Vera Klokocka

A pioneer, winemaker and winery owner.

As one of very few female winemakers in the Okanagan, at the time,Vera was incredibly influential and highly respected for producing exceptional wines.  She and her husband Bohumir were instrumental to the wine industry in the Okanagan as the original owners, operators, and creators of Hillside Estate.Vera extended her skills for winemaking, consulting and management into, Quebec, Oregon and Michigan.

 

Klokocka, Bohumir (1935-1995) and Vera (1942-): The founders of Hillside Cellars, the Klokockas both worked for the Czech state airline (he as a mechanic, she as a ticket clerk) until they defected in 1968, coming to Canada that fall after several months as refugees in Austria. Skiing enthusiasts, they moved to the Okanagan to work at the Big White resort near Kelowna. Bohumir ultimately resumed his trade as a sheet metal worker in the Western Star truck plant in Kelowna.

In 1979 they purchased an orchard on Naramata Road and after converting it to grapes in 1984, Vera Klokocka taught herself to become a winemaker. After she had become a skilled amateur vintner Vera made wines home consumption at first but began to wonder if she could operate like the small wineries of Europe and sell her wines. She found that Kristina and Gunthur Lang had the same idea. The Krugers founders of Wild Goose Winery were also communicating with the Government to sell their wines. she emerged as a leader of the band of farm winemakers that successfully pressed the provincial government in 1989 to create the farmgate winery license for ambitious producers with vineyards too small for the estate winery category. (Others included Adolf Kruger and Gunther Lang.)

Hillside Cellars was a sucess story untill Bohumir became ill.

The story continues as told by Vera Klkocka:

It was a very sad and hard time for our family. I, finally, sold the winery the following summer to John Fletcher and his business partner, John Hromyk. It was disappointing to have to do so, but my children were not interested in carrying on what my husband and I had started. It had been our dream to continue. In order to do that, I faced the fact that I would have to expand which meant borrowing money and employing people. I would have done that if my children had stayed. But, as that was not the situation, I elected to sell. I was just too tired after 2 years of my husband's illness to continue to run the winery alone.

My husband Bohumir passed away in December 1995 after suffering for two years with lung cancer.

After the sale of the winery, a friend of mine invited me to spend some time in Montreal and the Eastern Townships of Quebec. I needed some time for myself so I accepted the invitation and moved to the other end of Canada. I fell in love with the new environment and the French culture and, of course, the great city of Montreal. I made lots of friends. I, also, traveled back home to the Czech Republic and traveled throughout Europe. I, then, spent the winter in Florida. I just needed to heal myself.

In 1998 I bought a house in the Eastern Townships in Sutton. I loved to ski - so here I was close to the ski hill. But I, still, needed something to do, so I decided to buy a Pub in a nearby village just because Mordecai Ritchler used to go there every Tuesday! It was fun for a while but I had a business partner involved and the partnership wasn't working out. I, eventually, sold my share to him and started looking for something else to do.

I met a young winemaker named Patrick in the village of Dunham. He was experimenting with apple ice wine. His product was fabulous. We became friends. I let him know that I was looking for a winemaking or consulting position. The following week I found a note in my door, inviting me to visit Domaine de Cote d'Ardois (1) which was a winery in Dunham. It was run by an amazing plastic surgeon - Dr. Jacques Papillon. This was in the fall of 1998. Cote d'Ardoise was double the size of Hillside and Dr. Papillon was in urgent need of a full-time winemaker!

During the summer of 1998, I also met with my future partner - John Fletcher. His business partnership with John Hromyk had fallen apart, and he intended to, permanently, join me in the Eastern Townships after finishing up his business in the Okanagan. In the meantime, he traveled back and forth. I debated the proposal from Cote D'Ardoise with John and we agreed to take the position, as a team, on a consulting basis. We started with the 1998 vintage and improved everything that we could. This resulted in our winning 5 medals in a Quebec tasting. Our reward was an additional "medal fee".

Our season at the winery started in late September and we worked until everything was bottled in April. During the summer, in the Townships, we started buying, fixing, and selling houses. It's hard to believe how much energy we had then...If that wasn't enough, we also consulted for Henrietta Anthony on a vineyard start-up at Chapelle St. Agnes.

