Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dave Kasper's unique Loire wine tours

Photo: Wine enthusiast Dave Kasper

Dave Kasper, a Langley businessman who owns Select Wine Journeys, is beginning his third season of leading uniquely personal wine tours to the Loire.

His story should inspire any one wishing to change careers in order to follow a passion.

A bilingual Montrealer with a degree in geography and sociology, Dave spent five years in the early 1980s playing major junior hockey in Quebec. He was drafted by the New Jersey Devils but only had what he calls “a cup of coffee” at the training camp. His brother, Steve, had a long NHL career as a player and a coach (mostly with the Boston Bruins).

Dave went into business after college, as a sales representative for a major textile producer. In 1993, he was transferred to British Columbia. Seven years later, he set up his own firm, D. Kasper Agencies Inc., representing textile suppliers.

Changes in world trade and the rise of China as a low cost manufacturer have pretty well wiped out the Canadian textile industry. While he still represents some specialty textile producers, he started in 2004 to look for fresh career opportunities. After a careful self-assessment, he settled on finding something connected with his passions – wine, history and communications.

By coincidence, he and his wife, Margaret, had close friends in the Loire Valley of France – the representative of maker of wine label printing technology who, in 1995, moved into the house next door to the Kasper home in Langley. He was on a two-year assignment to introduce digital printing systems at Tapp Technologies, a Langley producer of wine labels.

Dave’s neighbour spoke no English. The Kaspers, being able to speak French, became close with their neighbours before they went back to the Loire in 1997.

In 2001, Dave and his family vacationed in the Loire for a month. Their friend arranged visits to a number of wineries. “I just fell in love with it,” Dave says of winery touring.

When he started planning a career shift in 2004, he recognized that he could build his Loire contacts into a wine touring business. He rehearsed the idea with one tour in the fall of 2006. Since then, he has been scheduling eight week-long tours a year between April and October.

There are, of course, many European wine tours organized by various travel agents, usually focussed on high profile regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux or Tuscany. By comparison, the historic Loire is a bit off the beaten path. Just a little more than an hour from Paris by rail, it is a region with medieval cities and centuries-old chateaux (one of which serves as the hotel for Dave’s tour groups).

The wines stand apart from other French wines – tangy Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc notable for its vibrant fruit flavours and exceptional Vouvray sparkling wines. The producers that Dave favours are the artisans who personally take the time to show their interesting cellars, often caves deep into clay cliffs, and to host tastings.

One tour last fall, for example, included a visit to the 12 kilometers of underground tunnels that serve as the cellar for Domaine de la Roche Fleurie in Chancay, owned by a young organic winegrower, Sebastien Brunet. The winemaker even allowed Dave’s guests to help pick grapes.

“Each season we add a new winemaker or two to our visits,” Dave says.

The 2009 tour offerings are displayed on Dave’s website, The tours are built around three choices of theme – cuisine and wine, history and wine, or walking and wine. The number of participants is capped at eight and the cost is between $2,800 and 3,000 a person (excluding air fare). The first tour (history and wine) is scheduled for the end of April and the last three tours run from mid-September through early October, right in the middle of vintage.

“I’m particularly interested in Old World Wines,” says Dave, who has begun to research other European wine regions that are also off the beaten path.

He would seem to have managed career change very well. “I do have three kids,” he says. “I am determined to instil in them that you can chase a passion.”


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