There’s an old joke in the wine industry that goes something like this: Want to make a little bit of money from a winery? Start with a lot of money. Unfortunately, the punch line has been proven true time and time again. And so it goes for the owners and proprietors of Morning Bay Vineyard and Estate Winery on Pender Island, Pender’s only winery; after ten years of planting, growing, winemaking and marketing, they need some investors to keep a dream from becoming a nightmare.
Keith Watt and Barb Reid bought the property on Pender in 1992. There was nothing on it, not even a road down to the waterfront. But they wanted that dream becoming so common to middle-aged Canadians tired of the city; grow their own food, get water from a well, chop firewood…and make a living. The vineyard and a winery were to be the answer. Grow the grapes, make the wine on premises, sell it by the bottle and by the glass at the property, and offer tourists and Islanders alike a unique agro-tourism experience.
“I didn’t know much about winemaking when we started,” says Keith. “But I do believe wine is humanity’s most sophisticated and interesting food. The more I learned about it the more I wanted to learn about it, and that’s when I thought I needed a project that’s going to keep me learning for the rest of my life, and it was a great choice, it’s an unlimited topic.”
The logistics of being a successful winery on a Gulf Island are many and varied. Every year Watt has to deal with a crop that will vary with the weather, a finished product that needs to get shipped across Canada with transportation costs that always go up, and a labyrinth of provincial and federal regulations that require a degree in bureaucratese to figure out.
But Watt and Reid have built a beautiful two-storey winery, mostly with timber milled from their property, a vineyard terraced into the hillside and an outdoor performance stage that has been home to the highly successful ‘Winestock’ music and wine festival each Labour Day weekend for the past five years.
As a winemaker, Keith Watt is proud of what he’s been able to do. “From our first commercial harvest in 2006 I made a Gewurztraminer that won a silver medal at the All-Canadian wine championships. I’m probably proudest of our 2009 Bianco and 2009 Chiaretto, our white and rosé blends. Everyone who tastes it says it’s got something that other wines just don’t have.”
Great tasting wines, a beautiful property, lots of potential. The only thing missing after ten years of hard work is an account ledger that’s in the black. That’s why the winery is for sale. Ideally, a new investor or investors will step up to buy a piece of the business and keep Watt and Reid as the operators. But, if someone wants to purchase lock, stock and barrel, they’ll have to move. “There are many gorgeous places and worthwhile things to do,” says Watt. “So we’ll find something else.”
*Keith and I are scheming about offering a week-long series of cooking classes taught by me this summer at the Winery. Check back to my blog under 'My Classes' for updates!