By John Schreiner
reprinted with permission
Cana Vines Winery
129 Brauns Road
If location is a key to success, Cana Vines Winery launched with an advantage. The winery, with its three hectares (7.5 acres) of sunbathed vines, is beside the highway, just south of Vaseux Lake and north of McIntyre Bluff. Not many wineries enjoy as much drive-by traffic.
While the address is Brauns Road, that is a stub of a street from Highway 97 near Vaseux Lake . The highway address of the vineyard is 9001 Highway 97.
“They have changed our address four times since we moved here,” says winemaker Lisa Elgert.
Arnie Elgert, a commercial fisherman, bought the property in 1990, he just wanted to move his family to the Okanagan from Vancouver . “He was thinking of retiring from fishing,” says Filipino-born Mindi, his wife, who had to learn to drive because they were distant from a community.
“My dad researched different crops that could have grown here,” says Lisa, his daughter. “We had all sorts of suggestions – ginseng, hemp, seabuckthorne. Somebody wanted us to open a McDonalds. There were all sorts of ideas. He settled on grapes.”
The family spent the better part of the decade picking rocks while deciding what to grow before vines were planted in 1997. The varietal choices – Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay - were made on the advice of Arnie's friend, Sandor Mayer, the winemaker at Inniskillin Okanagan.
Cana Vines was registered in 2000 as the vineyard's name, inspired by a passage in Mindi's bible about the first miracle attributed to Jesus – turning water into wine at a wedding at Cana .
Arnie soon was thinking about opening a winery. He sent Lisa to get a business degree at Trinity Western University with the object of having her run the business. Then in 2008, Arnie was stricken with cancer and died that December. “ We were so devastated,” Mindi says. “We tried to get rid of the vineyard so we could forget everything and have a new start.” However, they could not sell the vineyard because of an economic slump. As they continued to farm it and sell the grapes, Lisa took Okanagan College winemaking courses. She and her mother decided to realize Arnie's dream.
They arranged to have their initial 2011 vintage made at Kalala Organic Estate Winery. That gave them time to turn a three-car garage into a functional winery and to complete a tasting room and a picnic area with a fine view of vineyards and McIntyre Canyon to the south. And they have grafted some of their vines to additional varietals, giving them a bigger tool box for make blends.
The wedding at Cana theme has also inspired the labels of several wines scheduled for release this summer. There is a 2011 Chardonnay called “Water to Wine” and a blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay called “The Wedding Feast.” An unoaked 2012 Merlot is called “First Sign.”
When I visited the winery in April, prior to the opening of the wine shop, there were only two wines in bottle, although I was able to sample several from barrel or tank. In particular, the unoaked Merlot is juicy and delicious.
Here are notes on the finished wines.
Cana Vines Pinot Gris 2011: ($16 for 126 cases). This fruity wine with a touch of sweetness on the finish has aromas and flavours of pear and apple. Sweetness aside, it is balanced to have a crisp, refreshing finish. 88.
Cana Vines Merlot Rosé 2011: ($14 for 256 cases). Think strawberry. The wine has a strawberry hue, with aromas and flavours of strawberries. It is an easy summer-time quaffer. 88.
Money Pit Wines
860 Fairview Road Oliver
No tasting room
Scott Stefishen laughs when asked to explain this winery's cheeky name. “Everyone in the industry says if you own a vineyard or a winery, it's a money pit,” he says. “It doesn't end.”
If there is anyone who has figured out how to keep the pit from getting too deep, it is Scott. He launched this winery in his garage in Oliver under a three-year permit from the town (likely renewable for three more years) His annual production is limited to 575 cases. His commercial license relieves him from the cost of buying a vineyard while allowing him to buy grapes both in British Columbia and in Washington State , where grape prices (but not grape quality) are significantly lower.
