Speaking Of Wine
October 21, 2013
Francis Ford Coppola Winery is now a certified member of the Sonoma Green Business Program! To achieve certification, we must be in compliance with all environmental regulations for conserving resources, preventing pollution, and minimizing waste. Running our entire business in an environmentally responsible way is very important to us and we are honored to be participants of this program.
October 21, 2013
On October 6th, Team Trialto Wine Group BC joined thousands of other people from all over the lower mainland to walk or run, the ‘Run for the Cure’ in support of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
‘Run for the Cure’ is an annual event that Trialto has supported for 7 years. This year we had a team of 16, our biggest team to date, and we raised a total of $5005.00. Trialto proudly matched dollar for dollar our Trialto employee personal donations as well as providing prizes for the raffle. The team also personally donated prizes to the raffle.
Two of the Trialto Wine Group core values are ‘create a culture that is passionate, creative and fun’ and ‘Always strive for personal and team growth’. As a company we take pride in that fact that we can achieve great things together while having fun and growing as a team, especially when it comes to developing social awareness for such an important cause.
We look forward to participating in the ‘Run for the Cure’ next year. We are always proud to support charitable events in our communities across Canada.
August 26, 2013
Sperling Vineyards, along with some neighboring orchards and vineyards have sustained one of the worst hailstorms in recent memory. Our vines have been damaged and our crop severely reduced, to the point that we will have to manage through the effects of this storm for several years.
As a family winery we use only our own grapes. While farming our land for over 125 years we have learned that mother nature is not always predictable, so our long term business plan will enable us to roll with this punch. But, having said that, at this stressful time, we are comforted by the warm response we've had from local Kelowna wineries with their offers of support and help.
With this generous assistance from our friends, and our careful inventory management to date, we are encouraged to report that all but a few of our Sperling wines will remain available for purchase over the coming year. More than ever, we appreciate your ongoing patronage, and look forward to greeting everyone in our winery store.
August 23, 2013
21st August, 2013 by Gabriel Savage
Erwan Faiveley, the seventh generation of his family to head Burgundy’s Domaine Faiveley, on the importance of clay for making great Chardonnay and why we should keep an eye on Germany.
What factors in your view make a Chardonnay great?
Terroir, weather conditions and of course winemaking skills. Chardonnay – just like Merlot and Cabernet – seems to be produced in so many regions, only a few places really outperform. You need clay and moderate temperature for really excellent interpretations. We are very lucky at Domaine Faiveley to have some wonderful sites that really give the wine so much personality such as Clos Rochette, our distinctive monopole in Mercurey, and of course we are very lucky to have an amazing piece of Corton-Charlemagne, very well situated with old vines. I think that the people we have here at the winery, especially my cellar master, are very gifted. Corton-Charlemagne is one of the greatest white wines in Burgundy, maybe in the world.
Which regions of the world, other than your own, have the potential to produce high quality and distinctive Chardonnay?
The most interesting regions are those with a cool climate such as Russian River in California and New Zealand. Considering the impressive work that Germany has done with Pinot Noir, which needs more or less the same conditions as Chardonnay, I guess we can expect some good surprises to come from that country too.
What is it about Chardonnay that means it has such lasting global appeal?
I guess Chardonnay has distinctive aromas that appeal to everyone: it’s a fresh blend of a fruity core – peach, apricot, pear, citrus – with hints of spices – vanilla, liquorice – that evolves over time to more nutty characteristics. When it’s not overpowered nor excessive, it can be the most delicious glass of white wine!
Is there a winemaker or wine whose expression of Chardonnay inspires you?
From the Côte de Beaune area, I am very fond of Pierre-Yves Collin’s wines: he is making wines from great (and often underrated) terroirs that are expressive with a hint of reduction. Moving a little more north, I also really appreciate Raveneau’s expression of Chablis, a blend of precision, purity and volume.
In a more modern and New World style, I really enjoy Chardonnay by David Ramey: juicy, big but still elegant with some finesse.
