When we first came to Kelowna we ran into See Ya Later Ranch wine at most of the restaurants where we dined. It was not until I started to do some research for this article I discovered SYL Ranch was one of the Constellation brands known globally for wines such as Kim Crawford, Robert Mondavi and Clos du Bois; not to mention my favorite summer beers Corona and Negro Modelo. The windy drive up Hawthorne Mountain to reach the vineyard in Okanagan Falls leads to a view that is stunning and wines of excellent value. The dog friendly grounds are a great way to go taste some wine and avoid putting your dog in boarding for the day. Their policy of donating a portion of each sale to the SPCA is a bonus. If you are into touring wineries, this is definitely one you should visit.
This winery has as rich and colourful a history as any in the Okanagan. In the early 1900s, brothers Sam and George Hawthorne carved a homestead and a ranch on this slope above Okanagan Falls, giving their name to the mountain. Around 1920 the ranch was purchased by Major Hugh Fraser, a former Montréal accountant. While serving in France during World War I, he was captured and spent two years as a war prisoner prior to the armistice. Shortly after the war, he came to the Okanagan to visit a playwright friend and liked the wide-open spaces so much that he stayed. Here near the town of Okanagan Falls he planted vines and seeded a legend. The ranch was his home for more than 45 years, each year adding to a rich mix of truth and fiction involving elaborate gatherings, plenty of dogs and a wife from London, who upon seeing the rustic surroundings left both the Valley and a three-word note: “See ya later.” Although there are no public records to confirm the Major actually ever married, the story goes that he adopted his bride’s parting note as a light-hearted closing comment on all of his personal correspondence, and that he even named the ranch after it. The Major planted the first vines in 1961. The varieties were primarily Maréchal Foch, Chelois, Buffalo and Bath, the hybrid and labrusca varieties in general use in Canadian vineyards at the time. The grapes were sold to Andres Wines Ltd. He retired to Penticton in 1966, dying four years later, and an adopted son took over for several years before selling to a foreign buyer.
Albert LeComte, a Saskatchewan-born sign company owner from Vancouver, bought the ranch in 1983. He converted the old dairy barn on the property for wine production and opened LeComte Estate Winery in 1986. One of his initial labels was a red blend called Count Bergerac. It was common then for Canadian wineries to devise labels that gave a French patina to a Canadian wine. LeComte’s most successful wines were made from newly planted Gewürztraminer. These caught the attention of Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters who needed more Gewürztraminer to supply one of his top brands. He recognized that the ranch was one of the Okanagan’s best sites for the variety. In 1995, he bought the winery and renamed it Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards. Both this winery and Sumac Ridge were acquired in 2000 by Vincor which was later acquired by Constellation. In 2003, Hawthorne Mountain created the See Ya Later label for its reserve wines. The wines were so well received that Major Fraser’s favourite phrase became the winery’s third and current name.
Winemaker: Dave Carson
Viticulturist: Mike Watson
Vineyard Size: 170 acres
Key Grape Varieties: Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir.
Production: 28,000 cases in 2012
Some of the SYLR wines I have tasted include:
See Ya Later Ranch Gewürztraminer. Without a doubt, this winery has one of finest Gewürztraminer blocks in the Okanagan. This wine begins fresh and spicy with off-dry, floral fruity notes. Ripe red apple, litchi fruit with a twist of orange (thanks to a splash of ehrenfelser). A super cool patio white for charcuterie plates or serve with your favorite curry dish. Good value.
See Ya Later Ranch Pinot Noir. A light garnet coloured wine with light intensity. This is an entry-level developing Pinot Noir with fine aromas of strawberry and cherry. The texture is silky, the result of 18 months in French oak.
See Ya Later Ranch Rover. The viognier does make this syrah a fair bit more aromatic adding some light floral notes to the plumy goodness of the wine. The taste follows suite with a hint of freshness before being enveloped in wonderful dark plum cherry spicy notes that meander in a lengthy finish with hints of licorice and oak.
Many thanks to The Okanagan Falls Winery Association for the historical material in this post.