Arrowleaf has planted Arvine
By John Schreiner
Here is a new varietal label to look for in the Okanagan in about three years: Arvine, a Swiss white grape that was planted last year by Arrowleaf Cellars.
The winery’s owners are Joe and Margrit Zuppiger and their winemaker son, Manuel. The Zuppigers came to Canada from Switzerland in 1986. Eleven years later, they bought a vineyard in Lake Country where they opened their winery in 2003, to considerable acclaim.
“I always liked the wine,” Manuel says Arvine. “Of the Swiss wines, especially the varieties that are native to Switzerland, I always found that to be a standout. It has a lot of extract to it. The wines are rich. They have a nervy acidity. They are nice and aromatic but not overly aromatic. It is just a rich, powerful white wine.”
Jancis Robinson and her colleagues agree. In their Wine Grapes, their masterly 2012 book on 1,368 varietals, they say this about Arvine: “The finest indigenous Valais variety making lively, sometimes intense, whites both dry and sweet.”
The Zuppigers spotted Arvine (eight) in the catalogue of a Niagara grape nursery called VineTech Canada and jumped on it quickly.
“It was nice to see that a nursery in Canada actually had it,” Manuel says. “I thought that was a great opportunity – might as well get it before it is gone. I am not sure how long they would propagate it and sell it. I have always wanted to get grape varieties like that in here. I am not one to get cuttings and bring them in illegally.”
To make room in their vineyard, they pulled out three acres of Gewürztraminer. Most of those vines were replaced with Pinot Noir, leaving enough space for just a third of an acre of Arvine. VineTech did not even have enough last spring for that much, Arrowleaf will finish planting its Arvine block this spring.
The decision to pull out the Gewürztraminer has to do with the flagging popularity of that variety. “The demand for Gewürztraminer wine has really dropped off but we still have two acres under contract,” Manuel says. Given that Arrowleaf made one of best Gewürztraminers in the Okanagan, it makes you wonder whether the bottom is falling out of what once was a staple Okanagan white.
“It is fun to have a few specialties and to try something new,” Manuel says. “Who knows? Arvine may take off in the future. It is always nice to have an alternative in case people get tired of Pinot Gris, or whatever.”
The Robinson book says that Arvine is indigenous to Valais, a wine-growing region in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Less that 400 acres grow in Switzerland. The variety buds early and ripens late but Manuel thinks it will flourish in the North Okanagan as well.
“We have a bit of a different climate, but there are some similarities there,” Manuel says. “We planted some and we are going to expand the planting a little bit. We couldn’t get enough plants in the first year. We will see how it goes. There are some changes we could make in the vineyard if it does prove itself. If we wanted to expand it, we could. We will take it one step at a time.”
It may also whet Arrowleaf’s appetite to add more varieties. “There are quite a few native grape varieties that are only found in Switzerland,” says Manuel, a graduate of a Swiss winemaking school. “They do make interesting wines. Some of those are found in other nearby Alpine regions. They make very unique wines but they are kind of obscure. It takes finding them and trying them out and seeing how they would do somewhere else.”