July 29, 2013
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE 2013 HARVEST
By Roberto de la Mota, Mendel Winemaker
The 2013 harvest was characterized by a good general production, especially in the fresh zones of the center and the Uco Valley and other high altitude areas, showing a higher average yield than last year. This year’s harvest was delayed, above all in the red grapes, despite having presented advanced maturity at the beginning of the white harvest. The white wines have good aromatic intensity, medium body and good acidity; while the reds are of good color, intense aroma, fresh and even floral, with medium concentration of tannins and of medium body, with a good acidity, which confers freshness. If we had to compare to previous harvests, I would say it’s more like 2010 than 2011 or 2012.
In general the buddings of the vineyards were very good, with a calm climate, fresh mornings and sunny days, without rains, strong winds or frost. The spring continued with excellent conditions, despite some “zonda” winds (hot and dry), bringing generally good flowering and fruit setting and resulting in a good quantity of bunches per plant. These, in turn, had a good quantity of grapes.
December and January were warm, as was the first part of February, but March and April were characterized by template days and very chilly nights. Excellent conditions to assure a good quality of grapes and typical of Mendoza fall.
The warmth of the start of summer made “veraison” arrive early, and everything pointed to an early harvest. This was only true in the first white grapes, but not in those destined for tranquil wines and chilly areas (higher altitude). The first weeks of February were also warm, but not the final ones, which were chilly, as was March. In this month there were some important storms, including hail, which affected specific zones of Mendoza, Valle de Uco and also Luján de Cuyo. Although some of them caused grave damage in certain properties, the effects were not generalized enough to diminish the volumes of the harvest.
Maturity measuring devices, such as Dyostem, showed a somewhat delayed “Stop of Charge” (moment in which the plant stops accumulating sugars from photosynthesis in the berry all later increase of sugar is due to loss of water in the berry, with a higher level of potential alcohol than in 2012. This means that the qualitative potential of the grapes was generally very good. (That is to say, grapes with a good richness of components, including color and tannins.)
The white grape harvest started at the end of January, beginning of February for the warm zones and in March for chillier areas with excellent sanitation. The quality was also very good, and though it is difficult to generalize, we could say that the level of concentration and of aromatic intensity was similar or somewhat superior to 2012. Beside a very good freshness, the levels of acidity are higher and the alcohol is somewhat inferior to the last harvest. For Mendel Semillon de Altamira the 2013 was excellent, very fresh, floral with acacia notes together with dried fruits and good volume and structure in mouth, similar alcohol and more acidity than in 2012.
The reds arrived late, despite initial predictions. Depending on the vineyard, between 10 and 15 days late. Although we initially believed that good production might mean a year of less concentration in red wines, we have observed grapes of very good color, aromatic intensity and tannin quantity. Having had the opportunity to taste wines in different parts of Luján and the Uco Valley, I am sure of an excellent wine quality. Fruity and floral Malbecs, quite fresh, with well-present and sufficiently mature tannins, wines of medium to high body and perhaps less meaty than in 2012. Other varieties such as Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon also show great potential. It is possible that because of the year’s characteristics, some very productive vineyards will show some grade of dilution, but those are certainly isolated cases. Comparing this year’s harvest with previous years’, we can say that it is more similar to 2007 or 2008 than 2009 or 2011.
For Mendel it was a great year of higher than average volume, with special quality of fruit in the Malbec and Petit Verdot, similar to the year before for the Cabernet Sauvignon. It is worth mentioning that this year we produced some Merlot and Cabernet Franc for the first time and the results are promising.
June 27, 2013
From Forbes Magazine, Larry Olmstead - Author
Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola is still best known for his movies, especially his early successes Patton, Apocalypse Now, and the mega-hits, The Godfather and the Godfather Part II, which have become two of the most lauded and popular films in history. All of these critically acclaimed bombshells were made in the 1970s, and while Coppola has continued to make films ever since, he has significantly turned his attention to a host of other commercial ventures, most notably winemaking. He has also opened a few boutique hotels in which he has been heavily involved, from Central America to Italy, and I wrote about his latest Italian property, Palazzo Margherita, here at Forbes.com.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Coppola about wine and his passion for it, and today we get to hear from him in his own words.
