• The Accidental Garden

    So we’re big composters and have been since our time living in Vancouver.  When we moved to the vineyard, we were delighted to see the large pile of pomace from the leftover grape skins after each year’s harvest and winemaking processes. Our soil has historically been quite nutrient rich, given that the trees that formerly occupied the land were careful removed by the roots, leaving the soil profile intact. 

    Over 20 years on, it is time to put a little something back into the soil, gently mind you, as we don’t want the vines to get over fertilised and put all of their energy into the vegetation and not the grapes.  Enter the pomace or what has now become known as the accidental garden.

    When we came over from Vancouver, we brought our composting bin and proceeded to populate the pomace pile with worms and material from the bin.  Low and behold, a few months later, we have a large, unplanned compost garden of zucchini, tomatoes and bell peppers, all originating from our household waste. 

    Everything in the pile seems to be thriving.  In fact, the sorry looking Roma tomatoes in our greenhouse may soon be relocated to the compost pile as given how well it’s doing.

    Most importantly, on the vines we find these little guys: With the warmer temperatures, they are starting to gain momentum.  We’ll be tending the vines carefully in the weeks to come to ensure they get enough sun and avoid overcrowding.

  • Tucking & Suckering

    Upon reflection, that title sounds a bit dirty.  I guess I do get a bit grubby as I crouch down to remove unwanted vine shoots or “suckers” from the trunks of the wines.  We don’t want these new shoots to take away any of the nutrients and attention from the main vines from which our grapes will grow.  In addition to removing these enthusiastic shoots, we also want to thin the vines a bit to avoid overcrowding and facilitate picking the eventual ripe grapes.  The vines also need to be “tucked” so that they grow straight upright (like soldiers at attention) and allow for full growth and ease of picking.  

    I admit to being a complete amateur and to having accidentally broken off a few shoots during this process.  For now, I am leaving the tucking and thinning to our experienced vineyard staff while I focus on the suckering and removing any pernicious weeds that grow alongside and into the vines.  

    The wet spring followed by some sun sent everything into a growing frenzy and we returned from Tofino to a veritable jungle.  This has make it challenging for our vineyard staff to work the wines with the long grass and weeds taking over between the rows.  Things are much better now since mowing and the consistent sun and warm temperatures have slowed the regrowth to some degree. 

    The flora on the rest of the vineyard are also enjoying the warmer temperatures as our figs, pears and plums start to ripen.  

    The sunny conditions are also necessary if the grapes are to catch up this year.  The long winter and wet spring have set them back about two to three weeks but they can rebound if we get steady hot weather in July and August – fingers crossed.

  • Tofino

    Zac and I spent just over 10 days in Tofino in June, meeting restaurant clients and attending Grazing in the Garden, an annual food and wine festival hosted in the Tofino Botanical Gardens.  Roger Dosman has attended the event every year it has been running (15 years) and we intend to keep up the tradition. 

     Whilst we are a relatively small vineyard and winery and do not participate in very many tasting events like this, Tofino is an important one for us given the strong following and support we have with clients in Tofino and Ucluelet.  Tucked away near Bernardo O’Higgins Homestead, we poured for patrons who knew our wines and many who got to taste them for the first time. 

     In addition to Grazing in the Garden, we had a chance to meet a number of our clients face to face as we did tasting events in their restaurants with staff to discuss the wines and answer questions about farming practices, food pairings and the varietals themselves.  It was inspiring to meet people who were so enthusiastic about our wines and who make a real effort to build our brand with their own clientele. 

     We really enjoyed both the scenery and the cuisine of Tofino, be it the fresh Dungeness crab we purchased along the road into town, the delicious charcuterie from Picnic (www.picniccharcuterie.com) or the outstanding seafood platter at The Schooner (www.schoonerrestaurant.ca), which paired so well with our Bacchus wine.  Thanks to Sean and the team at The Schooner for being so welcoming to us.

     We had a little downtime during our visit and had the chance to walk the Lighthouse Loop of the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet. I would highly recommend this easy hike for its amazing vistas and lookouts.  Gorgeous.

