Sandra Oldfield – From California to Canada’s ‘Napa North’

Chardonnay Vines at Tinhorn Creek, photo by Christine Campbell
Chardonnay Vines at Tinhorn Creek, photo by Christine Campbell

If you say the name "Sandra Oldfield" to anyone interested in or involved with the wine industry in British Columbia – nine times out of ten – they know her, have a great story to tell about her, saw her driving one of her vintage cars the other day, can recite a few of her latest tweets and genuinely think she is a wine hero.  They are not incorrect.

Sandra Oldfield is the winemaker, president and CEO at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards located in Oliver, British Columbia.  Oldfield studied business before turning her attention to wine.  She is a graduate of the celebrated UC Davis in California, “Wine was not on the table in my home…it was not something I grew up with.”

She came to British Columbia in 1993 and two years later, in 1995, had her first crush at Tinhorn Creek.  She is a true champion of the B.C. wine industry and is actively trying to create change in the wine industry in both B.C and Canada, “I would like to see more ‘road shows’ and a unified front working together for change.  We need regional, not only provincial, cooperation.  I believe in a Canadian wine culture…there is movement towards this more and more and I feel strongly that change is around the corner.”

Oldfield has taken to social media to spread the word about British Columbia wine laws and issues, and created a weekly Twitter chat discussion called #BCwinechat every Wednesday evening from 8 PM – 9 PM PST, with just under 9,500 Twitter followers.

When asked what misconceptions people have about her, she answered, “I don’t tweet for the sake of controversy.  I think some people think I am cranky and always stirring the pot.  When asked, I give my opinion.”

photo by Chris Mason Steams
photo by Chris Mason Steams

In regards to major trends in winemaking in B.C. right now, Oldfield answered, “There is a huge shift to be labeled as 'Estate Grown' and there are a lot of grape varietals being the ‘star’ of an estate.  Unfortunately, there is not a big enough labor force to tackle the demand on our growing industry.  The wine industry is a seasonal one and job retention is tough.  At Tinhorn, we have been successful with employee retention through different programs we have started.”

One of her most successful professional moments was when Tinhorn Creek Vineyard was the first small business in B.C.’s food manufacturing industry to be awarded the Occupational Safety Standard of Excellence certification, “We had great ‘buy in’ from our staff and people are happier now.  Safety in the workplace cannot be taken for granted.  It is now absolutely a part of our culture here at Tinhorn.”  Personally, Oldfield’s proudest moment was when she and her husband adopted their daughter, “We were chosen as parents – I cannot explain the feeling in words.”

In regards to the characteristics of the wine she makes, she stated, “Just don’t get greedy…I stay true to the vintage and don’t manipulate the grape.”  When not drinking B.C. wine, she likes a variety of different wines from around the world,  “I enjoy wines from Alsace, Portuguese table wine, wines from California and Ontario.  Lately, I have been enjoying butternut squash soup with a great Chardonnay.”

At the time of this interview, Oldfield was just about to start her 20th harvest at Tinhorn Creek.  She and her staff have made a conscience effort to connect more with consumers and have built a great loyalty program called “Crush Club” at the winery.

photo by Christine Campbell
photo by Christine Campbell

Oldfield has changed the face of the B.C. wine industry by continually improving and committing to excellence.

Some wines of note:

Pinot Gris 2012

Gewurztraminer 2012

Oldfield Series Merlot 2010

Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2010

Tinhorn Creek website