Local winery named Canada’s best
among ‘small’ estates and vineyards

Chris and Beata Tolley reached for the moon — and got there. (Richard McGuire/MCV)

What looked like it could be a recipe for disaster has been anything but for Moon Curser Vineyards, which was named WineAlign’s Best Performing Small Winery at its 2019 National Awards of Canada.

Moon Curser — co-owned by winemaker Chris Tolley along with his partner, winery manager, and wife, Beata Tolley — has been trolling the National Wine Awards of Canada for years, surprising the judges with its “out there” grapes while slowing amassing a collection of gold and silver medals with such non-stream varietal wines as touriga nacional, carménère, tannat and dolcetto.

This year, the winery made a major breakthrough.

The winery walked away with eight medals, including a Platinum for its remarkable ode to the Douro Valley, the 2017 Touriga Nacional and six gold medals for a 2015 Tannat, think Uruguay; 2018 Dolcetto, that’s Italy; a 2017 Malbec, that’s Argentina; a 2017 Tempranillo, a nod to Spain; a 2017 Petit Verdot a classic from Bordeaux; and one final gold for a 2017 Dead of Night, a blend of Syrah and Tannat.

It’s been a storybook journey for the Tolleys, who began taking wine classes in Calgary less than two decades ago and quickly came to the conclusion that owning a winery was the longterm goal.

They left their jobs and headed for New Zealand where they both took a one-year Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology.

By 2004 they were back in Canada, where they bought an old cherry orchard on the east Osoyoos Bench in the south Okanagan Valley. By 2006 they had opened a winery.

A lot of the Tolleys’ success is directly related to early one-on-one research at local wineries ,where they discovered many were producing the same main-line grapes: chardonnay, pinot gris, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

What the Tolleys learned on those early visits was it was the odd Viognier or Syrah that piqued their interest, and that has been a part of Moon Curser’s story ever since.

In some ways, not having a traditional wine background and vast knowledge of the world of wine set the Tolleys free to do things others would have never considered.

Much of Moon Curser’s recent success stems from old-fashioned, hard work. Now 15 years down the road, the vineyards and the knowledge to look after them seem to have meshed. You can’t teach experience, but you can earn it one year at a time, which is the real story of this small, hillside estate winery and one of the most exciting wine lineups in Canada.

The winery’s name pays tribute to the gold smuggling history of Osoyoos. The wines, however, show no such respect for tradition. The vines have thrived in Osoyoos and continue to deliver unique, world-class interpretations of these traditional wines.

— with files from Anthony Gismondi, WineAlign.com

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