There are countless celebrity winemakers, mostly athletes, who have been entranced by the wine business, but it is safe to say none remotely approaches the scope or success Coppola has had. One reason is that he is no newcomer to the wine game – he purchased his first vineyard in Napa in 1975 using proceeds from The Godfather films, just a year after their release. After more than 35 years of winemaking, he has expanded his operations considerably, most recently with the 2010 grand re-opening of one of the most impressive public wine facilities in the world, a sort of oenophile fantasy land, Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley.
I have always been a fan of Coppola’s wines, and actually visited his original Napa winery back in the late eighties. He subsequently purchased the famed Inglenook Chateau in 1995 and renamed his winery the Rubicon Estate. Later he purchased the rights to the Inglenook label and in 2011 renamed the estate again, to Inglenook.
But it is his Coppola branded wines that have always had my attention, because they have consistently delivered great value, especially in the mid-range price points, a step up from entry-level, with many quality wines in the high teens and twenties, which have delivered great bang for the buck year in and year out. He also makes scarcer wines selling for as much as $50. In particular I have been a consumer of his Diamond Label series, which sell for around $20 per bottle and are consistently delicious. I’ve bought the cabernet sauvignon, merlot and especially the claret, a traditional Bordeaux-style blend that goes great with food.
Until recently I had only tried his wines as one-offs when I bought them, but the winery recently sent me a sampling of the excellent labels being produced in Sonoma. Coppola makes a wide range, dozens of bottles, and I haven’t had a chance to taste them all, but I did sample some of the varietals in his flagship Director’s and Director’s Cut series, and they were standouts for both taste and value, offering a top tier small production craft experience at under $30. The Director’s Cut features limited production wines (Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and a red blend called Cinema) from grapes grown in designated sub-appellations of Sonoma. The Director’s series features four popular varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir) using grapes grown all across Sonoma County. By blending from different micro-climates, the winery strives to create wines with lush fruit and soft tannins, and based on the ones I have tried, they have greatly succeeded.
After opening some critically acclaimed boutique hotels, Coppola applied his showmanship background to the wine business, and his Sonoma facility, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, features elaborate wine tasting bars and tours, two restaurants, a swimming pool, movie gallery (with Academy Awards, costumes and props on display), performing arts pavilion and park with game tables and bocce courts. Coppola decided to pattern it on Copenhagen’s famed Tivoli Gardens and brought on Academy Award-winning production designer Dean Tavoularis – who worked on The Godfather – to design the place. In a release about the facility, Coppola called it “a wine wonderland, a park of pleasure where people of all ages can enjoy all the best things in life – food, wine, music, dancing, games, swimming and performances of all types. A place to celebrate the love of life.”
The elaborate pool includes a poolside café and 28 day cabins for rent. The main restaurant, Rustic, focuses on Italian specialties and Neapolitan pizza, while the adjacent Parilla offers Argentinean-style grilled meats over wood flames. The family-centric winery has a wide variety of children’s games and experiences and the actual winery tours include unusual options such as a guided hike, while wine tasting options are equally varied, with about 40 different bottles to choose from. Concerts and special events are held throughout the year. Just as there is no filmmaker quite like Coppola, there is no winery experience quite like his Sonoma winery.
Where does all this passion for wine and the wine lifestyle come from? I asked him and here is what he had to say:
Q: What led you to begin making wine? Was it something you always wanted to do or a passion you discovered later in life?
A: As a child I never saw a dinner table without wine. I heard about Prohibition, when families were allowed to make two barrels of wine, from my many uncles – who told me how much fun it was to steal the grapes. So living in San Francisco I thought it would be a good idea to have a summer house with an acre or two of grapes. That eventually led to my purchasing the ‘Niebaum Estate,’ which had been part of the legendary Inglenook.
Q: You are best known as a great filmmaker. Does that experience factor into your wine? Are there similarities between your approaches to film and winemaking?
A: Yes, each is an art form, and in this case they divide into three segments: gathering of the source material (Grapes or Shots), fashioning the work (Winemaking or Editing) and finishing it (Post Production, Music, etc. or Fining and Putting into the final package). I am not a winemaker, our winemaker for Francis Coppola Wines is Corey Beck.
Q: How would you like people to think of Coppola wines?
