Road 13 Vineyards is a family owned and operated winery located between Osoyoos and Oliver, at Highway 97 and Road 13 on the Okanagan Valley’s historic “Golden Mile.” The winery has a short but colourful past and continually receives ongoing critical acclaim for making wines that many feel are a quintessential expression of Okanagan Valley terroir.
In 2002, Pam and Mick Luckhurst set their eyes on the Okanagan Valley while looking for a more peaceful and natural lifestyle. The pair had previously worked in the lumber industry and owned a building supply business, and were involved in property development in British Columbia and Alberta. Taken with the Okanagan Valley during visits to the area, they became determined to make it their next home. They explored developments in several industries before realizing they were meant to be winery owners.
While touring with visiting friends and family through the area’s many wineries, the Luckhursts were amazed by how good BC wines had become. The serenity and romance of the vineyards spoke to Mick, and Pam was taken with the winemaking business. At one point along the way, he and Pam exchanged knowing glances. Together they had fallen for the idea and began to research what was involved. They were on their way down a path that paired their entrepreneurial drive and work ethic with a love of land, people and a new passion to strive for the perfect wines – in short, Road 13 wines.
Pam and Mick Luckhurst purchased the winery and 23 acres/9.3 ha of vines in December 2003 from the Serwo family. The original owners opened the winery in 1998 under the name of Golden Mile Cellars. Celebrating their Bavarian roots, Peter and Helga Serwo’s winery resembled a small castle, complete with a beautiful carved wooden entry, and a drawbridge. Family matters led to the winery being available for sale just as Mick and Pam happened along. Impressed with the property, its potential and the Serwo’s sincerity and enthusiasm, the purchase of the winery was made official. Next, they purchased a second parcel, called The Home Vineyard, planted by Joe Petronio. Today, some of Joe’s original 40-year-old Chenin Blanc vines remain and produce extraordinary fruit. Mick’s first impression was that if the grapes didn’t work out than he could always use the huge trunks to saw lumber out of!
As Pam and Mick settled into their individual winery roles they became acutely aware that they had bitten off a mouthful, and their vision for a laid-back lifestyle was not going to materialize. However, anyone who knows Pam and Mick understands that the duo wouldn’t be content to be anything less than intently purposeful. Retirement and days filled with golf, shopping or lunching does not fit their work ethic.
“I’m not the type of guy who likes to sit around,” says Mick. ”It just isn’t me.” Mick was sure that he wanted to live and work in his vineyards; he wanted to be a farmer. “I came to the wine business with the same skills that I had been successful with all my life,”
says Mick, “a strong work ethic and determination.”
Mick was also an avid gardener with a basic knowledge of what to do. His wine knowledge was admittedly, “zero.” Pam brought her bookkeeping experience, a very strong customer service ethic and significant business knowledge she had acquired through the couple’s previous endeavours. Regarding her previous wine knowledge, “It was basic; we drank what we thought we liked and never veered from it.” Pam was ready to learn, excited to talk about wine and jumped into her role heading
up activities in the wine shop, overseeing customer service, sales and administration.
Mick focused his efforts on the huge challenge of learning about viticulture. With three varying types of soil, just learning about his vineyard was a huge challenge for Mick. “Dirt, plants, so much to know!” Stepping onto the vineyard’s steep learning curve, Mick immediately and wisely began gathering the best advice possible. For this, he turned to Richard Cleave, a veteran viticulturist instrumental in the rebirth of the BC wine industry in the late 1980s. Cleave and his partner Robert Goltz farm more than 900 acres in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys and are two of the most knowledgeable viticulturists in the region.
Through Cleave, Mick came to understand the unique aspects of his vineyard sites. The Castle Vineyard (10.4 acres/4.21 ha) and the Home Vineyard (12.7 acres/5.14 ha) are both west-valley sites with very different soils, save for a commonality of hard dirt and rock – the stuff vines love. In 2006, the Luckhursts purchased and planted an additional 11.5 acres/4.65 ha site on the Black Sage Bench, the Road 9 Vineyard. Since purchasing the winery Mick has developed a deep appreciation for the history and importance of the Golden Mile region – an area that was first farmed in the 1920s by veterans returning from the First World War. This appreciation led to the decision to purchase two more parcels of land on the west side of the valley. In 2010 Peter's Vineyard on Road 13 was added and then, in the spring of 2012, the aptly named Road 7 Vineyard.
