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Best of NAMA 2024

Stephen Cipes, the 2004 CAMA Agri-Marketer of the Year, was born in Manhattan - an awfully long way from the pristine grape-growing region of the Okanagan

Stephen Cipes, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, offers this 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."
Valley in Canada's British Columbia. But one could argue that winemaking has always been his destiny as his last name of "Cipes" is Latin for "grapes." Nevertheless, Cipes discovered early in life that he had a taste for entrepreneurship when he began buying, selling and repairing boats at 17. He soon graduated from flipping boats to flipping real estate.

In 1986, at age 44, Cipes cashed out from the daily operations of his successful business empire. As he contemplated retirement, Cipes realized that he wanted to be a farmer and produce wine. Through extensive research he discovered that the Kelowna, B.C., area was the perfect location to grow the small, intensely-flavored grapes needed as a base for the sparkling wines he so loved.

As the new owner and operator of Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Cipes was faced with a hard choice. He discovered that the former operator chose pesticide and chemical treatments to maximize yields. Cipes chose to cut down and burn all the existing trees, travel to France to buy healthy new clones for champagne wines and then rebuild the vineyards using totally organic practices. "I personally planted them on my hands and knees," Cipes recalls. The organically grown grape varieties include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Ehrenfelser and Pinot Meunier.

Finally, in 1991, Summerhill produced the 1991 Cipes Gabriel, named for one of his four sons. In 2000, a later vintage earned one of five golds in the sparkling wine category at the prestigious French wine competition, Chardonnay-du-Monde. "We won the gold medal in Champagne, France," he beams, "against French Champagne."


Cipes sees himself first and foremost as a winemaker. But it's easy to see that he is also the driving force behind Summerhill's tremendously successful brand identity. Summerhill boasts sales of more than $800,000 a month out of the onsite winery store. Cipes is a strong and visible presence around the 26-hectare vineyard. His strong belief in new age mysticism is apparent as you lay eyes on the gleaming four-story high pyramid he had built to serve as a cosmic wine-aging facility.

Cipes' success begins with his devotion to producing the highest-quality sparkling wines. But his savvy marketing sense and devotion to "doing the right thing" for the earth have also combined to the mystical elegance of Summerhill pyramid winery. It's a formula that continues to bring great success, drawing a constant stream of visitors and tour buses from around the globe.

Since producing its first wine in 1991, Summerhill has grown to become Canada's largest organic winery, employing more than 100 people each year. It is Canada's most visited winery, but its owner has not been content with conquering only Canada. He has also created a name for Summerhill wines on the world stage with the establishment of Summerhill Asia, a Web site for the Pacific Rim customers and through his commitment to supporting activities that foster global peace.

In fact, the Dali Lama has recognized Cipes as a friend of the United Nations for his leadership in the Global Vision for Peace program and his Children's Kingdom charitable organization. In addition, Summerhill's products were the exclusive wine at the United Nations Day on Oct. 25, 2004, and his wine was featured to world leaders at the recent G-8 Summit in Kananaskis. Summerhill's product also has been the featured wine at the Oscars for two years running.

Cipes is seen as a leader throughout the wine industry and the Canadian agriculture industry, both for his marketing finesse and his unique contributions to promoting organic production without compromising excellence. AM

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