JoieFarm Winery’s Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn bring a modern approach to living and working on the Okanagan’s Naramata Bench.
There’s an established pattern to home ownership. It starts as a renter, moves on to a condo phase, morphs into a starter home, a family home and then, if you’re lucky, ends with a dream home. Likewise, owning a winery has stages, but they mostly involve making vast sums of money in some unrelated field, then buying the winery as a passion project and following the old adage, How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Start with a large one. But, sitting on the polished-concrete patio of Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn’s new Naramata home, surrounded by the vines that help create their acclaimed JoieFarm wine, it’s clear they didn’t get the memos on how you’re “supposed” to build a house, or a winery. The story of the house and the wine began in the late 1990s, when Dinn and Noble were working in Vancouver’s hospitality industry. Dinn’s passion for wine had propelled him from a server gig at the Langley Keg to a series of plum sommelier jobs at Vancouver’s very best rooms. Noble had classically trained at Stratford’s Chef School and worked at Montreal’s Toque before heading west, where she worked in kitchens until deciding to write her sommelier papers. But by the early 2000s, Dinn and Noble were at a crossroads. They had decided against opening a restaurant—they’d witnessed too much stress and dysfunction during their tenures in the industry—and they were both working in the wine importing business (and, by all accounts, knocking it out of the park). It was time to enter the second phase of home ownership—considering a condo or a small house near Vancouver’s Main Street—when they began to think further afield. “I had been travelling to Italy for business,” remembers Noble, “and one of the things that struck me was how ensconced agri-tourism was there.” They were well acquainted with the Naramata region (in fact, they were engaged there at a friend’s place in 2000) and they called up a realtor to show them properties in wine country. “I remember there were only two properties in our price range,” says Dinn. One of them was the oldest farmhouse in Naramata, and while the building was far from perfect—“This wasn’t one of those quaint, charming farmhouses,” says Noble—the new location would work for their plans for a B&B/cooking school/winery. They bought it on the spot.
In those early days, there was no separation of work and life—the farmhouse had to do quadruple duty as a home, guest house, office and cooking school.
And thanks to the public’s appetite for their Old World blend of wine, cooking classes and accommodation, the place was straining at the seams in no time. Their renovation budget covered enough red paint for the exterior of the farmhouse—a desperate attempt to give the property some character. But with each vintage the wine grew in acclaim. Dinn and Noble had an inkling of what the market wanted, and it wasn’t the big red wines that were in vogue at the time. Their classical training taught them that the climate in Naramata was best suited to varietals like riesling and pinot blanc, and they just happened to love the food-friendliness of these Alsatian-inspired grapes. Their first vintage, made in rented space in a friend’s winery, sold out, as did their second and third, as consumers and (especially) the trade clamoured for wine that spoke to a sense of place. Their “A Noble Blend” became one of the cornerstones for the expanding influence of B.C. wines, and their rosé, well, it started nothing short of a revolution in the industry. “People thought we were crazy when we made 1,200 cases of rosé in just our second year,” says Noble, “but having worked in the industry for so long, we knew there was a definite gap in the market for a B.C. wine made in the dry Loire style. We sold every bottle.” By 2007 the Joie brand was by any account a great success, necessitating a dedicated winery building, and this new production facility trumped their desire for a new house. They stuck it out in the farmhouse until 2011, but the breaking point was reached with the arrival of Theo, the couple’s son, who had to share the farmhouse with five employees and the winery’s office as well. They called up architect Lucia Sakhrani. Dinn and Noble had been great friends with Sakhrani and her husband, Chris, ever since Chris and Michael had worked at the long-defunct Raintree Restaurant in Gastown in the 1990s, and there was never a doubt that Sakhrani would be the person to build their home. “Lucia had been working in New York and San Francisco,” recalls Noble, “but we had never stopped talking about the house she would one day build for us.”
Dinn and Noble had found a property at the start of the Naramata Bench that was perfect.