     We definitely look forward to Grazing in the Garden 2018 and to reconnecting with our customers in Tofino and Ucluelet.  Thank you for all your support!

  • A New Look

    In May, we kicked off a project with Hired Guns Creative out of Nanaimo to help us update our image with a new logo, new labelling for our wines starting in 2017, and other promotional material for our website and events.  We are thrilled with the quality of their work and how effectively they have managed the project.  The designs they have produced perfectly captured the modern yet timeless look we were going for and we can’t wait for next year’s wines and the launch of the new labels.  Thanks to Leif, Troy, and Richard at Hired Guns for the amazing collaboration.  We couldn’t be happier. 

     

  • Tasting, Tenting and Tractors

    A whirlwind has ensued since we took over our vineyard.  Putting both hands (and feet) into the business, the vines and the tasting room, it has been all-consuming.  Add to that a move of house and there has barely been time to breathe. 

     I do have to remind myself that I’m on the island now and everything does not have to happen right now but my previous life in major corporations does seem to creep into my present life and on more than one occasion these last weeks, I’ve found myself laying awake, making mental lists of things that need to happen.

    There have been moments of calm, usually in the evening, as the sun sets over the vines and Mount Provost.  One evening after the rain had finally stopped, we went outside to savour the raindrops that glittered on the trellis wire like thousands of diamonds.  It was breath-taking.

    In addition to the natural beauty that surrounds us, I am really enjoying the beauty of human contact and meeting new and existing customers as they visit our wine shop.

    The enthusiasm and support for the wine and vineyard continue to surprise me.  It is such a tribute to previous owners, Roger and Nancy Dosman.

    The attention to quality in their winemaking and nurturing personal relationships has made our job so much easier.  And we still have them coaching and mentoring us on this journey.  Earlier in the week, Roger showed us how to “tent” or wrap our more sensitive varietals in plastic, creating a greenhouse effect and protecting them to help with ripening. 

    Tending the vines is never-ending.  They say that if you think you’re on top of everything on your vineyard, there is a problem.  There will always be something to do somewhere in the vineyard.  In addition to the 7.5 planted acres, we have a large amount of grass to mow.  Zac has been in equipment hell for the last few weeks as both our lawnmower and the one he borrowed from his father, Chris, went down.  And then there was the sprayer….it attaches to our tractor so we can spray the vines through the season to keep away mould, and other damaging pests that threaten the crop.  It too went on a bender with one hose coming detached sending sulphur spray all over Zac.  And as he bent down to try and fix it in the Quonset hut with a pool of spray puddling at his feet, there lay Vino, just enjoying the moment and being with him.   Needless to say, both needed a bath afterwards.

    In spite of the challenges we have faced with equipment, the physical work is a nice complement to the day-to-day running of a business and we find ourselves getting fitter.  And what man doesn’t like having his own tractor?  

    I continue to hone my skills and utilise my previous experience where I can though some tasks are completely new, such as purchasing and programming a cash register.  Doing payroll for our casual employees would be another one, in spite of having spent 20 years Human Resources.  There is a lot I have never done.

    Most importantly, I’m having fun, when I’m not laying awake at 3:00am making lists.  And the sunsets are spectacular.  

  • Vino!

    I would like to introduce the newest family member of Alderlea Vineyards, our red heeler puppy Vino.

    While we have only had her a few short weeks, she has already captured our hearts and is basically calling the shots now.  Having no children, this is likely the closest I’ll ever get to having a child and I can now begin to empathise to some extent with new parents.

    I worry that she is getting enough attention, has enough to eat and drink and is getting enough stimulation and discipline.  I feel guilty about not spending more time with her when I’m in the office though Zac has been able to bring her along on deliveries and have her with him as he repairs equipment and putters about the vineyard.  

     A true vineyard working dog, she doesn’t balk at the tractor and contentedly runs alongside in the neighbouring row when Zac is driving. 

     She just wants to be near us and in the first weeks has tried to defend us from the neighbouring horses and cows even though they are already behind fences.