A: I feel people understand that if I have my name on something, it’s a personal decision and one I don’t take likely. They can trust that our wines will be of the best quality and authenticity for that price point.
Q: You have also become a hotelier. Is there a connection between that and wine? What drives your forays into these businesses?
A: Usually when I was younger whenever I embarked on an idea to make money, the opposite happened. These later businesses evolved out of things that I loved or was interested in – and that made all the difference.
June 18, 2013
THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE WHO INFLUENCE WHAT IS IN YOUR GLASS TODAY
Alejandro Vigil was selected as "Ones to Watch" alongside Antonio Galloni, Daniel Johnnes, Edouard Moueix and Patricio Tapia.
"Alejandro Vigil: Pioneering chief winemaker at Medoza's Bodega Catena Zapata, restlessly exploring Argentina's most extreme winemaking regions. He is one of the handful of South America's internationally renowned winemakers." Decanter, July 2013
June 3, 2013Media Release - June 3, 2013
A super-premium Barossa Shiraz sourced from 90 year old vines was named the best Shiraz in the World over the weekend.
The Grant Burge Wines 2010 Filsell Shiraz, took the honours at Winestate Magazine’s World’s Greatest Shiraz Challenge VIII, beating over 700 international Shirazes from France, South Africa, New Zealand and every major region in Australia.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our Filsell Shiraz,” Grant Burge said today as he celebrated in the Barossa. “From vintage to vintage it just keeps on winning.
“We’ve now won 5 major trophies, 22 gold medals and 47 silver medals since Filsell’s release in 1992.”
Grant attributed its success to the unique Barossa vineyard which gives the wine its name.
“The Filsell Vineyard has a unique place in the history of the Barossa Valley and Grant Burge Wines,” he said. The vines are over 90 years old and make up one of the largest patches of historical varietal fruit in the Barossa.
“This is a very special piece of Barossa history: an old vineyard, planted in the traditional style, and still bearing exceptional quality fruit. It is one of the few significant survivors of the vine pull scheme of the early 1980s and it crams character into each berry.”
He described the 2010 Filsell Shiraz as having incredible depth of colour and a “rare purity of fruit” in the bouquet.
“The 2010 vintage was a great year and it has all of those ripe blackberry and blackcurrant aromas infused with rich vanilla and milk chocolate notes,” Grant said. “The palate is beautifully weighted, with optimal balance between concentrated fruit flavours, sweet spices, tannins and acidity.”
All wines entered in the Winestate Magazine World’s Greatest Shiraz Challenge VIII, were blind tasted by an experienced panel of MW’s and winemakers. The official results will be published in the September edition of Winestate Magazine.
May 28, 2013
Vinos Artadi, SPAIN
Reflections and comments on the 2012 vintage Laguardia, May 2013
Juan Carlos López de Lacalle
Nowadays, organic farming and bio dynamics are something fashionable among avant-garde vine growers and winemakers.
In what concern us, the respect for the environment, the fauna and flora that co-exist in our vineyards is our objective, even our obsession.
In the past we have lived these experiences from a certain distance. However, it is true that we have considered them as part of our philosophy, supporting philosophically all the activities directed towards the preservation of the environment. We can put into words this perception by saying that before we felt all this “skin-deep”, that is to say, in a superficial manner. However, when someone discovers deeper the respectful viticulture, when you feel the need of preserving Nature and the natural resources of the vines, your commitment becomes much more intense. It is something similar to start a journey together; both vineyard and vine grower will share the growing cycle of the vine until the moment of obtaining its fruit and making the wine.
The vine grower’s attitude under these premises of co-existence is not of fighting against the vineyard and the natural phenomena. On the contrary, the vine grower joins the vine helping it as a travelling companion and friend that provides support and understanding in adversity.
From experience we can tell that it is possible to reach this close fusion between vineyard and vine grower through respect and understanding of Nature’s behaviour. We are sure that when you feel the vineyard it is easy to transfer this feeling to the wine.
This might be our aim: to feel and follow the life of the vineyard and the authenticity of its wines under a base of balance and respect for Nature.
