Photo: Blue Grouse owners Cristina and Paul Brunner and daughter, Paula. Photo credit Deborah Price Photography
Blue Grouse Estate Winery, one of the
low-key winery gems near Duncan in British Columbia's Cowichan
, has changed
Retiring founder Hans Kiltz (who was born
in 1938) and his wife, Evangeline, have sold the winery to globe-trotting wine and
grappa enthusiasts Paul and Cristina Brunner, who are currently residents of Lima, Peru.
The Brunners – he is a mining engineer – would
like to expand production and business at Blue Grouse, which has been making
between 1,500 and 2,200 cases annually, exclusively from its 10- acre vineyard.
In addition to planning to plant more vines, the Brunners are canvassing other projects
for the property’s attractive landscape.
The vineyard takes up about a third of the
property. There is more plantable land available on an excellent southwest
slope bordered at the bottom by a bucolic creek. There is room beside the creek
for accommodation for winery visitors. “We will look at the possibility of
doing a farm-style inn,” Paul says.
A German-born veterinarian, Hans acquired
the property in 1989 and licensed the winery in 1992. The small vineyard
already there when he bought the property had been planted by the late John
Harper, a pioneer grape grower on Vancouver Island.
The vineyard now grows primarily Bacchus, Ortega, Pinot Gris, Müller-Thurgau,
Siegerrebe, Pinot Noir and Black Muscat. The latter variety is exclusive to
Paul was born in Colorado in 1950, the son of a Swiss-born
carpenter and developer. The Brunner family moved to Canada
in the 1960s, first to Powell River and then to Nanaimo, soon taking out Canadian
After high school, Paul got a mining
technology diploma from the British Columbia Institute of Technology, worked a
few years in Yukon
mining and then finished his engineering degree at the Colorado School of
Mines. He returned to the Arctic to work at the Nanisivik lead zinc mine (now
closed) on Baffin Island,
After several years there, he went to the Harvard Business School
for a master’s in business administration. He returned to work in the mine
service field, fashioning a long career with an international drilling services
company called Boart Longyear. He was the company’s chief executive in 2008
when he retired.
“My wife and I have gone through these various
phases, starting with drinking beer,” Paul says, explaining how he developed an
interest in wine. “We somehow got to scotch and from there we got to cognac and
then grappa. I am still a big fan of grappa. From grappa, we ended up in wine.”
The Boart Longyear career led them to live
in numerous wine-producing countries, including Chile,
South Africa, Australia and the United States. He became a
collector of good wines, although every international move in his career
disrupted the cellar. What is left of the cellar is currently in Lima, where he and his
Peruvian-born wife, Cristina, have been living for four years.
As his wine interest burgeoned, Paul began
to look for an opportunity to buy a winery, perhaps in Argentina or in the United States. He began looking at
Vancouver Island because he still has family on the west coast, including
brothers in Yukon, in California
and in Nanaimo.
Blue Grouse has been on the market for
about five years. It was originally listed about 2008 for about $4 million, just
in time for the economic slowdown to deter possible buyers. The winery was
listed again in the summer of 2010 for $2.75 million and this time generated
some interest (although the exact sale price has not been disclosed).
“My wife actually found this winery
[listing],” Paul says. “We had been looking for a vineyard, or a ‘lifestyle’
type of thing for a long time, six or seven years anyway. And she came across
When his brother Steve from Nanaimo reported that Blue Grouse was an appealing
property, Paul flew up from Lima.
He was equally impressed and took some wine back to Lima for Cristina, who agreed they were good.
“We see ourselves as stewards of what is an
absolutely fabulous farm,” Paul says.
“It is a beautiful spot; we hope to improve that a bit. And it has great
The Brunners, who have just taken over Blue
Grouse, have installed a veteran wine industry marketer, Corine Webster, as
general manager, and have hired Bailey Williamson to manage the vineyard and
make the wine.
A 1996 culinary school graduate, Bailey
came to embrace wine while working in various professional kitchens, including
Sooke Harbour House. He moved to the Okanagan in 2001, taking Okanagan University
College’s wine programs
while working as a cellar hand at the Sumac Ridge, Jackson-Triggs and Township
From 2004 to 2006, he was assistant cider
maker at Merridale Ciderworks on Vancouver Island.
Then he returned to the Okanagan, where he was assistant winemaker at Road 13
Vineyard from 2006 to the end of 2011.
Bailey had a major role in developing Road
13’s sparkling Chenin Blanc. That experience has Blue Grouse thinking of adding
a sparkling wine to that winery’s portfolio. “We are looking at sparkling,”
Corine says. “In my opinion, that is a bit of a missing link on the island.”
Blue Grouse has always produced exclusively
estate-grown wines. Paul does not rule out bringing grapes from elsewhere but,
if that happens, those wines would be released on a different label.
“I think staying true to the island in
terms of the Blue Grouse label is important to us,” Paul says, recognizing the
integrity behind the Blue Grouse name. That is one of the reasons that the
wines are so well known on Vancouver Island
and can be found in most leading restaurants.
“The biggest challenge for us is getting
the grapes,” Paul says. “Certainly taking the winery up to a much bigger
capacity is financially possible. The problem is where will we get the grapes?
That will be one of Bailey’s first challenges. If we started tomorrow, it is
still four or five years before we get any production from additional