     Happily, she is starting to find some independence, give in to natural instincts and chase the invading rabbits who threaten our flourishing vines.  Her prey drive was one of the features that attracted us to her breed and we hope to cultivate it so that she chases off other vine predators.  

     So far, she is winning the hearts of most people she meets, scurrying over to each new visitor and promptly rolling onto her back for a belly-rub.  Shameless. 

  • Beauty in a Bottle

    Week Two in my new job was largely consumed helping to bottle last year’s white wines.  The bottling line is an efficient set-up and the process moves fairly quickly, much faster than bottling our previous handcrafted wines which was a much slower process but also on a much smaller scale.

    I started my first day on the corker, taking bottles from the filler, putting a cork in and sending the finished product onwards to be labelled.  There was a learning curve as you see in my first bottle.

    Can you spot the problem?  It’s a common mistake for new corkers, to the hilarity of the rest of the bottling crew.  Now I know to press the button only once.

    It probably took about 60 seconds into my corking career for this thought to cross my mind, “I went to university to avoid doing jobs like this…”  Ah, the irony that this is now my chosen profession! 

    Working the line those four days, images of Lucille Ball and Laverne & Shirley crept into my mind (I realise I’m dating myself with those references but sod it!)

    Another sensory observation from the line was the smell of the wine as it filled the bottles – fresh fruit notes of Sauvignon Blanc, Bacchus and Pinot Gris.  Fantastic.

    I’m still getting used to the degree of change from my old career to my new one.  So far, so great.

  • Early Days

    After only a week of self-employment, I’m already getting more sleep and having fun.

    This past week was taken up principally with signing, sniffing, pruning and strolling.  We had a lot of paperwork to get through with the sale of our Vancouver home, the vineyard purchase and the incorporation of our company, Motovino Wines Inc.  Thankfully, our lawyer, Penny, is skilfully guiding us through this process.

    We had the chance to smell and taste the 2016 white wines before bottling and I was reminded just how much I have to learn about making great wine.

    One of the highlights of the week was learning how to prune a vine.  Roger, the previous vineyard owner, was a very patient tutor, demonstrating the technique to identify the best shoot to keep on the vine (look for the most buds in the right positioning and get rid of the rest), to allow for the most grapes.  I made a few mistakes but the vines will recover.  They are newly planted (one-year old) Sauvignon Blanc vines and I look forward to their maturity.

    I must admit, I felt quite serene, kneeling with pruning shears in hand, no cell phone, laptop or high heels in sight.

    In between other meetings that Zac and I had in Duncan, we strolled around the town to get our bearings.  The numerous totems are quite lovely and there are a number of small businesses that we look forward to frequenting, from the Olive Station (https://theolivestation.com/), purveyors of gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegars, to Mad Dog Crabs Seafood Market (https://www.maddogcrabs.ca/), where local fisherman bring their catch, I think we’ll enjoy living in this part of the world.

    Next week, I’ll get to experience the bottling process.  Should be good fun.

  • Lift-off

    So I guess it is no longer a dream.  Zac and I are now officially winegrowers.

    After more than a decade of discussion and winemaking in the garage (Montreal) and driveway (Vancouver), we are getting serious, farming 7.5 acres of white and red varietals in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island.

    As ever, Zac is the inspiration behind this ambitious endeavour.  His winemaking has grown increasingly impressive as the years have passed.  I am far less educated about the winemaking process, having been more involved in the catering (feeding the troops) and janitorial aspects of the process to date.  That said, I have done my share of “punching down grapes”, bottling and sampling the barrels over the years.

    Neither of us has ever grown grapes, though Zac has worked on vineyards in Europe and Australia, and he has certainly researched and reflected on it a great deal.

    Running our own business will be new as well, though we’ve both worked in corporations large and small for 20 years.

    We have the passion, the energy and probably most importantly, the sense of humour to be doing this.

    As a lifelong friend said to me when we first embarked on this, “if you guys can’t do this successfully, I don’t know who can.”

    Thanks Ken.  We’ll certainly do our best.