In the spring of 2000 I was invited by the organizer of the Selection Mondial Des Vins Du Canada to judge the competition. I did so with pleasure.

We, also, started consulting for Callahan Ridge winery in Oregon - where we, basically, repaired and improved neglected wines. We worked there for one week a month. Our efforts paid off as the winery received a couple of medals for the wines we fixed. In 2001, while working for Cote D'Ardoise, we also consulted at Blanc Coteaux winery (the young winemaker who got me the job at Cote D'Ardois). We continued consulting in Callahan Ridge. At the same time we wrote a business plan for Pinnacle Ice Cider which became one of the largest producers of Ice Apple Cider in Quebec.

In the fall of 2001 we got tired of the cold weather and, after finding a new winemaker for Dr. Papillon, John accepted a winemaking position at the Lakeridge Winery in Claremont Florida. Pardon our ignorance but we did not know they had wineries in Florida! We sold the house, stored our possessions, and moved to Florida. It was not the best move as the grapes were not real grapes (they use Muscadine grapes) half ripe, half green. John worked from 6 am until 10 pm every day. One day while unloading the press - he found a rattle snake in the press!

After one month of this life, John had lost 20 lbs and I rarely ever saw him, so I decided that is it! He quit the job and we spent a month driving through Florida with our beloved Volkswagen Westfalia named Daisy. (We are on our second one now).

It was the spring of 2002 when we returned to Quebec and stayed in a rented place for a while. We then went to Nova Scotia to investigate what to do next. We were offered a winemaking position in Habitant Winery in Canning, NS. but declined.

We traveled across the country in search of our next place to live. We had decided not to stay in Quebec as it was not getting any easier to communicate in the French language and the separatism movement did not appeal to us. We checked a few places in Ontario but nothing appealed to us. We continued all the way back to BC and all the way to Vancouver Island. There, we were offered a winemaking position at Cherry Point but decided not to stay on the Island. We, finally, ended up in Penticton again and bought a lovely home at Farleigh Lake - on the way to Apex Mountain.

As soon as we established ourselves there, we were offered a consulting position at Chateau de Leelanau in Traverse City, Michigan. We accepted. We fell in love with the beauty of the area and continued to commute and consult there until the end of 2004.

We, finally, got tired of commuting and John accepted a position as General Manager of Therapy Vineyards in Naramata. He did the startup for John McBean.

During the summer of 2005 we received the sad news that one of the partners of Chateau de Leelanau had passed away. John was offered a full position as General Manager and Winemaker there, and we accepted. The winery was owned by Dr. Roberta Kurtz who was still working full time and unable to manage the winery at the same time.

Besides working at the winery, we had some wonderful times there. We met some very nice people and interesting characters there like Winemaker Larry Mauwby who produced a sparkling wine called "SEX". We, also, met Madonna's father Tony Cicconi and his wife Joanne. Of course, we had to buy a sailboat, as Lake Michigan is famous for sailing with it's Caribbean blue waters.

In 2006 we bought a home in Nova Scotia but were still living in the USA. We combined our Canadian and US life until 2010 when we assisted Dr. Kurtz with selling her winery. We retired in the Annapolis Valley - Nova Scotia in 2010. After buying and selling a few properties here we settled in Canning - a village near Wolfville - the home of Acadia University. We are gardening and growing a few grapes and apple trees. We went to Ecuador last year and discovered South America and the "real food" that the poor people eat there.

We are now debating what "poverty" really means. Every one there seems to be happy and healthy. So next project???? Try to free ourselves of anything processed, eat healthy, and maybe .... try to produce some really good Apple Ice Wine!

History of Farmgate in BC

* Habitant opened in 1996 later renamed Blomidon Estate WInery

(1) Domaine Des Cotes d’Ardoise, the oldest commercial still exploited vineyard in Quebec. Founded 1980by Christian Barthomeuf with Mr. Jacques Breault. Bought by Mr. Jacques Papillon.1984 sold again in to Steve Ringuet, Julie Tasse, Marc Colpron and Ginette Martin.2010

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