He does not intend to stay small forever. “As soon as we have product and sales, the bank can look at us for debt financing,” he says. “Either we will take out a small loan, purchase another building and keep our commercial license; or purchase vineyard land and switch over to a land-based license. The end game plan is to own our own land.”
Born in North Vancouver in 1979, Scott's interest in wine was sparked during a French vacation in 2000, starting in the Beaujolais region. In 2004 he and Kristie, his wife, went to Perth in Australia , where she enrolled in Curtin University 's world-renowned physiotherapy program.
Scott, who had been taking business courses at Capilano University , switched to to Curtin's winemaking and enology program. “ I decided I didn't want an office job,” Scott says. He made wine at two Australian wineries, including Stella Bella Wines and Rosebrook Estates.
When the couple returned to Canada in 2008, for family reasons, they took their professional qualifications to the Okanagan. Kristie established a physiotherapy clinic there while Scott spent the 2008 crush at Road 13 Vineyards, working with Michael Bartier.
On the strength of Michael's glowing recommendation, Burrowing Owl Vineyards hired Scott in 2009. “The only problem he had with me is my chosen NHL team,” Scott quipped. Scott is a fan of the New Jersey Devils while Michael supports the Montréal Canadiens.
“I left Burrowing in December 2010,” Scott says. “There were not many jobs available that would give me the flexibility I needed. At the time, my wife was working full time on her business and it was not feasible for both of us to be working full time, with two young children. That was mostly how this venture came about. I needed something I could do to keep myself occupied and passionate about wine.”
He has also helped Sandor Mayer at Inniskillin Okanagan during two vintages, with a primary focus on learning to make Icewine. “ It was something I wanted to know,” Scott explains. “For me, it is all about learning and keeping on learning. It is always nice to work under another winemaker and see what they do differently – and see how you can improve your own technique.” In the 2012 vintage, he returned to Road 13, this time working with J-M Bouchard.
Scott also kept a hand in at winemaking by crushing about a ton of grapes each vintage, producing wine for his family's personal consumption. At this stage, Money Pitt is not much larger than a home winery. Scott has no intention of getting in over his head.
“ I have a commercial winery license at this stage,” he says. “That was the only option I had. I did not have the capital and I did want to involve investors in purchasing land. It is $100,000 to $130,000 an acre. It is not an affordable business model to get into. My plans for the future are to grow until I can afford my own land or find a partnership I can work with.”
The commercial license gives him flexibility in sourcing his grapes. His first white release, a blend called Markup, is Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from a vineyard in Oroville, along with Chardonnay purchased at the end of the 2012 vintage from a grower in the Similkameen Valley .
His red wines include a Meritage blend, a Syrah Malbec blend and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend, with grapes sourced in both the Okanagan and in Washington State .
The cap of 575 cases a year for the next three years is a consequence of his zoning of his home on one of Oliver's main streets. “I am operating under what is called a temporary use permit,” Scott explains. “This technically becomes a commercial zone although we are in a residential area. The town is allowing us the opportunity to grow. The town is trying to develop more businesses in Oliver. We are the trial run to see if the temporary use permit will help.”
He is not uncomfortable with that cap. “Mostly, it is about controlled growth,” Scott says. “I don't want to have the multi-million expenditure right off the bat, and having to worry about making ends meet. I want to sell out in a year. Even if the demand's there, I would much rather sell out than have [unsold] stock.”
He has chosen to launch Money Pit with moderately-priced blends. The white is a blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, selling for $15 a bottle. The reds, when released, will all be under $24. The reason I want to do that is that I want to get my name out there and I want to sell out. If I can keep my costs low and my prices low, I hope to sell out every year and build my base .”
With no tasting room planned, Scott is selling the wine through restaurant contacts, friends and family, with the help of a website that is currently under construction.
Money Pit Markup 2012 ($15). The wine begins with aromas of herbs and wild honey. On the palate, there are flavours of ripe cantaloupe and tangerine with an herbaceous note from the Sémillon. 88.
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