Award Winning and Humble

Red Rooster
Red Rooster

All images by Christine Campbell

In the early morning of fall harvest at Naramata, British Columbia’s Red Rooster Winery, Karen Gillis took some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to sit with me. She is the award winning winemaker at Red Rooster Winery and has been for over eight years now.  The first thing that struck me about her was how completely dedicated she is to her team.  “I have an amazing crew who all have a passion for wine quality,” was one of the more understated quotes from Gillis about her team whom she trusts and relies on implicitly.

Gillis started down the path to winemaking originally wanting to be a chef, “My parents weren’t thrilled with my initial career choice so I veered into Food Science and Technology. It was a natural progression to get involved with winemaking.”

When I asked her about her future in the wine industry she said that she will be staying in the Okanagan, and would like to have her own winery one day,  “I have my eye on a few spots here in the Okanagan but that is all I am saying!”

The wine industry in Canada has been quite political and there have been strides in the right direction. Gillis would like to see more movement, “I want the wineries to be able to ship across Canada to ALL provinces – not just a select few.  I know it is a slow and steady battle and I hope to see the Provincial borders open up.” She is not alone in this outlook for the future.

When I arrived for our interview, Gillis said that 70% of her reds were already harvested.  I asked her about any current trends in the Okanagan that she is noticing, “The current trends in the Okanagan wine industry is a focus on Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes more than ever before, and people are looking for their ‘signature’ variety to work with and to be known for.”

Red Rooster winemaker Karen Gillis
Red Rooster winemaker Karen Gillis

On a more personal note, Gillis may be one of the most humble people I have ever met.  When asked about her proudest personal moment as a winemaker, she said, “I love watching other people succeed. I like the connection I have with my team. On the hardest days, it is my team that makes everything tolerable.” She never said anything about her wine awards or accolades - and she has plenty.

On winemaking, Gillis has a vision to let the grape express itself, “There are a lot of tools a winemaker can use in their toolbox.  I let the grape express itself and don’t play with it too much.”  For her, drinking wine is her vehicle to explore new countries, “This is how I travel the world – in my glass.” When asked what her favorite wine is, she said, “KRUG Champagne if I had to choose just one. One of my favorite indulgences now is a cold glass of Champagne and a piece of pumpkin pie.”

Gillis is excited about this years’ harvest, “I am looking forward to our Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre blend for our Golden Egg wine we make. This is our iconic wine here at Red Rooster and we only produce this ‘Rhone-style red’ in excellent years.”

As well as concentrating on her winemaking, Gillis is enrolled in the WSET (Wine Spirit Education Trust) Diploma Program, which takes between 2-3 years to complete.  Gillis is a busy woman with focus and determination.  One of her wine heroes is Jamie Macfarlane of Niagara-On-The Lake’s Ice House Winery, “Macfarlane has a big scale vision and I admire that.”

Red Rooster sign
Red Rooster sign

Well, I admire Gillis’s talent and history with Red Rooster Winery!  It was a pleasure to meet with her and spend time together during one of her busiest days of the year - she made time for me and I appreciate that.

Red Rooster favorites:

Golden Egg 2010

Reserve Viognier 2012

Reserve Pinot Noir 2010

Reserve Rosé 2012

Reserve Malbec 2011