Meet the Maker: Desert Hills and Ursa Major Estate Wineries

Posted by Ann Brydle on
DipWSET, Certified Sommelier (CMS), Certified Sherry Professional, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Scholar

Three brothers, Randy, Jessie, and Dave Toor purchased their first property in the Southern Okanagan in 1988 with dreams of a successful farm where they could raise their families. Initially the estate was planted with apple orchards, but the Toor brothers soon found that the pull to grapes and wine was too strong, and they made the switch to grape vines planting some of the very first Syrah vines in the South Okanagan. They first focused on growing quality grapes which were sold to other wineries until opening their very own, Desert Hills Estate Winery, in 2003.

Now, the brothers own over 80 acres of sustainably farmed vines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Gamay, Malbec, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Pinot Gris. The vineyards are located on the Black Sage Bench, just outside of Oliver, on the eastern side of the Okanagan Valley. This area benefits from long, sunny afternoons, which are perfect for growing ripe, rich red grapes suited for powerful wines, and from crisp, cool nights, perfect for elegant white grapes that make for refreshing wines.


The wines are unpretentious, fun, and offer a different perspective on our favourite beverage.

Anthony Buchanan is the head winemaker at Desert Hills, working alongside Rajen Toor. Together, they have been introducing new techniques and innovative methods to improve both vineyard practices and winemaking. The wines that this team creates have complexity and elegance, but are approachable, fun, and most importantly – tasty!



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Rajen is the second generation of Toors to enter the wine business, having grown up in the vineyard and learned from his father and uncles. He is responsible for converting all of Desert Hills vineyards to organic and is a major proponent of low-intervention winemaking techniques such as wild fermentation, neutral aging vessels, and hands-off technique in the vineyard and winery.

In 2016 Rajen started Ursa Major Estate Winery as a way to explore familiar grapes in un-familiar ways. Ursa Major allows for experimentation and teases out the many expressions and nuances that are often forgotten. Rajen plays around with different techniques such as whole cluster ferment to amp up juiciness, or skin fermenting white grapes to bring in texture. The wines are unpretentious, fun, and offer a different perspective on our favourite beverage.



Desert Hills Gamay Noir

Desert Hills Gamay Noir

A rich Gamay, not unlike the Crus of Beaujolais, with notes of wild raspberry, dark cherry, anda savoury, earthy undertone. Vibrant acidity and supple tannins give this wine great structure.

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Desert Hills Flora & Fauna Ancestrale

Desert Hills Flora & Fauna Ancestrale

A rich Gamay, not unlike the Crus of Beaujolais, with notes of wild raspberry, dark cherry, and a savoury, earthy undertone. Vibrant acidity and supple tannins give this wine great structure.


 

Ursa Major Callisto Chardonnay

Ursa Major Callisto Chardonnay

A wild fermented Chardonnay aged in a mix of old and new oak that brings out soft caramel and honey notes which play well with baked apples and a floral spin. Fresh and juicy with an enticing textural side.


 

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