Our aim: to feel and live the peace of the vineyard and the authenticity of its wines
After this brief introduction, I would like to examine (dwell on) the weather conditions and the characteristics of the growing cycle that every year help us to define the new vintage.
We have had three very dry years in a row and this year 2012 this situation has become even more dramatic. We have registered 407 l/m2 during this season; 80 of these litres were recorded during November 2011 and another 80 litres in October 2012. This data implies that 160 l/m2 were recorded practically outside the active growing cycle of the vineyard.
Regarding temperatures and as compensation to the drought suffered, we would like to point out that the records of average temperatures was below the average in our region, that is to say, they were milder in winter and lower than the average during summer. However, nowadays and to be honest, we do not feel the controversy or goodness of a vintage influenced by the weather conditions in which the development of the growing cycle takes place. At the moment, we feel closer the character and personality which define a unique vineyard at a unique vintage.
It seems obvious then that there are other factors apart from the climate which define the character of every vintage. The interaction between the macro and microcosm is obvious. We wonder why so often a vintage has such a different character from another if the weather conditions have been similar? Why our grandparents, based on traditions and observation, carried out the different field tasks (e.g. sowing,
pruning, etc.) in one moment or another depending on the different phases of Moon and the stars? These are questions with no answers that lead us to accept the existence of forces out of our control showing different realities.
Probably due to our human conditions, it is easier for us to consider physical parameters (temperature, rainfall, sugar levels, acidity, etc.) when we want to issue a judgement about a certain wine. Clearly, these parameters make it easier for us to understand and describe the peculiarities of a vintage but I know now that every vineyard and every vintage hide much deeper sensations.
To sum up, I would like to define the 2012 vintage under these premises: We find limpid and transparent wines. They are wines full of direct messages and fresh aromas. They are translucent and let us feel the freshness of tender fruits with red and vibrant notes. In the mouth, these are wines which arrogantly generate open spaces and free movements. The tannins of these young wines tiptoe in the mouth.
Frankness, limpidity and carefree harmony
May 16, 2013
The Second Coming of B.C. Wineries
John Schreiner | May 6, 2013
From BC Business Magazine
B.C.’s new generation of vintners are discovering that the wine business is not for the faint of heart. To be successful demands business smarts, a full-time commitment and a lot of cash—all before the first crush
Tony Holler, the majority owner of Poplar Grove Winery, has a perception problem with friends who know he became wealthy in the pharmaceutical business. “A lot of my friends say that this is a pretty expensive hobby,” Holler says. “It isn’t a hobby. Let’s not kid ourselves; we’re building a serious business.”
The B.C. wine industry is still dominated by a first generation of serious vintners who brought international credibility to Okanagan wines— wineries like Mission Hill, Jackson-Triggs, the Andrew Peller wineries, Quails’ Gate, Burrowing Owl, Tinhorn Creek and Gray Monk Estate Winery. But Holler is among a second generation that is building on the foundation laid by pioneers like Mission Hill’s Anthony Von Mandl, and who are expanding the province’s reputation worldwide.
Just a quarter-century ago, there were only 13 wineries in B.C., none with recognition outside the province. Today, there are close to 240 wineries, a number of which are winning international awards and exporting wines. “Our wines are in Tokyo and Beijing,” says John Skinner, proprietor of Painted Rock Estate Winery and a contemporary of Holler’s. “It means something there if you are from the Okanagan.”
Skinner is quick to acknowledge that all the upstart wineries wouldn’t be enjoying the success they are without the groundbreaking work of the pioneering generation that preceded them. “Painted Rock and the other little wineries that are out there banging the drum, we’re being accepted internationally on the backs of Quails’ Gate and Burrowing Owl and all those guys,” he notes. “They started to hit the quality marks early, giving the Okanagan some international profile.”
Today the B.C. wine industry’s annual sales, including wines made from B.C. grapes as well as the cellared-in-Canada wines from imported bulk wine, total about $400 million. Wine has become a major driver of jobs and investment, including the money being spent on new wineries.
Holler could offer himself as the poster child for the well-heeled newcomers who are shaking up the wine industry. They are passionate about wine and they can spend what it takes to produce world-class wines. But they also bring a hardened business sense to the enterprise, according to Geoff McIntyre, a Kelowna-based CA and business consultant with consulting firm MNP who specializes in the B.C. wine industry: “They like the idea of the lifestyle, but they don’t want to lose money.”
