When Judi Skinner decided to change careers little did she realize that within a few years she would be overseeing one of the most exciting endeavours in the local wine industry.
In 2000, Skinner left her position as the supervising park ranger for Herald Provincial Park in Salmon Arm. Today, she is operations manager for Dirty Laundry Vineyards at 7311 Fiske Street in Summerland.
“I went from dumping beer on the beach to serving wine,” Judi said, referring to her switch from breaking up rowdy parties at the park to serving refined wine aficionados.
Skinner, who earned an undergraduate degree in psychology before becoming a park ranger, completed the viticulture certification course at Okanagan College in 2002.
Before assuming her current duties at Dirty Laundry, she managed a winery in Salmon Arm, Noble Ridge Winery in Okanagan Falls and was an agent for Dirty Laundry for two years during a transition of owners.
The vineyard which was established by Edgar and Elisabeth Scherzinger in the 1970s was acquired by Ron and Cher Watkins in 2001. The Watkins subsequently changed the vineyard’s name to Dirty Laundry and sold it to a group of Alberta investors in fall 2006. Skinner was soon appointed operations manager by the Alberta group.
“The growth of the Okanagan wine industry is very impressive. We’re pleased to have the opportunity to become involved,” said the group’s president, Bob Campbell, who has had close ties to Summerland for many years.
“I basically oversee everything—marketing and sales, wine shop and vineyards,” Skinner said, summarizing her duties.
She was a major driving force behind the recently organized Bottleneck Drive, an association of 11 Summerland wineries.
“I get a great deal of satisfaction from helping to promote and market some of the best wines in the Valley,” said Skinner.
Dirty Laundry’s wine shop with its shaded patio area attracts visitors from around the world.
“People frequently tell us it’s the prettiest wine shop they’ve been to,” Skinner said.
Children are welcome and often help decide which of the several types of appealing picnic baskets their family will enjoy. Much of Skinner’s time is devoted to growing the grapes that will eventually be made into 11 types of wine, including the 2007 Merlot and 2007 Cabernet Merlot to be released this fall.
“We want to build up our portfolio of reds,” she said.
The signature wines which started with the Scherzingers’ original plantings are made from the spicy Gewurztraminer grape. The names of current Gewurztraminer wines—Madams’ Vines, Woo Woo Vines and Threadbare Vine—are in keeping with why the winery is called Dirty Laundry. According to local legend, a Chinese laundry which fronted for a brothel existed in Summerland in the 19th century.
To avoid the situation that occurred in 2006 when the winery sold out in five weeks, Skinner has been focusing on increasing production.
“We went from 2000 to 6000 cases in 2007. Our short term goal is 18,000 cases from grapes grown on our vineyards and from contract growers,” Skinner said.
New acreage is being put under vine, including the Campbell Family Vineyard on Switchback Road and Tight Cork, Giant’s Gate and Wing and A Prayer vineyards on Giant’s Head Road.
“We’re also using double fruiting wire high density plantings that essentially double grape production per acre,” she explained.
Skinner’s son Tanner, 22, is the vineyard manager at Dirty Laundry. Brooke, 19, a university science student, and Sierra, 16, both work at the winery in the summer.