Name of the site: Summerhill Pyramid Winery
Size: 85 acres
Type of crops: Vineyards
Owned property: since 1986 by Cipes family
Number of people employed: 170 in peak season
Website address: https://www.summerhill.bc.ca
Our aim is to deepen the connection between natural pathways and agricultural production
The following guides are relevant to this project site
Click to download table for stewardship practices on Summerhill Winery.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s deep commitment to stewardship is demonstrated by the large number of stewardship practices they employ, including the construction of bird and bat boxes and the creation of pollinator habitat across the farm. This profile will focus on three major stewardship practices: protecting existing riparian areas, composting, and agroforestry.
The Cipes family set aside over 25% of the land for exclusive wildlife use. This includes large riparian areas running through and adjacent to their farming operation. Several springs on the property provide water to Rambler Creek, which runs year-round through the middle of the property. The creek is surrounded by tall trees providing a constant source of large woody debris and habitat for many species. The creek diffuses into a lower area of the farm where it turns into a wetland. Another protected area, runs adjacent to the property, and provides habitat for many plants and animals.
To make agriculture sustainable it is essential to provide nature reserves and corridors for wildlife. It is possible to feed people and support pristine habitat and to this end Summerhill set aside 25% of its land base to nature.
The composting program at Summerhill is extensive. They apply windrow composting techniques which starts with forming long rows of pomace, or crushed grape wine waste, local stable straw and horse manure. The compost is then used to provide nutrients to produce more grapes. The vineyard manager, Willem Semmelink, is working with the University of British Columbia Okanagan to study microorganism communities in the vineyard.
Summerhill’s dedication to the concept of sustainability is also clear from their adoption of agro-forestry techniques. Providing habitat, while producing food is core to their mission. Stephen Cipes, the proprietor, planted a stand of walnuts soon after purchasing the property. His son, Gabe Cipes, has continued the focus on agro-forestry on the farm. He tends to forest gardens, where he both produces food used in their bistro, as well as, habitat for a diverse array of species including many pollinators.
Key stewardship actions:
The Summerhill Team
The vineyard manager, Willem Semmelink, explains some of the history and philosophy behind their approach to agriculture and stewardship. Both the location and their commitment to organics is a result of their desire to have “natural progression between vineyards and wild areas” to the largest extent possible.
The Okanagan is an ideal agro-ecological zone to grow grapes. Summerhill’s founder, Stephan Cipes, chose to embrace organics in this area because it minimized the conflict between agriculture and nature. Our aim is to deepen the connection between natural pathways and agricultural production.
The vineyard is certified organic, but beyond following the guidelines for producing organic grapes, they are also dedicated to pursuing the principles of organics including the precautionary principle. Organics commitment to harm reduction and the pursuit of knowledge guides how they approach looking after the land and producing their grapes.
One of the 4 pillars of the organic movement is to reduce harm. The precautionary principle is the mainstay of conservation and the conservatism for which farmers are renowned. To be a good farmer you need to move with the seasons. Observation, trials, and understanding local knowledge, are fundamental to successful farming.
One large challenge the vineyard has faced in recent years was the large increase in the local deer population. This increase led to devastating impacts in the vineyards as young vines, new shoots, and grapes were eaten. The deer decimated the vineyards to such an extent they faced a choice either to try control them lethally or build a wildlife fence. They eventually built the fence, and although this cuts off access to the vineyards, a gulley that runs adjacent to the farm can still be used by animals.
Mule deer population in the area exploded with few natural predators and Kelowna’s unique blend of ALR and housing, providing habitat for deer. In 2014, we installed a deer fence to reduce damage to the vineyard.
Another challenge is the many invasive species causing issues for land managers throughout the region. Within the vineyards, they control these invasives by mowing and cover cropping with indigenous beneficials. Areas outside of the vineyards are harder to maintain, and they struggle with the desire to leave nature alone, while also not allowing a single invasive species to dominate and replace indigenous plants. This is particularly problematic within the riparian area around Rambler creek where burdock covers some of the forest floor. Lack of time and energy has prevented them from controlling these species more effectively, but in the future they hope to gain control over these areas and prevent future invasions.
Finding a balance between vineyard, introduced legumes, and indigenous plant communities is complicated by alien invasive species.The challenge is to integrate the indigenous biotic communities into the vineyard while excluding alien invasives. Diversifying the vineyard floor flora helps control the aggressive invasives seed bank in the natural habitat too.
The practices, including the protection of diverse riparian habitats (including springs, creeks and wetlands), followed by Summerhill have resulted in an abundance of wildlife on and around the property. The farm provides both refuges and wildlife corridors for many species. Willem describes seeing many animals across the whole farm and enjoys being able to work in such a diverse environment.
We have a vast number of mule deer, coyotes, an enormous number of avian species, and the occasional bear. We even had a moose.
Willem also believes that the farms commitment to stewardship practices has provided the farm with many benefits. A pack of coyotes has made their home in this gulley and are frequent visitors to the vineyards where they help control rodent populations. The farm’s focus on soil health through compost application and cover cropping has resulted in positive benefits including the creation of habitat for predatory wasps which prey on grape pests.
Resilience to extreme conditions deepens as we maintain a rich soil food web: stable biotic communities reinforce the goal of farmers by reducing cost as productivity and quality increases.