Cover Story

Boredom has been a major motivator

Retiring industry icon Howard Soonmade lasting contributions to the development of premium B.C. red wines. By Judie Steeves

or master winemaker Howard Soon, a trait that’s often considered a character flaw evolved into a career that has helped shape the young, but globally- successful B.C. wine industry. “I get bored easily,” he comments. “I want new ideas and new ways of doing things. The most fun is being creative.”


Soon began at Calona Vineyards in Kelowna and continued through sale of the winery to Peller Estates, and on retirement, was chief winemaker for Peller wineries, including Calona, Sandhill Wines and Peller Estates wines.


Howard Soon with cutouts of himself and longtime winemaking colleague Dick Cleave.

Soon called it quits this fall as he turned 65, and claims he is leaving the wine cellar to pull weeds in his garden and practice on his piano. He is the longest-serving winemaker in Canada. It’s been 37 years since he started at Calona Vineyards.

To fend off boredom, Soon would concentrate on getting everything right with every vintage that went into the cellar, and he developed a relationship with the farmers who grew the grapes with which he wanted to make good wines. “You can’t be successful in the winery,” he explains. “You have to be in the vineyard.”

With that thought, he would travel around the Okanagan Valley visiting the vineyards and discussing each vintage with the growers who grew for him. They would educate him, and in turn, he would educate them about the qualities he wanted in his wines.

“You have to have respect for each other,” notes Soon. But that wasn’t difficult for him because he believes, “farmers are fundamentally great people.”

One of those farmers Soon worked with closely was Dick Cleave, who recently retired after growing grapes for 43


years, most recently at his Phantom Creek Vineyards on Black Sage Road in Oliver.

He feels Soon set a standard early on for the big reds that are now being recognized globally from the Okanagan, and others followed his lead.

His influence has been significant in development of a premium wine industry in the Okanagan Valley. While the Krugers at Wild Goose and the Heisses at Gray Monk were already making great white wines, Soon built the foundation for Burrowing Owl and notable reds, says Cleave. “He’s been a leader all through,” he comments, adding, “He had more of an impact than most people realize.” In common with others in the B.C. wine industry, Cleave says he has high regard for Soon as a person as well as professionally.

That’s a sentiment that’s echoed by wine industry pioneer Harry McWatters, who says Soon has had a very positive influence on the industry. “He’s a true gentleman; a class act.” As well he’s a likeable guy who always has worked hard, although he has a humble attitude,” McWatters adds. Within the industry, Soon brought a counterpoint and a

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall-Winter 2017

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