Marina Zarrillo, wine maker at Play Estate Winery and Bistro. Darren Hull photography

Marina Zarrillo, wine maker at Play Estate Winery and Bistro. Darren Hull photography

Marina Zarrillo, making wine at Play Estate Winery and Bistro

Growing grapes and creating wine in the Okanagan Valley

  • Sep. 24, 2018 10:10 a.m.

– Story by Darcy Nybo Photography by Darren Hull

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Back in the 1980s, Play Estate’s current winemaker Marina Zarrillo came to visit her grandparents, who had recently moved to the Okanagan. At the time, she and her family were living in Calgary, but the more they visited, the more they liked it here. And like many before them, her family bought property in the Okanagan and decided to move as well.

“I was an IT professional until 2012,” says Marina. “I signed up for the viticulture program at Okanagan College in 2013. My granddad made wine almost every year until he passed away. I think every Italian makes wine. It’s what we grew up with. He made wine for friends and family and I got to help him. I remember always holding something or pouring something for him.”

Marina started her journey to winemaker by working in friends’ vineyards and at the tasting bar at Nk’Mip in Osoyoos. She quickly realized she wanted to be the person that was involved from the vine to the glass. However, going from the logical world of IT to winemaker was quite a leap.

“I thought initially I would just grow grapes and that would be fine. Then the more I got into it and the more I saw how the grapes transform and change into something that people like … well, it’s a pretty amazing process. I really wanted to know how that worked. The technical part of my brain found that very appealing; there’s a lot to know. My original degree was in business, so I had to go back and take chemistry to get into the winemaking certificate program at the University of California at Davis. Once I got a handle on the chemistry, I really started to understand how wine is made.”

From there it was an easy choice to start growing her own grapes. The more she learned about the wine, the deeper her attachment to the Okanagan grew. By this time, Marina’s parents and brother had moved to the Okanagan. When a nice, three-acre parcel of land became available, they bought it.

“In 2015, we found a property that suited us and gave us some growing space,” says Marina. “We have one acre planted now and could grow another acre in the near future.”

The grapes and the wines Marina creates from them are strictly for her family, friends and a neighbour.

“We make a barrel of red and a tank of white every year, just because we need a house wine. We had to buy grapes before, but in 2016 we planted our own grapes, so we are making wines from grapes we grew this year. It is an exciting time as we get to see what our grapes can do.”

When Marina isn’t in her own vineyards and making her own wine, she is the winemaker at Play Estate Winery and Bistro in Penticton.

“It’s my first commercial winemaking opportunity. I started in 2015 as a cellar hand at the beginning of harvest. I had practically no experience working in a commercial winery.”

She pauses as if remembering the fall of 2015. “One of the first things we did was crush Pinot Gris. It was fast that year, we were so busy. It was a steep learning curve in a short amount of time. Our building wasn’t complete yet so we made our wine out at Volcanic Hills in West Kelowna. I am so grateful to their winemaking team for showing me the ropes.”

Marina survived her learning curve and was there for the opening of the Play Estate Winery and Bistro in May of 2016. “There was a lot of work getting the cellar ready for bottling and the 2016 harvest. My previous career as an IT professional and project manager gave me an advantage in planning and logistics. My role as the cellar hand changed as I took on more responsibilities. At my request, Christine Leroux, a winemaking consultant, joined the Play winemaking team in 2017. She brings such a wealth of experience and expertise. She’s been a good mentor and friend.”

Today, Marina is right at home as Play’s winemaker. “There are two series of wines at Play: the Dramatic series and the Spotlight series. The Dramatic wines are everyday wines, red and white blends. The red is usually Merlot based. In 2017, it was Zweigelt and Merlot. The white has been changing every year, but in 2017 we took it into a more distinct wine — it’s more of a Germanic style of white. There’s Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and a little bit of everything,” she explains.

Should you get the chance to talk to Marina about her passion, you’ll hear the commitment and pride in her voice.

“You know, people think winemaking is glamorous. It’s not. It is a very physical job. There’s a lot of long hours. Grapes don’t wait. It can also get pretty messy at times and there’s lots of cleaning, too. If I was talking to someone who wanted to be a winemaker, I’d have them come to work with me. I’m so glad I started in the vineyards and worked as a cellar hand. You have to know a little bit about everything to be a winemaker, and that includes how to maintain the equipment. You also have to check the wines constantly. Wines are like kids — they need attention at certain times.”

The busyness leaves her voice as she talks about the winemaking process. You can tell she has respect for it.

“My favourite part about being a winemaker is seeing how the wines change and transform. You see the grapes in the field and you sample them. In your mind, you have an idea of where they will go. Then you process them and see what they become, and when it becomes what you wanted it to be… It’s amazing.”

Asked about a favourite winemaking memory, she recalls the harvest of 2017.

“Sometimes you get your grapes in and they just look so beautiful. Last year the Gewürztraminer grapes had a copper-like hue to them. They looked so amazing and the colour was so intense. The entire team was standing there, just staring at them and taking photos. We all have the same passion and enthusiasm for what we do. It’s just great!”

When asked what she does with her downtime, Marina laughs.

“Oh, downtime would be a dream come true right now! Between working for the winery, planting my own grapes and making my own wine, I don’t have a lot of downtime. When I do take time for myself I just step out into the beautiful Okanagan with my dog and go for a hike. Sometimes I even get to go kayaking, but not often, because the vineyards need me in the mornings. Mostly, I enjoy friends, and family and a nice glass of wine.”

For more of Darren Hull’s photography visit Darren Hull Studios.

BC WineBritish ColumbiaFoodMarina ZarrilloOkanagan ValleyOkanagan winePlay Estate WineryrestauranttravelVacationwineWine makingWinery

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Grade 5 Wood Elementary Students cycling on the powerline trail. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Wood School bicycles, equipment worth $8,000 stolen

Equipment was stored at Echo Fieldhouse in Port Alberni

Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Kobe Assam battles for the puck despite being knocked to the ice during a physical first period against the Cowichan Valley Capitals on April 7. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs pick up second shutout against Cowichan

Braden Blace earns first BCHL goal and game-winner

Port Alberni city hall. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Port Alberni adopts tax increase below 4% for 2021

Financial plan looks for balance between residents, industry

Police cordoned off the block of Fifth Avenue from Burde Street to Bute Street in front of the Phoenix House sobering centre in the early-morning hours of Sunday, April 4, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Port Alberni stabbing suspect arrested in Nanaimo

Man was also in possession of fentanyl: RCMP

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read