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Crowsnest Vineyard’s winemaker remembers being one of the youngest female winemakers in Canada

Ann Heinecke credits Similkameen winegrowing environment for some of her success
Cawston winemaker Ann Heinecke remembers being one of the youngest winemakers in Canada when she launched her career in the late 1990s. (File photo)

Winemaker Ann Heinecke owner of Crowsnest Vineyard in Cawston remembers being one of the youngest in Canada when she was learning the craft in the 1990s.

The award-winning winemaker, who owns and operates the vineyard with her brother, Sascha Heinecke, was not even 18 when she started studying viticulture and wine in 1996 in Germany.

At the time, there were no schools for her to attend in Canada at her age, she said.

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“Here, you are not allowed to do any kind of wine-making school until you are of age,” she said. “I had to get written permission for taste testing because I wasn’t allowed to do any tasting. Over there in Germany, it is normal. At 16 years old, you are drinking.”

Once she graduated, Heinecke moved back to Canada and went to work straight away on her parent’s vineyard, which they bought in 1998.

Wine making in Canada is hard work and it didn’t come naturally to her at first, Heinecke remembered.

“In Germany, it’s all co-op. So big stuff. Big tanks, big machines and then here you have to dial down to little machines and little pumps,” she said. “Over there, everything is automated almost.

“The co-ops bring all the grapes from all around the area. Here you have to worry about your little tiny vineyard. It’s a little bit different.”

Wine making, like any other profession, was still male-dominated at the time.

“It sped up pretty quick, though. There are a lot more females around here, especially now,” said Heinecke, adding she could list the names of at least 10 female winemakers off the top of her head.

It helped that her family owned the business and she had a supportive work environment to launch her career.

“I just got thrown in and I did have help in the first couple years, from consultants in terms of getting the hang of it, and we did buy extra pumps and extra machines just so it went a little bit smoother,” she said.

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With dozens of wine-making awards for Crowsnest’s white, red, vintage and dessert wines, Heinecke, 41, said the key to success is to work hard, and constantly refine your craft.

“Like every other job, you just kind of add to it and you want to get better and be better. You are always learning. You are never done as a winemaker. There are always new things like making the fermentation better, the oak barrels better. There is always something you are learning. You don’t shut yourself out and say, ‘That’s just my way.’

Going forward, Heinecke said she will continue making wine and winning awards for her creations. She credits the ideal winegrowing environment in the Similkameen for some of the business’ success.

“It is the spot to be in first of all. We are making better grapes up here than other Okanagan ones. I think this area that we picked is perfect,” she said. “Even the wine community here is nice — everyone being together — we help each other out.”

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