As many of you know, Stag’s Hollow Winery was established in 1995 by founders Linda Pruegger and Larry Gerelus. In their 25+ years building the winery business, they have contributed significantly to the success and growth of the British Columbia wine industry. Since the sale of the winery in April of 2019, Linda and Larry stayed on to help guide the team through the transition and have worked closely with new owner Eric Liu.
“In the early days, one of our biggest challenges was convincing people they should buy British Columbia wines”, says Linda Pruegger. At the time, the Okanagan Valley had approximately 28 wineries whereas today that number is closer to 200. “And the highlight was the recognition by open-minded consumers that some very good wines were being produced”, says Larry Gerelus. From winning international wine awards to planting Spanish and Italian grape varieties, Linda and Larry have pushed boundaries and opened doors for many to follow.
Neighbour Leslie D’Andrea of Noble Ridge credits the two with helping her and husband Jim establish their vineyard, “We met Larry and Linda in the late 1990s when they had just started and were immediately impressed with their wine. When we bought our land in 2001, Larry and Linda kindly agreed to manage the property. We couldn’t have got started without them and will be forever indebted to them for that kindness.”
In a recent Q&A with Linda and Larry, prior to their retirement last month, they provided a bit of insight into the past and their future.
Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing from the time you first acquired the vineyard until now?
Linda: “We took a vineyard with varietals we needed to change and grew it into a beautiful and successful winery and vineyard.”
Larry: “I’ve always wanted to make the best Merlot in the Okanagan. Over the 25 years I believe we have accomplished that. I feel that the terroir at Stag’s is very special and in particular makes great and consistent Merlot. The second was sticking with Vidal. In the 3 years preceding starting the winery, when we would be closing up the trailer in November we would pick the Vidal remaining after harvest. I’d take it back to Calgary and make wine. What I discovered [by waiting until after the frost] was this intensity and fascinating flavour profile. So the first official harvest of Vidal in 1995 was picked very late and by 2000 we had a formula for picking and fermenting it that pretty much remains to date.”
Q: What was your most memorable moment over the years?
Linda: “One of our most memorable moments was being invited to Barolo Italy to pour our ‘Italian wines’. They were extremely well received by the international audience and people were so grateful and surprised to try such beautiful wines from Canada. Most did not know we even grew grapes and produced wine.”
Larry: “The most memorable great moment was receiving a Gold Medal at the 2001 Okanagan Wine Festival for our 1999 Merlot. 1999 was a very cool vintage, but it resulted in intense and vibrant wines on our site. What made it somewhat unusual was Sinclair Phillip’s (Sooke Harbour House owner, and then-wine festival judge) visit to the wineshop only minutes before we were to close and rush off to the festival to get set up that Saturday evening. Before leaving the wineshop he ordered 25 cases of the 1999 Merlot. When we arrived and were setting up Harry McWatters was taking John Ralston Saul around to various tables. One of them was ours, where he introduced us and asked if they could taste the 1999 Merlot. We still were not aware that it had won a Gold Medal. We definitely started to add things up, and when the Medals were announced we then found out what this was all about. A great moment for Linda and me.”
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges/highlights of the early days in the industry?
Linda: “In the early days our biggest challenge was convincing the hospitality industry that BC was making good wines and that they should buy BC. It was equally challenging to get visitors to stop at Stag’s Hollow and try wines from a new winery.”
Larry: “The highlight was the recognition by open-minded consumers that some very good wines were being produced. In retrospect the number of “wine” people that would say that in the Okanagan we could not make decent reds, and that they could never be age-worthy: they were so wrong!”
Q: Of all the wines you made over the years, what wine/vintage has been your favourite, and why?
Linda: “With so many wines this is a very difficult question! A couple come to mind right off the top. First, the 2011/2012 Hawk’s Hollow. Made from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot these are both smooth, rich, complex wines. The other is our 2015 Teroldego, which I believe was our first vintage. I savour every bottle we open and will be very sorry when we have no more.”
Larry: “Aside from the 1999 Merlot mentioned above, I have to bring both Tempranillo and Albariño into the picture. Both wines I loved from Spain and had to find out if they could grow here. I’m not sure I would have planted Tempranillo knowing what I know now, but I’m glad I did. Like Cabernet Sauvignon in this valley, they are not like Tempranillo from other parts of the world, but definitely still Tempranillo and some delicious wines that age so well.”
Q: What are you most looking forward to in retirement?
Linda: “I look forward to slowing down and having weekends in summer, enjoying a long leisurely coffee in the morning on my deck, and spending more time becoming fit again.”
Larry: “Enjoying our old vintages without analyzing and critiquing them – just enjoying.”
Eric Liu purchased Stag’s Hollow Winery on April 17, 2019. Eric owns Bench 1775 in Naramata as well as vineyards in Summerland and the Similkameen valley and has worked with Linda and Larry to assemble a strong leadership team in each area of the winery including the appointment of Sales and Marketing Manager Erin Korpisto to the role of General Manager.
In her role as General Manager, Erin is responsible for the operations of Stag’s Hollow Winery. “I’m thrilled to work with the team in this role,” says Erin, who first joined the winery in February 2019. “I’m honoured to have the trust and confidence of Eric and to build on what Linda and Larry started.”
Erin and the team will build on the legacy created by Linda and Larry. With winemaker Keira LeFranc and vineyard manager Vilem Blazek, the focus at Stag’s Hollow continues to be on low-intervention farming and crafting small lot wines of distinction. “We’re fortunate,” says Erin. “It’s a privilege to work with such talented people.”
The team at Stag’s Hollow wishes Linda and Larry all the best in their retirement, and looks forward to welcoming guests old and new over this next season and beyond. If you would like to follow Linda & Larry on Instagram, their handle is @stagshollowfounder. Especially knowing that many of you have formed friendships with Linda and Larry over the years, if you would like to get in touch by email, they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information and image courtesy of the winery.