Friday, January 7, 2011

Saturna winery is back on the market

Photo: Vineyard on Saturna Island

The latest list of British Columbia vineyard real estate from Sotheby’s International Realty Canada includes Saturna Island Family Estate Winery, priced at $9.7 million.

Larry Page, the Vancouver lawyer who owns the winery, has had it on and off the market several times in recent years. Colliers International listed the property in 2005. In 2010, Allan Mark Angell, a Vancouver realtor of luxury properties, listed the winery at $15 million. In between listings, Page also has negotiated with potential investors in a search for partners in what is the largest vineyard on any of the Gulf Islands.

If Sotheby’s is more successful, it might reflect the value added to the property by the talented young South Africans who managed the vineyard and the winemaking from August 2008 until last month. Winemaker Danny Hattingh and his partner, Megan DeVillieres, a viticulturist, have now left to travel in South America.

Their replacement is Hooman Baradaran, a British-trained winemaker whose previous posting in British Columbia was at St. Hubertus Estate Winery in the Okanagan.

Saturna has had unfortunate personnel problems throughout its history. Larry Page and some partners had acquired property on the island, primarily for the development of housing along the western shore. That left 78 acres of inland property, which was agricultural. Over a lunch with a Vancouver restaurateur, Jean-Luc Bertrand, Page conceived of developing a winery.

In 1995, Jean-Luc began planting the vineyard. Two years later, before planting was complete, he died suddenly. Eric von Krosigk, a consulting winemaker from the Okanagan, was hired to complete the work and to make Saturna’s first wines (from Okanagan grapes). When Eric closed his consulting business several years later, the winery retained former Mission Hill winemaker Daniel Lagnaz. A few years ago, ill health forced Daniel to step aside.

Fortunately for the winery, Danny and Megan were circulating their résumés through the Canadian wine industry in the summer of 2008. Larry responded quickly, recognizing talent when he saw it.

Photo: Megan DeVillieres, Danny Hattingh

Both have diplomas from the Cape Institution for Agricultural Training at Elsenburg, Megan having spent two years in law school before deciding that, like her partner, she preferred working with plants. Danny had also picked up practical experience from 2005 to 2007 at six South African wineries and at Domaine Drouhin in Oregon. He and Megan first came to Canada to visit his stepfather, a doctor in Dawson Creek. Charmed with Canada, they returned promptly to explore wine regions in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia.

They took charge of a property in need disciplined management. The underperforming vineyard was producing about 18 tons of grapes from 42 acres of vines, enough for perhaps 1,000 cases of wine but not enough for a viable business.

Danny and Megan did the best they could in 2008, having arrived after most of the critical decisions were made in the vineyard. Their interventions did improve the wines. In 2009, which happened to be one of the best vintages on the coast in a decade, they harvested 34 tons of grapes and made good wine.

In fact, Saturna’s 2009 wines, available at the winery and in private wine stores, are among the best ever made here. They include a tangy unoaked Chardonnay, a tropical-tasting Pinot Gris, and an appealing Pinot Noir Rosé and a serviceable rosé from the Merlot block that always struggles to get ripe. There is a
a good barrel-aged Pinot Noir not yet released.

And Danny made 50 cases of a sparkling Chardonnay. He was incredulous that the winery had never made sparkling wine even though island grapes lend themselves to such wines.

The 2010 vintage was much cooler and wetter than 2009. Even so, the South Africans coaxed 40 tons of grapes from the vines. Undoubtedly, they left some good wine from that vintage for the new winemaker.

Photo: Hooman Baradaran
Born in Germany in 1973 of Iranian parents, Hooman came to wine after a degree in hotel management and while working as a sommelier in leading European hotels (Claridge’s in London, for example). He also worked with a London wine retailer.

Those experiences led him to winemaking. He debated between studying at Geisenheim or Australia until learning that Brighton University had a winemaking program as well. It was “three years hard core viticulture and enology,” Hooman recalls.

“Our lecturer was a French British guy who had worked as a winemaker in Sauternes,” he says. “We had another winemaker from Australia; a viticulturalist from New Zealand. We had our own winery. We are able to make different wines, including sparkling. It was scientific as well as practical. We also had to drive tractors and work in the vineyard as well as do our scientific lectures.”

While taking the winemaking degree, he did vintages in Greece, Germany and Washington State, during which time he discovered the Okanagan wine region. He worked at St. Hubertus from 2008 to early 2010.

He will need his experience and his skills to keep Saturna at least at the level achieved by Danny and Megan. Given the usual winemaker’s pride, he will want to move it higher.

And that might help Sotheby’s find a new owner – although there is not a great deal of movement in the British Columbia wine market.

Sotheby’s also lists two other island wineries. Morning Bay Vineyard on Pender Island, directly across the water from Saturna, went on the market last year for $2.9 million. Blue Grouse Estate Winery in the Cowichan Valley, which has been on the market now for several years, has a current asking price of $2,750,000.


At December 4, 2011 at 12:03 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Saturna winery is a great place to visit. The staff are friendly and generous with the wine tasting. I love coming down the hill to this remarkable location.
A very special place.


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