Nestled among the picturesque surrounds of the East Kelowna Wine Trail, House of Rose Winery is one of the BC wine industry’s hidden gems. Founded in 1993, their fun and funky labels have won multiple awards, and even attracted the admiration of Hollywood royalty (more on that later).
With this year proving a particularly challenging one for our province’s tourism industry, we caught up with owner Aura Rose to discover more about this unique winery, and how they’ve navigated the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
My dad started the winery back in 1983. He had recently retired as a teacher in Edmonton and was looking for something to do with his time. Growing up, I always remember him making wine in our basement – sometimes good, sometimes not! Getting into the wine business was a natural fit for him.
When my dad owned the vineyard, he was making approximately 500 to 600 cases a year and he was selling right off the property. This continued on for a number of years like this, and I wasn’t really involved. In fact, I was living in Europe with my partner.
When we moved back to Canada, we moved close by and I got a little more involved in the family business, initially helping with the books and other admin. Unfortunately, my dad had a massive stroke and needed to step back. Long story short, we ended up buying the property off him in 2009. Since then, we’ve put our own stamp on the place and we’re now producing about 2,000 cases a year. It’s small in the grand scheme of the BC wine industry.
To be honest, we like it that way. We like the lifestyle it creates and we don’t necessarily want to be a really big winery.
We have a lot of fun with our labels but I like to think we take our winemaking seriously. We’re probably best known for a wine we call Hot Flash, which is a Foch-based red blend. When we created this wine, we were going after a certain age group of women. After all, women tend to be the biggest purchasers of wine!
We wanted to create a fun and funky kind of label that would attract women of that age, but also their daughters, their husbands. We wanted to create a blend that was smooth, fruit forward and medium-bodied. It’s perfect for sitting around with a glass of it and doesn’t need to go alongside food. It’s become our most popular and well known thanks to a little bit of Hollywood influence…
Around the time we launched, Brooke Shields was making a movie called The Hot Flashes. Somehow, she found out about our wine. Long story short, we sent her a case of the wine and she gave a bottle to members of the cast and crew. We had Brooke Shields and Wanda Sykes talking about our wines, we were pretty pumped! She even sent back pictures and a little video of her enjoying the wine so that was fabulous and we were able to share that with our community.
We offer a self-guided tour you can take through the vineyard and down to our crush pad. It explains everything that happens during the winemaking process. We’re too small to do guided tours but in summer we host live music nights on Thursdays. This year, we offered tickets in advance as COVID restrictions meant we could only host 50 people outdoors on the property.
My last name is Rose, and it’s also the name of our winery. A really cool thing we did was plant about 200 rose plants on the property and they surround our picnic area, it’s a really pretty spot! In fall, we would typically host something we call a Grape Stomping Party. We have this great big barrel that’s just perfect for stomping. It’s so big it can host around 14 or 15 people and we use it as a fundraiser for the local food bank. It’s super popular because it’s something a lot of people have on their bucket list. Unfortunately, we couldn’t host the Grape Stomping Party this year due to COVID, but we’re excited to bring it back in future.
Spring is usually a pretty good time of year for wineries here in the Okanagan but this year was pretty devastating from a sales point of view. Around the May long weekend things started to take a turn for the better. Restrictions began to lift, June was ok, and summer was actually pretty good!
We had a lot of people travelling to the Okanagan from Vancouver and a lot of locals were also exploring their backyard this year. We didn’t have the kind of sales we would expect from a ‘normal’ year, but it went a lot better than we initially feared it would. Fortunately, the liquor board was extremely flexible. A small winery like ours could only host eight people at a time in our wine shop for tastings due to the COVID limitations but they worked with us to come up with some solutions.
They allowed us to use other parts of our property to host tastings, meaning we could host them outside and have independent groups doing tastings around the property. It was really a big help for us! A big thing for a lot of people here in the Okanagan was that wineries weren’t really doing the kind of events they normally do. We still held some live music events, limited to 50 people of course, and we sold tickets for $10 so we could pay the musicians. We sold out at the beginning of June for the entire summer! The musicians were delighted because their industry has been wiped out by COVID and for some of them it was their only gigs they had all summer.
On the other side of things, COVID has made us reevaluate our operations and how we’ll do things going forward. We reduced our hours at the start of COVID and frankly we’ll keep those hours. It’s given us more time to take care of things that aren’t necessarily customer facing and it’s highlighted that we don’t necessarily need to always be open. I also hope the trend of staycations continues into the future. We’ve never had so many people from Vancouver in our wine shop and I hope they realize how beautiful it is here in their own backyard and they continue to come back!
Small business owners are the people who live in your community and they’re the people that give back to your community. As a small winery, we help out by giving gift certificates for silent auctions for all sorts of non-profits. We do fundraisers for the food bank and have done so for the local women’s shelter in the past.
I’ve read before that local small businesses give back to their community something like 10 or 20 times more than large corporations. When you shop with them, the money leaves your community. We employ people who live locally, we support their families and it helps to keep people within our communities. It’s so important to support small businesses, especially right now.
We respectfully acknowledge our place of work is within the ancestral, traditional and unceded territories of the Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and that we serve the Peoples of the many Nations throughout British Columbia.