Winner of the prestigious Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the man at "Canada's most visited winery" seems more a spiritual visionary than Wall Street hard-nose.
When Stephen Cipes first visited the Okanagan in 1986, the New York developer believed he'd found unique conditions to produce "intensely flavoured small grapes"--the perfect base for sparkling wine. Cipes brought grape clones from France and "personally planted them on my hands and knees."
Summerhill follows organic growing practices. No herbicides or pesticides "keeps the lake clean and our grapes don't taste from the chemicals," says Cipes. "These grapes are happy guys, they're flourishing. Our wines are allowing nature to speak for herself." Summerhill wines are regularly honoured in international competitions. "We've won gold medals in France and the trophy for Best Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine in London, England!" he beams.
Philosophy of Business: "We love to be hosts. We want people to feel genuinely welcome in our home," he says. "I try to empower my employees to exude that love. That's ideal for what we do here. We're welcoming people from around the world." Cipes promotes from within and believes in being up-front. "I'm there for people," he says. "I take phone calls. I put my money where my mouth is. I own the business in my own name and I put my name on the product."
Philosophy of Life: "Be whole unto yourself at all times," the winemaker advises. "Allow your grand self to come through in your regular self."
Accomplishments: "My four sons are accomplished, fun-loving, warm-hearted people. That's the best thing a dad could have."
Advice for Entrepreneurs: "You can't focus on the monetary or material result. Be a conduit and allow your vision, your dream to come through -- and fortify it every day." How? "By taking every possible step to achieve your goal -- like making sure there is toilet paper in the washrooms, the music is playing, the bottles are dusted and the chef has had his hug."
Stephen Cipes - proprietor
Gabe Cipes makes and sources the nine biodynamic preparations applied to Summerhill Vineyard and has successfully led the transition to Demeter Certified biodynamic status. He is also diversifying the farm with food forests and edible landscaping, conducting experiments based on Permaculture principles to increase biodiversity within the vineyard system and grow complimentary crops between the vineyard rows. Gabe has completed courses in Permaculture Design Certificate at Selkirk College and Natural Earth Building at the Cob Cottage Company with Ianto Evans, and has completed the vineyard management courses and viticulture certificate at Okanagan College Penticton.
Gabe is inspired by the ideas and knowledge associated with creating self-sustaining food producing ecosystems and sees himself planning and planting food forests and working with ecological communities for as long as he is able.
Aside from his work on the farm, Gabe is a consultant, visual artist, public speaker, musician and festival producer.
Gabe Cipes - biodynamicist/permaculturist
Li Zhou was born in Nanning, nicknamed the Green City in southern China by the ocean. A childhood surrounded by nature was a profound influence.
After coming to Canada in 2003 for university study, Li instantly fell in love with the Okanagan. She started working at Summerhill in summer 2006 as part of the co-op requirement for completing her Hospitality Management Diploma. In 2011 she was promoted to VP of Export and helped export Summerhill wine around the world, especially to China. In 2020, after 14 years with Summerhill, Li was promoted to be a general VP, with a range of responsibilities helping to guide and manage the winery. Her goal is to bring Summerhill's extraordinary organic wine to everyone’s lips to experience the purity of organic growing.
Li loves to spend time with her husband, who is engaged in the Okanagan wine industry as a wine tour operator and an organic wine grower, and their three beautiful children aged 4, 8 and 11, who are already talking about working for Summerhill when they grow up. Summerhill feels like a second family to Li and her family.
Li Zhou - Vice President
Ezra Cipes is proud to carry on the family legacy at Summerhill Pyramid Winery. Since the Cipes family moved from New York to Summerhill Vineyard in Kelowna, British Columbia when Cipes was five, he has grown up in the wine industry, and feels blessed to now lead a company dedicated to creating beauty in collaboration with nature.
Cipes has a multitude of passions and talents. After working in the wine production cellar while attending public school in Kelowna, Ezra embarked on a career in music. He worked as a touring and session musician and became a published songwriter. But despite his love for music, Cipes felt called back to the vineyard. Home on the family farm, Cipes initiated a half acre permaculture garden, selling vegetables and herbs to Summerhill's onsite Sunset Organic Bistro. After reconnecting with the winery and the land, Cipes knew he needed to assume a greater role at the winery. He became Chief Operations Officer in 2008 and CEO in 2012.
Recently Cipes has taken a leadership role in the Canadian wine industry as a director of the Canadian Vintners Association, Vice-Chair of the British Columbia Wine Institute, and Chair of the BC Wine Appellation Task Group that tabled its recommendations in November, 2015.
Ezra Cipes - CEO
Born and raised in Calgary, AB, Michael Alexander grew up in a wine loving family. While studying European history Alexander took a wine course, instantly falling in love with the intriguing and delicious world of wine.
A summer working in Summerhill’s Kelowna wine shop was a turning point. After completing his B.A, Alexander returned to Summerhill, but this time in the wine cellar, to learn more about the production of wine under Winemaker Eric von Krosigk. It was then that Michael found his life’s calling.
Alexander’s next step was to attend Niagara College’s Wine and Viticulture program. Upon completion, Alexander returned to Summerhill, quickly moving up the ranks and eventually landing as Winemaker, a titled and responsibility bestowed upon him by von Krosigk.
Having spent a third of his life as a member of the Summerhill family, Alexander has a passion for the wines, the people, and the place. Michael calls both Kelowna and Summerhill home.
Michael Alexander - Winemaker
Executive Winery Chef
Jeremy Luypen is an award-winning chef with brilliant creative skills and extensive food & beverage experience. He is known as one of the top chefs in the Okanagan.
Jeremy is the current president of the Okanagan Chefs Association and is an instructor in the Okanagan College's Culinary Arts Program, developing cooks & apprentices. Jeremy has received many awards for his dedication and passion for the culinary industry in the Okanagan including:
Awarded the Okanagan Chefs Association “Presidents Award” in 2013, “Member of the Year” in 2014 and “Chef of the Year” in 2016
Named one of BDO's “Top 40 under 40” in 2015
Chef Luypen comes to Summerhill from Predator Ridge where he spent the last 4 years changing their food philosophy - working closely with local farmers and growers. His culinary journey has included Executive Chef positions at the Hotel Eldorado in Kelowna and Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos, as well as Owner/Executive Chef of Terrafina at Hester Creek in Oliver. Jeremy was instrumental in having Terrafina named one of the Top 5 Winery Restaurants by BC Living Magazine and one of the Top 20 Winery Restaurants in the World by Wine Access Magazine.
Jeremy Luypen - Executive Winery Chef