What’s new in the Okanagan? An interview with Laughing Stock Vineyards winemaker, David Enns

david enns

I recently had the privilege of interviewing David Enns, a preeminent winemaker and owner of Laughing Stock Vineyards, arguably the best winery in British Columbia. Ten years ago David and his wife, Cynthia, set out to leave their careers in the financial investment field and break ground on their Naramata bench winery. Years of hard work, and the driving mission of doing more and learning more every year, has resulted in outstanding award winning wines. A decade after the founding of the winery, I wanted to find out what’s new and what David has in mind for the next ten years.

One of the newest developments in the past few years has been the emergence of egg fermenters. Winemaker Michael Bartier, who is breaking out from Okanagan Crush Pad to start his own winery this year, first mentioned these fermenters to David who was the one of first to install them in his winery. Egg fermenters are constructed from concrete and breathe like barrels but don’t impart any oak flavours to wine. They are also easier to stir around the lees of the wine which adds complexity and weight to the finished product. David uses stainless steel vats and French oak barrels along with these fermenters to create a complex “layer cake “effect. This cake is built on three layers. The initial layer is the stainless vats that preserve the fresh fruit components. The second layer is a result of the egg fermenters that add roundness and minerality. The final layer flavors are due to the oak barrels which add spice, tannins, and toasty qualities to the resulting wine.

Recently the big question around the Okanagan Valley is what varietal will be the signature wine of the future? I agree with David when he states that each part of the valley has unique microclimates which favour a specific varietal. Whether it’s on the east or west benches, each region has its strong suit. Syrah seems to be the superstar grape of wine critics and judges for now but other wines can be just as good such as Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling according to David. Time will tell which wine will emerge as a signature, but equally important is how wines will be made in the future.

Natural winemaking is thousands of years old and has re-emerged as a result of consumers demanding less intervention in the winemaking process. As a result David began using the Amphora program – a technique that is over 1,000 years old – at Laughing Stock. This is an ancient technique whereby white grape skins and juice are topped up in a clay amphora and sealed. There is no stirring; no chemical additions and only wild yeasts are used. The finished wine is pressed out, filtered and only a small amount of sulphur is used at bottling to ensure drinkability. This is what David calls “natural wine making” and I think more BC wineries will look to this wine style in the future as demand grows.

I asked David what was in store for Laughing Stock in the next ten years. Increasing production is not in the cards as David is driven to make better quality wines every season. David chuckled as he said his goal in the next ten years is “to enjoy the lifestyle everybody thinks I had in the last ten years”. If that means slowing down a bit and enjoying the fruits of his labours and making better wines, the future success of Laughing Stock Vineyards is in good hands.