Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Malahat Winery's Lorne Tomalty is mourned




Sadly, there is one less romantic in the British Columbia wine industry with the death on May 20, at the age of 87, of Lorne Tomalty, the founder of Malahat Estate Winery on Vancouver Island.

Romantic? How else would one describe a man who planted a vineyard and then opened a winery well beyond the age when most are retiring? He was, in fact, the second-oldest person to ever start a winery in British Columbia. He was motivated both by his love of wine and by his love of people. Immensely social, he was always inviting people to drop in to join him in engaging conversation and a glass of wine.

Even without this small winery, Lorne had a lifetime fuller than most. Born in Ottawa, he spent World War II with an armoured corps, the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards. Upon being discharged, he enrolled in economics and political science at the University of British Columbia. When he tried to enter the job market in 1949, his education attracted two offers: one as an airline ticket agent and the other as an insurance salesman. So he became a miner in the Yukon until he could afford to earn a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Upon graduation in 1952, he joined the British Columbia government as a personnel assistant. By the time he retired in 1985, he had become what he called the government’s “czar of manpower.” He and his wife, Peggy, a nurse, bought a 4.6-hectare (11.5-acre) property near the scenic summit of the Malahat, north of Victoria. After clearing some trees, he decided to plant grapes. With an elevation of 192 meters (630 feet), this is one of Vancouver Island’s highest vineyards.

Lorne’s interest in wine arose from years of making wine at home with friends of Italian heritage. He began planting the terraced vineyard in 1995, choosing Ortega, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris on the recommendation of a grower on the Saanich Peninsula.

His initial winery application was filed in 1997. Ironically, the civil service he had once worked with manage to lose the paperwork. Later, he concluded that was good fortune because his preparations were still premature. “I’m an Irishman,” he told me. His forebears came from Ireland five generations ago. “The luck must still be there.” By the time the second application was filed six years later, Lorne had begun to make wine in a converted double garage under the mentorship of John Kelly, owner of Glenterra Vineyards in the Cowichan Valley.

The winery opened in 2005 and Lorne enjoyed several seasons of welcoming visitors. Unfortunately, ill health in 2010 prevented him from opening the winery’s tasting room.

While his son, David, had helped him, especially as working the steeply terraced vineyard became difficult for Lorne, the future of the winery remains to be determined.

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