“You are getting a new group of people coming into the wine business,” says Holler, who acquired control of Poplar Grove in 2007. “They are people who have been successful in other businesses. They typically are wine collectors and love drinking wine.” (Holler has 5,000 bottles in three personal wine cellars.) “We need people who say we are going to be a serious winery making serious wines. Probably the best trend that you are seeing is that the people who are coming into the wine business have the capital to be in that business.”
In addition to Holler, the group making second careers in wine after being successful in business includes Laughing Stock’s David Enns, a former financial consultant; Noble Ridge’s Jim D’Andrea, still a high-powered Calgary lawyer; Tantalus Vineyards’ Eric Savics, still a senior stock broker in Vancouver; John Arthur Kenneth Meyer of Meyer Family Vineyards, a former broker (who goes by Jak); Painted Rock’s John Skinner, also a former stock broker; and Mick Luckhurst, a former building supply dealer and developer who owns Road 13 Vineyards.
A New Generation
It is perhaps no coincidence that the new generation of wine entrepreneurs is well represented by current and former members of Vancouver’s investment community who have built successful careers on recognizing market opportunities. “I was a wine collector and an enthusiast,” says Skinner. “But I am also a market-timing guy. I recognized an opportunity to invest in an industry in its infancy that was just starting to prove itself. I thought it was a golden opportunity if I could buy the best property to produce the best wines.” In 2002, Skinner—then 44—decided to retire from the investment business by 50 and start a winery. When he disclosed his plan to fellow broker Eric Savics, who had not yet acquired Tantalus Vineyards, Savics thought that “John was barking mad.” Now, both men have sunk millions into one of the world’s most seductive businesses.
“I am an accidental wine tourist,” Savics concedes. “I had a friend call and say, ‘You should look at this property in the Okanagan.’ It turned out the wine was good, and that drew me in.”
The flagship wine already was a widely acclaimed Old Vine Riesling (from vines planted in 1978). Savics hired professionals to reduce the vineyard’s eclectic assortment of varieties to plantings, mostly new, of Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The makeshift Pinot Reach building was replaced with a winery so modern and well equipped that there is even a charging station for electric cars.
“The wine was good and got better,” Savics says. “That justified the additional capital.” Tantalus wines were soon listed by many top Vancouver restaurants. He does not disclose what he has invested, but it is a big number. “I don’t know that number because it has been done in stages. Of course, we have had some revenue to offset that, but it still needs to become a business that can take care of itself.” Tantalus currently produces 4,000 cases a year, with expansion planned as the estate’s grape production rises. “We have enough land and we have the facility that can handle 10,000 cases,” says Savics, who still maintains his investment business in Vancouver.
“If we got to the level where Tantalus was recognized outside of B.C., it would be marvellous,” he says. “I would like to be in New York at Daniel restaurant. I would like to be in Napa and have The French Laundry take it. I would like to be at The Fat Duck Restaurant in London. It would be a wonderful thing to get wines into restaurants like that.”
Road 13 Vineyards, south of Oliver, is another turnaround story. It opened in 1998 as Golden Mile Cellars, and was a struggling 1,000-case producer in a quaint replica castle when Mick and Pam Luckhurst bought it in 2003. Earlier that year, the Luckhursts had moved into an Osoyoos lakefront home after three years of developing real estate in Edmonton, where the winters got them down. “The vineyards are like waterfront,” Mick said after that summer. “They are serene. They are peaceful. They are just art for the eye. Then the romance of it takes you over.”
Behind the winery purchase, however, was the same market timing that motivated John Skinner. “My business instincts came to the forefront,” Mick says. “I thought there was a lot of growth in the industry and, thus, growth in your equity.” Since then, the Luckhursts have poured substantial sums into the business, adding a modern winery to the castle, buying additional vineyards and hiring a top winemaker to get production to 25,000 cases a year. “We are moving awfully fast, faster than we ever had originally in mind,” Mick says. “A lot of it is just my temperament; you push ahead.”
