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Anthony Gismondi on Wine
Thursday, April 23 2020

It Takes a Village

By: Cheri Caleb
An alternate model for B.C. wine production and consumer experience.

A couple of years ago, veteran British Columbian winemaker Valeria Tait lamented that the spirit of invention, often in abundance in young entrepreneurs, was becoming rarer in the province as the costs of opening a winery grew out of reach for most.

Tait entered the industry in the late 80s at a time when the modern industry's pioneers were experimenting widely, including abandoning grapes, vineyards and wines that didn't make the cut. Today, the prohibitive costs of all aspects of winegrowing and production leaves that kind of research and testing in the hands of the biggest and wealthiest investors. As wineries across the province consolidate into fewer hands, those important discoveries made through trial and error could be lost to corporate oversight. This is what Tait was concerned about, "I hope that there's still going to be room for small players who will be able to still put out interesting products in small quantities that can be experimental."

Despite the current pandemic, a new, innovative and communal wine production centre, District Wine Village is on track to open just in time for the fall 2020 crush. It could play a vital role in attracting young winemakers with garagiste attitudes that answer Tait's lament. Pipes were already being laid in February at the 10-acre site located just south of McIntyre Bluff. Construction is lead by Matt Kenyon, co-owner and GM of Greyback Construction, whose family has a 30-year history of building major projects throughout the Okanagan Valley, including many wineries.

Kenyon developed the idea of a village concept over several years with his friend Max Brock, who had visited similar business models in the US. Brock passed away last year. To keep the project going, Kenyon asked wine consultant Mike Daley, a 15-year veteran of Vincor/Arterra, to oversee consumer and marketing developments.

Some readers may be familiar with village clusters in the US, such as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, located in Santa Barbara County, near the famed Sta Rita Hills sub-AVA. The Ghetto is, in fact, a collection of single-story metal buildings that house 13 tasting rooms and 20+ production facilities for local winemakers. It functions as a community that shares pallet jacks, grape presses and barrels between neighbours when needed, and the wines produced are serious. The Lompoc Ghetto happened organically, with wine tasting rooms added to raise some quick on-site cash. Unlike Lompoc, Kenyon and Daley have designed a site with the consumer in mind, so it looks less like an industrial park, and more like an inviting space, that encourages visitation to all of the growers equally. And, it will include food, craft beer and a distillery built around a central shared space for entertainment. 

An immediate flow of consumers is just part of the benefit to the tenants, with most of the infrastructure and crush pad already in place. Kenyon and Daley hope that some of their tenants will use the space as a stepping stone, graduating to their own wineries and opening up spots for a fresh set of winemakers. It seems to fit right into what Tait had been saying, "We're one of the youngest wine regions in the world, and I think that it's naive to believe that we've arrived with a complete understanding of who we are (as an industry). I hope that our industry continues to attract all kinds of different demographics, different people, quirky people, and the experimentation continues."  

To see the plans and the location of District Wine Village, take a look at the video interview with Kenyon and Daley above.

For more information: https://districtwinevillage.com/

Related: Lompoc Wine Ghetto, Valeria Tait video interview

Written By:
Cheri Caleb
Cheri Caleb

Cheri Caleb is the driving force behind the Gismondi on Wine videos. She has been producing videos for almost a decade, first for The Vancouver Sun and The Province and then as the founder of Back Valley Road Productions. Her work has been recognized internationally.