Different business models distinguish vineyards in emerging regions across Canada

Mining history has always been a favourite tactic for wineries. Tell the story of your roots. Evoke the smells of the past.

Harper’s Trail Estate Winery offers an excellent case history, the first winery to open in Kamloops, British Columbia in August 2013. Locals will instantly gravitate to the story of pioneer rancher Thaddeus Harper and his famous cattle drive trail. Because there are springs on the property – Thadd Springs — it was an ideal staging area when driving cattle from the Chilcotin plateau down to San Francisco. Now, it’s an oasis for tourists.

Pioneers themselves, Ed and Vicki Collett have bravely planted 23 acres of grapes on the banks of the South Thompson River. Their vineyard must withstand blazing summers and freezing winters in an environment that’s more akin to desert. From a modest harvest of nine tonnes in 2011, their courage has been rewarded with 40 tonnes in 2012 and now 67 tonnes in 2013.

“We’re not much different in climate than Osoyoos in the southern Okanagan,” he explains. “However our limestone base soils are unique. We think there’s a huge opportunity with much more affordable land prices here in Kamloops than in the Okanagan.”

“We have travelled the globe and think there’s no reason not to have vineyards here. “We’re using all the technology available to us to protect the vines.”

In this neck of the woods, wildlife poses more threat than weather, so an eight-foot animal fence has been erected around the property. The other hurdle is not environmental at all. According to Vicki Collett, it’s overcoming disbelief of locals that a winery can exist in this region.

Teaming up with Okanagan Crush Pad based in Summerland, their first wines were released in 2012 under the winemaking expertise of Michael Bartier. This fall, their wines are incubating at their own facility in Kamloops with a tasting room open to the public from May to October. They are offering two Rieslings, a Rose, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Field Blend White, Late Harvest Riesling and a Cabernet Franc. The wines reflect this emerging grape-growing region with minerality and crisp acidity.

“Lots of people in Kamloops don’t know we’re here,” says Vicki Collett. But that’s soon to change with more promotion for their new wine shop and tasting room, patios for events and next year, a 5,000-square foot crushing and fermentation building. With 80,000 people at their doorstep, the Collett’s are aggressively busting the myth that grapes can’t grow in this clime.

NOVA SCOTIA

With 700 acres under vine in Nova Scotia, the industry is sparkling with opportunity – literally. Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve, a sparkling white wine made in the style of the best that French Champagne has to offer, is considered by wine connoisseurs to be the best in its class in Canada.

With critical mass building in the industry – anywhere from 14 to 18 wineries depending on definition — Donna Sears came on board as the founding director of the Atlantic Wine Institute (AWI) in 2012. Astutely located at Acadia University, the AWI connects viticulture academics, oenology specialists and wine business experts with industry. Partners include Acadia University, Collège communautaire de Noveau Brunswick, Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture, Holland College, Nova Scotia Community College and St. Mary’s University.

“We’re in a challenging climate for growing grapes well,” Sears says from her Wolfville office, within view of the Minas Basin and Bay of Fundy. “We’ve made great strides with a sparkling program as well as our signature grape L’Acadie, an aromatic white hybrid that’s hardy enough to withstand cold winters. The L’Acadie grape is also a key element in Nova Scotia’s new appellation wine: Tidal Bay.”

While agronomic issues are an important focus of research, marketing and tourism are a priority for Sears. Three years ago, she began a multi-pronged research project aimed at identifying and creating a profile of Nova Scotia wine tourists.

“A hallmark for our industry is that much of the production is in small batches,” Sears says. Those small batches have spawned big dreams.

Boutique wineries are a selling point for agri-tourism, a fact that’s been seized upon by the Wolfville Business Development Corporation. Executive director David Hovell has capitalized on the whimsical town located just one hour’s drive from Halifax. Once tourists come, what’s to do?

The Wolfville Magic Winery Bus has partnered with four wineries in the region: Domaine de Grand Pré, Luckett Vineyards, L’Acadie Vineyards and Gaspereau Vineyards. A double-decker bus leaves Wolfville at prescribed times with passengers allowed to stop and sip, and then board again for the next stop.

“We are all working together to authenticate the Wolfville area as the centre of Atlantic Canada’s wine country,” explains Hovell. “In 2012, the pink double decker bus toured participants through Wolfville and to the wineries for seven weekends and a total of 14 days. It was so well received that this year the event grew to 11 weekends and 33 days.”

Sears is now evaluating the visitor feedback in terms of how well the experience is meeting expectations. Is it necessary to meet the winemaker? What logistics of the tour can be improved? In a follow-up project, she’s evaluating the economic impact of the Magic Winery Bus tour.

Nova Scotia’s wine industry is gaining profile and respect. Luckett Vineyards is so confident that a British-style phone booth has been installed in the middle of the vineyard. Visitors are encouraged to make a free call anywhere in North America. Imagine the word-of-mouth publicity when tourists phone home to say, “Wish you were here!”

ONTARIO

Carrots and onions won’t be displaced anytime soon by vineyards, but the Holland Marsh Winery is proving there’s space for a niche venture.

“There’s lots of skepticism about a vineyard in Newmarket,” says Norie Nersisyan. “There’s huge risk whether you grow vines or vegetables. Our biggest concern is frost.”

Established almost seven years ago, the 11 acres of vineyard is now planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Vidal, Baco Noir and Gamay Noir. To that mix, add cold-hardy varieties of Seyval Blanc, Marquette and Chambourcin.

Each of these new varieties will add dimension to the current blended wines. Take Marquette, for example, a red varietal released from the University of Minnesota in 2006. It’s resistant to downy mildew, powdery mildew and black rot. Seyval Blanc has had a good history in the Finger Lakes area of New York, and should do well in the cool climate. And Chambourcin is a red variety that’s known for its robust wines and affinity for chocolate.

Norie and his father Roland have built a 3,000-square foot event space for wine members to use. Guests enjoy the rustic atmosphere and the opportunity to choose from the 2,500 cases of wine for sale this year.

Originally appear in The Grower

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