It was 12 acres, had a house that was ready to be torn down, as well as a view of Munson Mountain in one direction and of Okanagan Lake in the other. Given their long friendship with Lucia, there was a ready shorthand as to what features would be part of the house. They wanted a bungalow; they wanted a house for entertaining, and maximizing the indoor/outdoor living was key: “We’re literally living outdoors five months of the year,” says Dinn. The first step for Sakhrani was to spend some serious time on-site. “The sun is a force to be reckoned with in Naramata like few other places in Canada,” she recalls, “and I wanted to make sure we situated the house to take advantage of the views without being subject to the oppressive late-day heat.” All the more important, because, save for two of the bedrooms, Dinn and Noble were clear they didn’t want any air conditioning, instead opting for overhead fans and passive cooling. Sakhrani went so far as to create 3-D modelling with sun path diagrams to find the perfect set-up, an orientation that welcomed the early morning sun but, with the help of some four-foot six-inch overhangs, allows shady respite in the late day, preferably with a glass of wine in hand. From the start, there was no doubt that the kitchen would be the home’s focal point. “Anybody who knows these two knows that their dominant trait is how welcoming they are,” says Sakhrani. “The second you walk into their home, you’re enveloped in their world. The large working kitchen, all beautiful utility, would anchor one end of the great room, while a massive stone fireplace would anchor the other. In between would be a simple, long kitchen table, perfect for casual entertaining. From the outset, the couple’s idea of how the facade would look began to morph. Both are huge fans of the mid-century designs of Richard Neutra (Noble even casually references relatively unknown master William Cody when speaking of designers she admires). Noble was also influenced by a book on Japanese farmhouses and realized this was the perfect ethos for two winemakers in Naramata.
“I love mid-century design,” says Noble, “but when you come right down to it, this is a farmhouse."
"We wanted a serious mudroom because we have dirt on our boots when we come home from work.” Sakhrani created a roofline that consisted of a series of low-slung gables connected by flat roofs that channels both modernism and a nod to agrarian functionality. The fireplace was originally designed to be a modern monolithic slab of polished concrete until the couple was introduced to a local Scandinavian artisan by their indispensable builder, Nicholas Hill. He intricately hand- assembled rocks from nearby Carmi Mountain into a striking feature wall that is both classic in material and modern in design: it’s part of a concrete indoor-outdoor wall that extends both into the front and back courtyards. To satisfy the desire for indoor-outdoor living, Sakhrani created a folding wall of glass that disappears, weather permitting. “That’s like every single day in the summer,” laughs Dinn. It allows the house to seamlessly expand onto the back patio with its firepit, full outdoor kitchen, sleek charcoal tiled swimming pool and jaw-dropping views of the vineyards and lake. In the rest of the house, the MO is privacy. Both Theo’s room and the master are in a different wing from the kitchen and living room, allowing for a quiet respite. The master channels an airy retreat, all white and glass in a design that wouldn’t seem out of place on some chic Caribbean island. The sole exception is a dramatic master bath, which features 180-degree views over the vines and lake (but is probably best left unused by the timid when the vineyard directly in front is being harvested). A pair of outbuildings completes the scene: a yoga studio/cabana attached by a breezeway that features an ingenious king-sized trundle bed to house friends, and a modern chicken coop with a roofline that mirrors the big house and also features passive cooling through movable panels for the lucky chickens. In the expected world, Dinn and Noble would be living in a bungalow in Vancouver, saving their money for a move to a more modern house. They’d drive home from their day jobs and share a bottle of wine at night and let it transport them to a world where one day they owned their own winery. But it’s clear that “expected” is not part of this pair’s vocabulary: tonight, they’ll come home to the house their dreams built, overlooking the vines and the lake. They’ll share a glass from a bottle that other people, people miles away from this agrarian idyll, will be drinking and imagining what it would be like to own their own winery. GREATEST GREAT ROOM Architect Lucia Sakhrani initially imagined the fireplace as a modern concrete monolith, but when builder Nicholas Hill of Ritchie Custom Builder mentioned that he knew a great Scandinavian stonemason, the plan changed. Using stone from nearby Carmi Mountain, the mason created a one-of-a-kind facing that’s both contemporary and classic. BEATING HEART The kitchen is the command centre of this house, from which legendary meals emerge. Heidi may be the classically trained chef, but both Michael and their young son, Theo, are routinely in on the act. WINE O’CLOCK People are often surprised that Noble and Dinn don’t have a show-stopping wine cave, but they’re happy with a functional 500-bottle system that sees daily use (plus, owning a winery, they have a fair bit of off-site storage). OUTSIDE CHANCE This back patio sees daily use for five months of the year. In addition to an outdoor kitchen with full forno oven, there’s a firepit, hot tub and a sleek charcoal tiled pool that’s actually cooled with solar power.