Winemaker Receives Medal Of Bravery

Winemaker Frank Supernak, who died in 2002 while trying to save a fellow vintner, will be awarded a posthumous medal of bravery by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson tomorrow at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

The medal will be accepted by Supernak’s sister, Theresa McBride of Nanaimo, son Corey Supernak and daughter Andrea Supernak.

The tragedy, which also claimed the life of Silver Sage Winery co-owner Victor Manola, led the BC Wine Institute (BCWI) to form a health and safety committee to provide safety education for workers in BC’s wineries and vineyards.

On November 10, 2002, at Silver Sage Winery near Oliver, Supernak was helping Manola analyze wines at the end of vintage when Manola accidentally slipped into a tank of fermenting wine. The fermentation process releases carbon dioxide which can cause asphyxiation in confined spaces.

“Although aware of the danger caused by poisonous carbon dioxide,” the award citation states (www.gg.ca/media/doc.asp?lang=e&DocID=4475), “Mr. Supernak tried to pull his unconscious colleague from the container. When his efforts proved unsuccessful, he jumped into the vat and attempted to rescue his friend by lifting him out to safety. Within seconds, Mr. Supernak also succumbed to the deadly fumes and lack of oxygen and could not be revived.”

The BCWI committee’s objectives are to increase health and safety awareness within the grape and wine industry, to lower the risk of injuries, and to develop a best practices manual for the industry. George Hanson is owner of Harmony One Vineyards near Keremeos and a committee member. “That incident really got people in the industry more safety conscious, and part of our committee’s role is to bring people together for training,” he says. “We are analysing safety incidents in wineries and vineyards, and we’re coordinating a seminar at the BCWI’s enology and viticulture conference in July in Penticton. We’re also looking at best safety practices in other winegrowing regions.”

Hanson, who knew Supernak personally, says the improved focus on safety is the only good to come out of a tragic day for the close-knit industry. “Frank was a close friend of mine. I miss him and the industry misses him,” he says. “We lost two fine people that day, but at the very least, the tragedy helped the industry realize that safety can’t be overlooked.”

Supernak, one of the Okanagan’s most respected winemakers, was born in Nanaimo in 1961. With a degree in microbiology from UBC, he joined T.G. Bright & Co. at Oliver as a research oenologist in 1983. He became the winery’s cellarmaster in 1989. In 1992 he became the head winemaker at the Oliver winery as it became Vincor International’s Jackson-Triggs winery. In 1996 he joined the newly-formed Hester Creek Estate Winery south of Oliver. In 2002, Supernak established his own consulting company in response to requests from several new wineries, including Chalet Estate Winery on Vancouver Island, Silver Sage and his major client, Blasted Church Vineyards of Okanagan Falls. He was a long-time member of the BCWI’s Vintners Quality Alliance tasting panel and Okanagan Wine Festival Society board member. As a wine educator, he gave his time generously to all who shared his passion for wine, including many home vintners.

Supernak was intensely proud of British Columbia wines. “I believe that British Columbia possesses some the most unique winemaking conditions in the world, conditions that can consistently produce some of best wines anywhere,” he said when he joined Blasted Church in 2002. “My challenge as a winemaker is to ensure that there is minimal intervention in the winemaking process, to allow the full expression of fruit and terroir in the wines I produce. That means careful attention to all aspects of the winemaking process, from the vineyard to the glass. The ultimate objective is to produce wines that can compete against the world’s best, regardless of varietal, origin or price.”

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