At Hester Creek, proprietor Curt Garland, 76, has invested $25 million, including the $5,250,000 he paid in 2004 to buy the bankrupt winery. He is a remarkable example of how wine seduces people into the business. The owner of a major transportation services company in northern B.C., he was looking for a small Okanagan vineyard where he could make a little wine for the cellar in his new Prince George house. He chanced on the bankruptcy trustee’s advertisement in a Penticton newspaper for Hester Creek, which had a 28-hectare vineyard and a dilapidated winery. After outbidding another winery to buy Hester Creek, Garland turned it around by hiring experienced professionals and building a well-equipped 23,000-square-foot winery before the 2010 crush. In the same year, Hester Creek joined the ranks of the Okanagan’s premium producers by releasing The Judge, a $45 red blend. “We are operating in the black now, which I am very comfortable with,” Garland said in an interview early in 2012. “It probably exceeds my expectations by a year.”
Tony Holler’s Poplar Grove originally opened as a garagiste boutique in 1997. When founders Ian and Gitta Sutherland divorced a decade later, Holler, who had collected Poplar Grove wines and who owned a small neighbouring vineyard since 2004, bought control of the winery and retained Ian as winemaker. The son of a Summerland apple grower, Holler is a former emergency room doctor and a co-founder and CEO of vaccine maker ID Biomedical Corp., which GlaxoSmithKline Inc. bought for $1.7 billion in 2005. Holler now has funnelled his energy and his resources into growing Poplar Grove and its associated Monster Vineyards label, into a producer of 20,000 to 25,000 cases of premium wines each year.
“I wasn’t that interested in having a tiny boutique winery,” Holler says. “I wanted to really develop a winery that was a sustainable business and could become a family business that might go through generations of our family. In order to do that, you have to have a certain size.” He decided that would be about 25,000 cases a year, made with grapes from winery-owned vineyards so that the fruit quality could be assured. He spent about $7.5 million on about 40 hectares of land and another $2.5 million planting it. The vineyards, for tax purposes, are run as a separate business by his wife, Barbara. In the last two years, at least $8 million more has been spent on two new wineries—one a functional but modern processing facility and the other a glittering glass-and-steel showpiece on a hillside with a dramatic view over the Okanagan Valley.
“My view of this business is that it is a long-term investment,” Holler says. “A lot of the things we have invested in last a long time. Listen, the land isn’t going to get cheaper in the Okanagan. It’s a beautiful place. The land will appreciate in value and, as we build our business, the business will appreciate in value.”
John Skinner, Jim D’Andrea, Jak Meyer and David Enns all had the resources from previous careers to start wineries from scratch. In 2004, Skinner found a derelict apricot orchard on the east side of Skaha Lake where he contoured ideal growing slopes on about 20 hectares and planted 50,000 vines imported from French nurseries. Painted Rock’s first harvest in 2007 produced two wines that won Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in B.C. Wines. The winery won two more from succeeding vintages, along with red wine of the year with a Syrah entered in a national competition. “Painted Rock was successful with quality wine right out of the gate and developed a following pretty quickly,” says Geoff McIntyre, a consultant at accounting firm MNP.
Skinner pursued what he calls “a very aggressive mandate for quality. The vision is one where we are aspiring to quality of an international standard. I don’t look at the domestic market as our immediate competition.” He employs a top-notch Bordeaux consultant, Alain Sutre, who also advises Burrowing Owl, Poplar Grove and Osoyoos Larose. Since 2004, Skinner has invested more than $10 million in Painted Rock. In spite of that, the production is deliberately capped at 5,000 cases a year. “We don’t want to get bigger; we want to get better,” he says. “It’s about attention to detail. As I looked at all the ultra-premium players around the world, that 5,000-case number resonated.”
Similarly, Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery at Okanagan Falls is capping annual production at around 6,000 cases. “Our goal was to make premium-quality wine,” says Jim D’Andrea, the principal owner of the winery with his wife, Leslie. “We are not interested in making volume wine.” A lawyer with Bennett Jones LLP, a major national law firm, D’Andrea traces his winery decision to a family backpacking trip in Europe in 1998. “In France, we met a guy who owned Domaine de Villeneuve in Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” says D’Andrea. “He was an accountant who had sold his business and bought this little domaine. He just loved it. I got really quite excited.”