New land to farm allowed Mick’s fondness for a collection of tractors and farm equipment to flourish. Most days he can be found in the vineyards, or, as Pam likes to put it, “out of harm’s way and away from the public.” Quick to admit he’s not the most patient individual, Mick appears to have infinite tolerance with his vines. “I view the vineyards as giant gardening projects,” he explains. “My vineyard team and I dedicate the time and manpower to do the work that creates the best possible grapes. We do a lot of hand work, plant to plant.” These practices are not mysterious or revolutionary, rather they are basic tasks employed by premium growers worldwide.
Meticulous and labour-intensive, the steps include shoot and leaf thinning as well as cluster thinning. Shoot and leaf thinning removes undesirable shoots and leaves which helps to maintain a uniform, light-penetrated canopy. Cluster thinning involves reducing the amount of fruit on the vine before it starts its final ripening process. The goal is to eliminate less ripe clusters and limit production on the vine as over-cropped vines tend to produce less than stellar quality wine grapes.
While Mick continues to get his head wrapped around viticulture, Pam oversees the wine shop and business administration. Her background in banking and managing aspects of the couple’s previous businesses comes in handy. As the public face of Road 13, Pam continues to immerse herself in wine culture and devours information on grape varieties, winemaking, her neighbouring wineries and the language of wine. This role comes naturally to Pam, thanks to her outgoing personality and natural ability to taste wine.
“It was initially intimidating to talk with highly knowledgeable customers,” recalls Pam. “But I have generally found that people who love wine are not critical and are keen to share information. I am much more comfortable now and I am continually learning.”
However, one necessary skill that neither Luckhurst possessed was winemaking. After purchasing the winery they hired Lawrence Herder, a California-trained winemaker who had relocated to the Okanagan Valley to work at Jackson-Triggs. Herder stayed at Golden Mile for the 2003 and 2004 vintages before leaving to start his own winery. The Luckhursts then discovered Okanagan-born and raised winemaker Michael Bartier, and the three hit it off immediately. Michael joined the Road 13 team in 2004 and his first wines were released from the 2005 harvest. In December, 2009 , Michael left Road 13 to start his own winery. After an extensive search, Pam and Mick chose to bring J-M Bouchard, a noted, global talent on board in 2011. As luck would have it, J-M 's first vintage is looking like "the Benchmark Okanagan" year. Notes Pam, "Expect some outstanding wines from the 2011 vintage".
Mick and Pam have made a significant investment in winemaking equipment since acquiring the winery and continue to do so. J-M is armed with the technical tools he needs to make ultra-premium artisan wines. He aims to create wines that express the special character of the South Okanagan Valley.
Pam and Mick release Road 13 wines under three distinct labels: Honest John’s – a red blend, a rose, and a white blend, Road 13 white and red varietals, and Jackpot – premium white and red small-lot varietals and blends. With the Luckhursts approaching vintage number 8, the winery has been recognized by those in the know, and the wines are finding their way onto some of the most popular wine lists around.
With the team’s ever-increasing experience combined with their passion, the future looks bright. A favourite saying amongst the team is a tongue-in-cheek “We work harder, not smarter,” implying that it often takes some trial and error to get to where they want to be. Part of this trial involves continually refining the way the vineyards are farmed, J-M’s selective use of oak and small lots of wine, and the way the winery is promoted and marketed.
“This is a process – it took us a while to learn who we are and what we want Road 13 wines to stand for,” says Pam. “The past few years we have spent a lot of time getting involved in the community, and gauging feedback from our own team, our sales agents, our neighbours and our customers. We have learned,” she continues. “Road 13 Vineyards is set on defining the style of Okanagan Valley wines. Our Road 13 Cellar Club is growing; and with our new winery name and branding, it is an exciting time to be involved in the industry.”
Mick and Pam are very happy with the decision they made to come to the Okanagan and run a winery. Mick finds the work satisfying and is also happy to see Pam doing something that she thrives on and is an equal partner in. A large leap from their previous businesses, they have found themselves in the right place. The regular exposure to positive people and the large social aspect to the job are pleasant surprises and both Mick and Pam see this as a much better fit for their lifestyle.