– Story by Susan Lundy Photography by Darren Hull
Vancouver-born Sandy Leier moved to Kelowna when she was two years old and has lived here ever since. After completing a degree in chemistry at UBC Okanagan, she worked as a research assistant and chemistry lab teaching assistant at the university for a few years. She started working at Sandhill Winery, assisting the winemakers, 13 years ago.
How did you get started in the wine business?
I had a friend in university who was working with the winemakers at Sandhill. She sparked my interest in winemaking by the way she talked about the wines and how they were made. After she introduced me to the winemaking team, I got the opportunity to cover her maternity leave at the winery. She didn’t end up coming back, so I stayed on and continued to learn and take on more. And here I am today!
What is your winemaking style?
Clean and varietally-focused, building on some Italian wine styles.
How do you KNOW when you have a particularly good vintage?
When you’re tasting the grapes in the vineyard, you can feel it when the flavour concentration is there before the sugar levels get too high and the acidity starts dropping too low. Then you know the wines will have a good intensity of aromatics and flavours, and balance between alcohol, tannin and acidity.
What is one of your favourite varietals to work with and why?
Syrah is fun to work with because it grows very well in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, and we get a few different expressions of it from our different vineyards. It also requires a lot of attention through fermentation, so it’s that much more rewarding when you see the final product.
Do you have a favourite wine or vintage that you have made?
The 2018 Sandhill Small Lot Syrah is going to be amazing — stay tuned for its release early next May.
What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?
Each vintage has its own unique challenge and Mother Nature usually has something to do with it. No two vintages are exactly the same so there’s always something to learn.
What is one of the most rewarding things about your job?
Sitting in a restaurant anonymously and overhearing someone enjoying one of our wines.
I love hiking and snowboarding with my family, yoga and the occasional game of golf.
Anything else we should know?
To celebrate the end of each harvest I travel somewhere warm right after we wrap up. This gives me energy to come back and put the finishing touches on the wines before bottling. That’s my secret to happy winemaking!