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Penticton Indian Band uncorks plans for winery

Skaha Hills will start pre-construction activity on Okanagan’s newest vineyard in just a few weeks. The partners include (left to right) Curt Jansen, Skaha Hills, Sales & Marketing; Greg Gabriel, Penticton Indian Band Administrator; Mohamed Awad, Stage West Hospitality; (left to right bottom) Lesley Gabriel, Penticton Band Development Corporation Officer; Chris Scott, Skaha Hills, CEO; Larry Kenyon, President, Greyback Development.  - Submitted Photo
Skaha Hills will start pre-construction activity on Okanagan’s newest vineyard in just a few weeks. The partners include (left to right) Curt Jansen, Skaha Hills, Sales & Marketing; Greg Gabriel, Penticton Indian Band Administrator; Mohamed Awad, Stage West Hospitality; (left to right bottom) Lesley Gabriel, Penticton Band Development Corporation Officer; Chris Scott, Skaha Hills, CEO; Larry Kenyon, President, Greyback Development.
— image credit: Submitted Photo

Those entering Penticton from the south or from the airport will be hit immediately with the sights of what has made the Okanagan internationally known, a vineyard.

The $250-million community, Skaha Hills, being planned by the Penticton Indian Band announced a partnership on Dec. 10 with Stage West Hospitality to build a $5.2 million winery and vineyard. It will be perched on the southwest Penticton site overlooking Skaha Lake, near Highway 97.

The Penticton Indian Band held a referendum in October with members voting in favour of leasing a 0.8 hectare site at the entrance to the Skaha Hills community.

The terms include permission to build and operate a winery and associated facilities, including but not limited to a restaurant and accommodation.

“The winery and other facilities will provide many benefits to the Penticton Indian Band and adds a remarkable entrance feature to the Skaha Hills development. Revenue in the form of taxation and utilities, training and employment for our people at the winery and in the retail and hospitality sector are just a few of the residual benefits,” said PIB Chief Jonathan Kruger.

Similar successful business models have worked at Spirit Ridge in Osoyoos and Nk’Mip winery, built on land leased by the Osoyoos Indian Band.

“We have seen this kind of enterprise succeed locally and are encouraged by the potential,” said Kruger. “We can only see this as good for Skaha Hills, good for the Penticton Indian Band and good for Penticton.”

Stage West Hospitality will build and operate the as yet named winery and it has selected Mohamed Awad as the general manager.

Awad is well-known in the Okanagan as he managed the Spirit Ridge Resort and Vineyards in Osoyoos and is a former manager of the Black Hills Estate Winery.

He joined the Skaha Hills project in September with Stage West, who offer hospitality and entertainment experiences in Alberta and Ontario including the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino in Kananaskis, Alta.

“This is our first official winery but the master plan of the Skaha Hills development will have a hotel and things like this if the market is sustaining the project. This is an exciting opportunity with this partnership with the band,” said Awad. “We are excited to now be in B.C. and build this new relationship with the band.”

The winery at Skaha Hills will feature an iconic modern architectural building that will house a wine shop and tasting lounge, indoor/outdoor bistro with additional function space, viewing platform and more than 4.5 ha of vineyard. Wine varietals will be cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier.

Pre-construction activity on the vineyard starts in a couple of weeks and construction on the winery will begin in 2014. The winery is planning on producing 6,000 cases for 2015.  Grapes will be crushed off site.

Awad said eventually they will have their own crush pad and build out to become a 10,000-case winery.

“It’s location on the west side of Skaha Hills enables the entire vineyard to have a southeast exposure from sunrise to sunset, which is ideal for grape growing. In addition, its location is perfect,” he said.

“We will be the closest winery to Penticton, a natural starting point for South Okanagan wine region and we are located near the airport.”

Awad said they are currently interviewing for the winemaker position and plan to begin planting grapes in April 2014.

He said from his experience with wineries he believes they will employ about 25 part-time and full-time people during the busy season when the project is complete.

Skaha Hills is a 222-ha site where a residential community will develop in seven phases.

At full build-out Skaha Hills will consist of 600 homes with protected lands surrounding the community and walking/cycling trails leading to the winery. The master-planned community is being developed by Greyback Developments.

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