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
Director of Biodynamics & Permaculture
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 - Director of Biodynamics & Permaculture
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
Born and raised in Calgary, AB, Michael Alexander grew up in a wine loving family. It was while in university studying European history that Michael was bitten by the wine bug.
A summer working in Summerhill’s Kelowna wine shop was a turning point. After completing his B.A and traveling the world, Michael returned to Summerhill, but this time to fulfill his dream of working in the wine cellar. That’s when he found his life’s calling and decided to hone his craft at Niagara College.
Upon completion of the Wine and Viticulture program, Michael returned to Summerhill and has run the day-to-day operation of the cellar since 2016, He took up the mantle of Winemaker in 2018. Since then, Michael has continued to pursue his passion for organic and biodynamic winemaking.
More than ten years into his Summerhill career and Michael Alexander’s love for the wines, the people, and the place has never been stronger. Michael now calls both Kelowna and Summerhill home.
Michael Alexander - Winemaker