Dennis Zanatta was a hard worker with a passion for good fruit. It was his love of fresh fruit which fuelled the planting of the first estate winery on Vancouver Island, culminating in the foundation of Zanatta Winery, through which his legacy lives on.
Dionisio Zanatta (Dennis) was born in 1929 to a long line of growers of fruits and vegetables in Treviso, Italy. In 1950 he emigrated to Canada with the wave of post-war Italian immigrants, to Vancouver, where he met his wife Claudia. After 8 years working as a terrazzo and tile layer, he made the dramatic career change to dairy farming
He bough a 48 hector farm just north of Duncan even before Claudia saw the property
Together with Claudia and her brother Walter, and purchased a 120-acre farm in the Cowichan Valley in 1958. Moving into the now-iconic c. 1903 farmhouse, Dennis was able to pursue his passion for agriculture, keeping an orchard and garden for him and his young family, and running a dairy. By the late 1960’s, Walter had left, Dennis and Claudia continuing to farm until Dennis sold the cows and returned to his terrazzo and tile trade, founding Matrix Marble and Stone.
Dennis kept his farm active by leasing the hayfields to dairy farmers and continually planting grapevines and other fruit trees on the rest of the property. He developed a relationship with the agricultural research station in Saanich in the 60’s and 70’s, acquiring grapevine cuttings for his own trials. These grapes he then picked for himself, and made small batches of homemade wine to share with friends and family.
Dionisio was passionate about the farm; the vineyard; the stones; and the wine.
1980/81 was a time of vigorous provincial research on vinifera vines, and a fortunate encounter with the grape specialist from the Okanagan during the BC grape pullout program availed Dennis the opportunity to participate in grape trials with the provincial agricultural research team. These grape trials became known as the “Duncan Project”. This fed Dennis’ passion for the vineyard, and gave him the information he needed to confirm that the Cowichan Valley, and specifically his farm, could grow premium grapes for a premium wine market.
The premium wine market was just beginning to blossom in BC at this time, and liquor policy was changing. In 1985 Dennis extended his 1-acre experimental vineyard and planted 5 acres of Ortega and Cayuga grapes. In 1989 he established the family winery, Vigneti Zanatta. In 1991 Dennis planted even more acreage to Auxerrois. At this point a winery license was granted, and by 1995 Dennis had added Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Early Muscat to the current total of 30 acres.
Dennis Zanatta was a visionary for the grape and wine industry on Vancouver Island. He was generous with his knowledge and eager to encourage potential growers to establish Cowichan Valley as a legitimate wine growing region. His determination, optimism and passion prepared the path for the future of grape growing in the Cowichan Valley.
Black Tie Lifetime Achievement Award
Known as the First Family of Island Winers the winery is carried on by Dionisio daughter winemaker Loretta along with her husband Jim Moody. Specializing in champagne style wines.