Already a collector of French and California wines, he was “convinced that Canada also could make very good wines. When we were making our plan, the goal was to make the best wine in the country.” The winery is on a hilltop (hence, the Noble Ridge name) that Jim and Leslie bought in 2001 and planted with four hectares of vines. Five years later, they bought an adjoining three-hectare vineyard with a sturdy barn that housed a basic winery. With several millions already invested, they sold minority interests in the business to friends.
“We had a 10-year plan in 2003 when we started making our wine and we are right on course,” Jim says. By 2012 the business was generating a profit. “Does it go as fast as you want it to go?” he asks. “No, of course not.” He continues to practice law, although in the growing season his clients are likely to find him on a cell phone while working the vineyard. “Once we can make a living here, then I will start to get out of the law business,” Jim says.
Meyer Family Vineyards principals Jak Meyer and his wife Janice Stevens developed a taste for fine wines while Jak was working as an investment adviser, and that led to his career switch. In 2006, Meyer bought a 1.5-hectare vineyard in Naramata with 10-year-old Chardonnay vines. He retained winemaker Michael Bartier, who then worked at Road 13 Vineyards, to make the first several vintages there. “We looked at the small boutique winery model—just keep that vineyard and do 600 cases a year,” Meyer says. “And it would just be a hobby.” After releasing a $30 Chardonnay and a $65 Chardonnay early in 2008, Meyer quickly understood that the wine business is not a hobby. “We realized that we will never make money at 600 cases,” he says.
By that summer, Meyer had hired a full-time winemaker and commissioned the design for a showpiece Naramata winery. Then he was able to snap up a 6.5-hectare Okanagan Falls vineyard with a bankrupt rudimentary winery for about $2 million. (The winery had not opened because the owner’s Arizona real estate business collapsed.) This accelerated Meyer’s business plan by a year and gave him the vineyard base to support a viable annual production of 4,000 to 5,000 cases. He shelved the planned Naramata winery, investing instead in the Okanagan Falls property. He estimates he has now invested $5.5 million—enough that he would consider adding a strategic partner to what is still a family business.
Meyer stopped working as an investment consultant in 2007 and has no regrets, even if the winery still consumes capital. “Five to seven years is probably a reasonable time in which to expect a return,” he says. “Anyone who thinks it will happen sooner will be pretty surprised. It is not about the money for us. We have some personal assets to live off until this starts making money.” He has also fielded inquiries from investors about buying his business. “If somebody wrote us a cheque today, I’d start again tomorrow,” he says.
At Laughing Stock Vineyards, David Enns earns a good enough living that for several years he kept a pricey European motorcycle in South America for his winter vacations. He credits bottom-line discipline to his wife, Cynthia, who has an MBA. “I am married to a spreadsheet queen,” he says with a laugh. “We are in a manufacturing business. We have a lot of passion around it, but you can’t forget it is still a business.”
The couple previously owned a successful investment consulting company in White Rock and ran it from the Okanagan for four years after they moved there in 2003 to start the winery on an orchard they had bought. “That was the perfect storm of way too much work and pressure,” says David Enns, who was taking winemaking courses in California at the same time. The couple sold the consulting business in 2007 once Laughing Stock was established. “We now joke that we have the lifestyle that everybody thought we had 10 years ago,” he says.
The winery, with production capped between 5,000 and 6,000 cases, is profitable because they got in in 2004-05 when land and constructions costs were much lower than today, and were able to self-finance the more than $5 million that has been invested in Laughing Stock. In June 2012, the winery was 159 on Profit magazine’s list of the 200 fastest-growing companies in Canada, with five-year revenue growth of 279 per cent. The winery has succeeded with premium wines, 40 per cent of which are sold to its wine club and 30 per cent to restaurants. The remainder is allocated to wine stores and a corporate gifting program built around business contacts the owners made in their previous career. The biggest surprise, David Enns says, is that the winery now has a cult status. “We had no idea there was any kind of fanfare in it,” he says.