8, 2020. Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 is Mountain Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Dec. 6 to 12

Mountain Day, Dewey Decimal System Day and Lard Day are all coming up this week

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
First Nations Leadership Council demands justice for victims of B.C. social worker

Union of BC Indian Chiefs calls actions of Robert Saunders ‘nothing short of complete depravity’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Montreal Alouettes’ Michael Sam is set to make his pro football debut as he warms up before the first half of a CFL game against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Study finds Canada a ‘laggard’ on homophobia in sports

Among females, 44 per cent of Canadians who’ve come out to teammates reported being victimized

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Most Read