Monday, January 24, 2011

Morning Bay Winery, Pender Island, British Columbia

“For total enjoyment, you need to know the story – the people, the land, the process.”

Starting over
It was 2000, the start of a new century, and Keith Watt had just turned 50. He had been a journalist, primarily for CBC Radio, for 25 years. “I realized that I had just enough time to try another career,” says Keith. “I have never regretted it for an instant.”

Keith and his wife, Barbara Reid, settled on the 25 acres of oceanfront property they owned on Pender Island, just off the coast of Vancouver Island. As Keith looked across the water one day, he saw the sun glinting off rows of newly-trellised grapes. And he realized that grapes were one of the few crops that would thrive on the steep, rocky slopes of his property.

The best of both worlds
Construction of the terraced vineyards on the south-facing slope of Mount Menzies on North Pender Island and the planting of 5000 grapevines began in 2001. Five years later, Morning Bay Winery harvested its first estate-grown wines. They celebrated their fifth anniversary in July 2010.

The cool, reasonably dry climate on Pender Island provides an 8-month growing season. But it lacks the heat of the Okanagan Valley. Keith has chosen to expand his wine-making options by shipping grapes grown in the Okanagan. Morning Bay Winery works closely with a small group of farmers to ensure that the grapes are harvested at the best possible moment. They are then shipped to the Pender Island winery to be turned into wine.

“Pender Island is an awesome place to make wine,” says Keith, “as it never gets very hot.” The winery is dug into the north side of the hill and the temperature is kept at a constant 12 degrees all year round.

Morning Bay has released over 40 wines in the past five years, and they are still honing their final list. Keith laughs and says he’s never met a wine that he didn’t want to make. “But each wine costs money,” he says. “You have to narrow your list and go with the winners.”

Doug Reichel Wine Marketing Inc. currently distributes five Morning Bay wines – Merlot, Merlot Reserve, Syrah, Chiaretto and Bianco. In future, Cava Secreta, Saskatoon, will also carry the Pinot Noir.

Old world wines
Keith prides himself on making old world wines that pair with good food and a healthy lifestyle. Old world wines are dry, higher acid and lower alcohol and residual sugar.

I’ve now tried three Morning Bay wines and my favourite is Bianco, a blend of white varietals grown on Pender Island. It reminds me of pink grapefruit – an initial pucker and then a hint of sweetness.

“We weren’t growing enough of any one variety, so we tried combining and blending the grapes,” Keith says. “We felt the blend had a lot going for it. It was multi-dimensional.”

Integrity and sweat
Buying wine from a small Canadian winery may not appear to be the obvious choice because of its higher price. Keith offers three compelling arguments in favour of buying his wine.

First of all, Chilean field workers receive $15 a day; Canadian field workers receive $15 an hour.

Secondly, “with Chilean wines, you’re getting a mass-produced product,” Keith explains. “It’s like trying to steer a super tanker. You’ve got to go the way the wine wants to go. We make it by the barrel.”

Finally, there is more to wine than just the taste. “For total enjoyment,” Keith says, “You need to know the story – the people, the land, the process.”

Morning Bay wines are seasoned with salty ocean breezes, bottled by the winemaker, and the labels display the work of Pender Island artists.

Guerilla marketing
With a limited budget, Keith relies on guerrilla marketing techniques, hosting home wine parties and events.

Winestock is a one-day indie rock festival held on the Labour Day weekend. Up to 300 people camp in the vineyard. “It’s where backyard party meets rock festival,” Keith says. “The musicians play till 10:30 and then move on to the back porch.”

“We’re building our winery one customer at a time,” says Keith. “I spend more time pouring wine than making it.”

Keith is pleased to be represented by Doug Reichel, a small-scale agent who shares his interests in wine education. “Good agencies are hard to find,” Keith says. “We’re so small; the large companies don’t spend any time with us.”

Proudly Canadian
Keith Watt and Doug Reichel had just returned from a wine education event in Prince Albert and were still glowing. “We paired BC wine with Saskatchewan food,” exclaims Doug. “It was awesome. Chef Kevin Dahlsjo is amazing. You could count on one hand the ingredients that weren’t local.”

At 26, Chef Kevin represented northern Saskatchewan in the 2010 Saskatchewan Gold Medal Plates. His restaurant, TWO by Dahlsjo, serves meals at lunchtime, and he caters private functions. He is cooking with the inmates at the Prince Albert penitentiary, and they baked the bread and banana loaf that were served at the Morning Bay event.

Note: The artwork on the Morning Bay labels is by Pender Island artists: Diane Kremmer and Susan Taylor.

See Also:
     Doug Reichel Wine Marketing Inc.
     Altos de Luzon: Wines from Jumilla, Spain
     Bodega Melipal: Malbec Wines from Argentina
     Doug Reichel Wine Seminars

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