Small batch winemaker pays attention to detail

Small batch winemaker pays attention to detail

James Schlosser finds his niche

  • Mar. 18, 2020 7:30 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

A Keremeos family lost their home after a fire shortly before midnight on April 13. No injuries were reported. (Contributed)
Keremeos home destroyed in late-night fire

The family inside was unharmed

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

Bad Tattoo owner Lee Auger and head brewmaster Liam Hutcheson welcomed Firehall Brewery owner Syd Ruhland into their brew-room to make a massive batch of his hit Backdraft Blonde Ale Tuesday, April 2021. (Firehall Brewery / Facebook)
Drinking buddies: Penticton brewery steps up to help out smaller competitor

Firehall Brewery of Oliver needed larger equipment to meet demand; Bad Tattoo was happy to help

Campfires are allowed within the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, but open burning season comes to an end April 15 at midnight. (Black Press file photo)
Open burning season ends in Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen

Campfires are permitted, following provincial guidelines

Send your letter to the editor via email to news@summerlandreview.com. Please included your first and last name, address, and phone number.
LETTER: Name is spelled incorrectly

For 100 years, the Garnett name has been spelled incorrectly as Garnet

Arlene Howe holds up a picture of her son, Steven, at a memorial event for drug overdose victims and their families at Kelowna’s Rotary Beach Park on April 14. Steven died of an overdose at the age of 32 on Jan. 31, 2015. (Aaron Hemens - Kelowna Capital News)
Moms Stop the Harm members placed crosses Wednesday morning, April 14, on Rotary Beach in memory of children lost to drug overdoses. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Kelowna mothers remember children lost to the opioid crisis

It has been five years since illicit drug deaths was announced a public health emergency

True Leaf CEO Darcy Bomford replaces a tray in the drying room of his empty cannabis facility in Lumby, B.C. (Nick Laba/Black Press Media)
Lumby greenlights Okanagan’s first cannabis business park

Village OK’s preliminary subdivision plan to bring 14 lots to True Leaf’s 40-acre property

A sea lion swims past the window of an empty viewing area Vancouver Aquarium is pictured Thursday, September 10, 2020. The Vancouver Aquarium has had to close its doors to the public due to the lack of visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
U.S.-based theme park company buys Vancouver Aquarium

Aquarium had to shut its doors in September due to COVID pandemic

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

A deep cut on a humpback whale is shown in this recent handout photo in the Vancouver area. A conservation organization is warning boaters to be extra careful to prevent further harm to an injured humpback whale swimming in the Vancouver area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Ocean Wise, Vanessa Prigollini *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Boaters urged to use caution around hurt humpback off Vancouver

Ocean Wise says watchers first noticed the wound 3 days ago and believe it was caused by a vessel strike

Ron Rauch and his wife Audrey are photographed at their home in Victoria, Friday, March 5, 2021. Their daughter Lisa Rauch died on Christmas Day 2019 when a tactical officer with the Victoria Police Department shot her in the back of the head with plastic bullets after barricading herself in a room that was on fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. families push for changes as special committee examines provincial Police Act

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged the need to update the legislation last year

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

Naloxone
Op/Ed: Interior Health CEO speaks on five years of strides and challenges in overdose crisis

In 2020, close to 4,000 people across IH had access to opioid medications

Most Read