Author Tags: Alcohol
John Schreiner has corrected the fanciful notion that Father Charles Pandosy started B.C.'s wine industry. That distinction just as accurately belongs to B.C.'s most famous teetotaler, W.A.C. Bennett.
In Schreiner's informal encyclopedia The British Columbia Wine Companion (Orca, 1996 $19.95), he recounts how Bennett was a key player in the creation of Calona Wines, the province's largest and oldest continuing winery. In 1931, Carlo Ghezzi put together a syndicate to raise $10,000 for winemaking equipment. When funds were low, Ghezzi turned to two of Kelowna's leading businessmen, Pasquale (Cap) Cappozi and hardware store operator W.A.C. Bennett. Capozzi's Bernard Avenue grocery store was three doors away from Bennett's new store. The future premier of British Columbia — who always abstained from spirits — became the first president of Calona Wines in 1932. In those days the enterprise was called Domestic Wines and By Products Co. There were plans to export apple juice to England and produce jelly, jams, pickles, vinegar, tomato paste and catsup. The first apple wines called Okay Red, Okay Clear, Okay Port and Okay Champagne were not okay. Many bottles fermented on liquor store shelves. The moniker Okay referred to the Okanagan; the name Calona was chosen from a competition among consumers — not because it was a phonetic way for local Italians to spell Kelowna. Founder Ghezzi retired in 1960 and the Capozzi family took over. By 1967 Calona Wines had 38.6 per cent of B.C. wine sales. The Capozzis closely monitored and copied whatever worked for the successful Gallo Brothers in California. It never hurt Calona Wines to have former CFL football player Herb Capozzi serve two terms as a Social Credit backbencher in W.A.C. Bennett's government. Capozzi visited sports-minded liquor store managers and usually insisted that Calona Wines were served whenever he was a guest speaker.
W.A.C. Bennett had already resigned from his executive position in Calona Wines in 1941, writing Cap Capozzi, “Now that I am elected a representative in the Provincial Legislature, and as Calona Wines does a considerable proportion of its business with the provincial government, I do not think it would be proper for me to retain a financial or directing interest in the company.” Bennett sold his 5,237 shares to a businessman named Gordon Finch. Elected to the Legislature in 1933, Herbert Anscomb, a brewery manager from Victoria and general manager of Growers' Wines Ltd., was governed much less by propriety. “He [Anscomb] was brazen in the use of his power to secure the interests of Growers',” according to Schreiner. “In 1940 he had a hand in blocking T.G. Bright & Co. from opening a plant in British Columbia to bottle Ontario made wine.” Relatively few Ontario and European wines were listed by the Liquor Distribution Branch in its early years; California wines weren't listed until 1962. Calona had an early stake in the fledgling McDonald's hamburger chain until 1971 when the company was sold for $9.6 million to Standard Brands of New York. At the time only one-quarter of Calona's sales were dry table wines. “Calona's portfolio at this time still was dominated by fortified or sweet wines,” says Schreiner, “often packaged in eccentric bottles (another idea copied from Gallo).” The fortified wines included the highly successful and notorious Double Jack, Berry Jack and Cherry Jack wines which were introduced in February 1968 to replicate fruit wines of the Gallo Brothers. The cheap Jacks were fortified with spirits made in Calona's own distillery and packed a whallop — as most teenagers around British Columbia inevitably discovered. Standard Brands, under new winemaker Bob Claremont, soon overhauled the entire Calona wine portfolio. By 1981 Calona's white Schloss Laderheim was outselling Baby Duck, the top selling domestic wine, as B.C. wine drinkers became more sophisticated. In May of 1989 International Potter Distilling Corporation of Vancouver purchased Calona for $16.9 million from Heublein Inc., an American consortium which had absorbed Standard. In 1995 Potter changed its name to Cascadia Brands Inc.
Born in 1935, John Schreiner grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan and received his B.A. from the University of Saskatchewan. He worked at the Regina Leader-Post and became the paper’s chief reporter in the Saskatchewan Legislature. He joined the Financial Post (now the National Post) in 1961 and worked in the Montreal bureau before becoming the Vancouver bureau chief in 1973. He won the 1996 Jack Webster Award for Economic Journalism. He retired in 2001. His fifth book, Icewines, won the Best Book on Wine History Published in English prize at the 2001 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Schreiner, who writes for Wine Access, is a graduate of the German Wine Academy and lives in North Vancouver with his wife Marlene.
With thumbnail sketches of each winery, and recommendations for the best wines to buy, John Schreiner's BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide: The Wineries of the Fraser Valley, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands (Whitecap, 2011) is the companion volume to his earlier offering, Okanagan Wine Tour Guide. In 2012, Schreiner updated and expanded his Okanagan Wine Tour Guide to reflect the most recent changes in the region's wine industry. He includes 30 new wineries and the Thompson River Valley. Also included is a detailed map with the wineries marked, as well as addresses, phone numbers, and websites for each winery.
The World of Canadian Wine (Douglas & McIntyre, 1984)
The Wineries of British Columbia (Orca, 1994)
The British Columbia Wine Companion (Orca, 1996)
Chardonnay and Friends: Varietal Wines of British Columbia (Orca, 1998)
British Columbia Wine Country. Photos by Kevin Miller. (Whitecap, revised, 2007)
John Schreiner's Okanagan Wine Tour Guide (Whitecap, 2006; revised 2007; updated and expanded 2012; fifth edition Whitecap 2014)
The Wines of Canada (Whitecap, 2006)
John Schreiner's BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide: The Wineries of the Fraser Valley, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands (Whitecap, 2011) 978-1-77050-042-6 $19.95
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2014]
British Columbia Wine Country (Whitecap, 2003)
from BCBW 2003
In 1981, Anthony von Mandl of Mission Hill Wineries hosted a luncheon for 100 people. He gave his I have a dream speech. “When I look out over the valley,” he began, “I see world-class vineyards. This majestic valley is resting on the threshold of being an economic giant.” Few believed the Okanagan Lake vintner. “He might just as easily have told them that Ogopogo exists,” writes veteran wine writer John Schreiner in British Columbia Wine Country (Whitecap, 2003). More than a decade later, the B.C. wine industry has come a long way from the Calona Red of Premier W.A.C. Bennett’s buddy ‘Cap’ Capozzi—to the chagrin of some people who preferred the option of cheap libations.
With lots of glossy photos and a wine-speak glossary, Schreiner highlights twelve wine regions, giving brief histories of the various wineries along the way. Wine Country also explains Free Trade’s negative impact on B.C. wine sales when prices of imports dropped. 2,000 acres of uncompetitive Okanagan grape vines were pulled out after the 1988 harvest. “Suddenly, domestic wine made from mediocre grapes such as De Chaunac and Okanagan Riesling had no future,” Schreiner says. High-quality grapes, international expertise, popular wine tours and the Vintners Quality Alliance—a watchdog created in 1991—have made von Mandl’s dream a reality. The industry has bounced back, big time and small time. The popularity of events such as the annual Festival of Grape in Oliver and annual wine tastings in the Lower Mainland has generated a new class of local wine nerds, swilling prestige instead of Rumpolian plonc. Alas, such is progress.