From Corporate to Artisan Winemaker

Ben Bryant of 1 Mill Road.

Ben Bryant, winemaker and co-owner of Naramata Bench’s 1 Mill Road winery, has seen it all. In the world of winemaking, the scale of production ranges from corporate giants to what are called garagistes, small-scale producers who make a few hundred cases of wine a year, some of them literally in a garage, others renting space in another winery or other facility.

Bryant, an Australian, was chief winemaker for Australia at Pernod Ricard, a multinational corporation that manages a vast range of wines and other alcoholic beverages, before moving to Canada to become vice-president of winemaking at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery in the Okanagan Valley. But he has now forsaken the corporate life to become a garagiste, making his 1 Mill Road wines in a wine storage facility on Naramata Bench from grapes he purchases from Okanagan Valley vineyards.





Does Bryant regret leaving the corporate wine world? “Not in the pure sense of being very focused on what we are aiming to achieve,” he says. “And in the fact that we are hands-on in every step of the growing, making, marketing, and selling process, where we answer to ourselves.”

The “we” here refers to Bryant and his partner, Katie Truscott, who is from Okanagan Valley and who discovered a passion for wine while living for 10 years in South Africa. She now manages the daily operations of 1 Mill Road and consults more widely in the world of wine.

Currently, the wines at 1 Mill Road are chardonnay and pinot noir, with a pinot noir rosé. Bryant likes these varieties—the classic grapes of Bourgogne—because their “style and expressiveness truly show the intricacies of seasons, growing manner, and winemaking touch.” And he’s committed to being a part of the Okanagan Valley’s drive for quality wines. “Generally any region in the world where top-quality chardonnay and pinot noir are grown is special.”





Ben Bryant aims to make “light-plus to medium-bodied wines that are balanced, focused, and purposeful, and wines that express where they are grown.” He also wants them “capable of being enjoyed young or cellared, and they must complement food.” The 1 Mill Road wines are made in small volumes of between 150 and 350 cases of each wine. And they are low in alcohol for modern wines: all come in between 12 and 13 per cent.

The latest releases are impressive across the board. The winery’s 1 Mill Road Chardonnay 2022 is what Bryant calls an “un-Okanagan” style, with layered apple and floral notes, bright acidity, and some weight to the texture. The 1 Mill Road Rosé 2023 is wholly pinot noir, bone-dry, with generous flavours that are savoury and distinctly pinot noir in character.





There are two pinot noir reds in this release. One, 1 Mill Road Black Pine Pinot Noir 2022, from a vineyard in the north of Naramata Bench, is a fine wine that features red fruits, fresh acidity, and sleek tannins. It performs, Bryant says, “a dance of fruits and tannins.” The other, 1 Mill Road Home Block Pinot Noir 2022, is a more restrained effort with complex, layered flavours, perfectly calibrated acid, and fine tannins. Both are age-worthy.

Bryant is very happy with the vineyards he sources his grapes from and his wines, but like every good winemaker, he’s constantly seeing to improve. “How do I keep unlocking these absolutely unique sites that express chardonnay and pinot noir in a unique manner?” He thinks of bottling different clones of pint noir from the same vineyard to show their distinct clonal character and qualities. Home Block Pinot Noir is a single-clone, but Black Pine Pinot Noir is a blend of clones. There might also be more grape varieties in the future of 1 Mill Road—grenache and syrah come to Bryant’s mind.

The production of 1 Mill Road might well diversity and grow, but it’s clear that Ben Bryant has shrugged off the big-production model. Quite justifiably, he shows immense pride in his wines and his ability, with Katie Truscott, to guide them “from farm to bottle.” The garagiste spirit has escaped the corporate bottle, and it is alive and well at 1 Mill Road.





1 Mill Road Wines

1 Mill Road Black Pine Pinot Noir 2022 (Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley)

1 Mill Road Chardonnay 2022 (East Kelowna Slopes, Okanagan Valley)

1 Mill Road Home Block Pinot Noir 2022 (Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley)

1 Mill Road Pinot Noir Rosé 2023 (East Kelowna Slopes, Okanagan Valley)