Friday, July 24, 2009

SouthEnd Farm Winery opens on Quadra Island

The most northerly of the Gulf Islands with vineyards, Quadra Island, once again has a winery: SouthEnd Farm Vineyards opened this month.

Owners Jill Ogasawara and Ben McGuffie take pride is being the youngest couple currently with a winery in British Columbia. He was born in 1977, she in 1976. On the winery website, they joke that they are starting their retirement project 30 years early.

In a business filled with second careerists, it is rare to find two young people launching a winery. In the entire history of British Columbia wineries, only Walter and Gordon Gehringer were younger (barely) when they opened Gehringer Brothers in 1986.

SouthEnd Farm is the only winery on Quadra (the large island just off the coast from Campbell River) but not the first. Marshwood Estate Winery opened on Quadra in 2004 and closed two years later when the owners sold the business. The Marshwood vineyard, now called Nevermore Farm, still produces grapes, some of which have ended up in SouthEnd wines.

Ben McGuffie grew up on Quadra. His great uncle managed the island’s roads and is believed to have homesteaded the 12.5-acre farm that is now home to the winery and a small vineyard. Ben is an engineering graduate from the University of British Columbia. In recent years, he has been an engineer and manager at Catalyst’s pulp mill in Campbell River (a 10-minute ferry ride from Quadra).

Jill grew up in a logging community near Campbell River and met Ben in high school. She has a forestry degree and has qualified (but not practised) in landscape architecture.

They became interested in wine over a bottle of domestic plonk called Rotting Grape. Soon they were visiting Okanagan wineries and dreaming of their own. After buying the family farm from his parents in 2004, Ben and Jill began developing a vineyard, planting four acres of primarily Maréchal Foch, Petit Millot and Siegerrebe, with a little Leon Millot and Bacchus. Next year, they intend to add some Cabernet Foch (one of the disease resistant Swiss-developed red varieties already grown by several Vancouver Island producers).

They have also provided a market for the grapes from Nevermore and from another vineyard on Quadra.

SouthEnd Farm (guess which end of Quadra the winery is?) intends to be an estate producer only, with no imported grapes from the Okanagan.

While some winery couples divide the duties – for example, at Garry Oaks on Salt Spring Island, Marcel Mercier tends the vineyard while Elaine Kozak makes the wines – Ben and Jill share all duties, from vineyard to winery. Or almost all the duties: on their wine labels they acknowledge the help of the “Nevermore crew and our parents.”

Two of the debut wines – a white and a rosé - were sent to me from Quadra. I can report it is an impressive start.

SouthEnd Farm Ortega 2008 ($18.40) is crisp and refreshing, with clean citrus flavours and the impression of having a slight bit of effervescence. With only 10.6% alcohol, one can drink this wine all day. It is finished dry but the balance is very good. There is none of the searing acidity that I have found in some 2008 wines from the cool 2008 islands vintage. 88 points

The winery has also released an off-dry Ortega and an off-dry Siegerrebe.

SouthEnd Farm Bara 2008 ($18.40). Bara is the Japanese word for rosé, so I am told. The wine, made with Pinot Noir, has a lovely rose petal hue, with aromas and flavours of strawberries and cranberries. Again, it is well-balanced with just enough residual sugar to offset the acidity. This is a delicious, juicy summertime rosé, made all the more accessible because the alcohol is only 10%. 88 points.

The winery has also released a red wine, Turan 2008 (another name for the Agria grape) and Sutil 2008, a dessert wine made from Agria.

SouthEnd opened with about 6,000 bottles of wine. The website promises two other wines but there are no details so far.

These are excellent wines from a very difficult vintage. The 2009 vintage on Quadra Island, Jill reports, is shaping up to be far better, with riper grapes. Nevermore Farm tented its Pinot Noir this spring. Ben and Jill are planning to make a red wine this fall from these grapes, assuming the season continues to be warm and dry and ideal for the vines.


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