Photo: Starling Lane's winery
is a stunner: the Saanich
Peninsula’s Starling Lane
Winery will close next year.
is not due either to a lack of success or a lack of accolades. Starling Lane,
which is virtually sold out for this season except for its blackberry port, has
always made some of the best wines in British
is simply that the owners have decided that 10 years is enough for what was
intended to be a five-year “retirement adventure.”
was the announcement that the winery has just released to its customers:
year we will be celebrating our tenth and final year as a winery. This was not
an easy decision to make. We have taken great pride in producing high quality
wines solely from our local vineyards but our initial "retirement
adventure" was to last 5 years. That we are entering our 10th year of
successful production speaks well of our partnership, but it is now time to
re-evaluate our workload and have more time for life's other offerings.
“The most enjoyable part of the venture has been meeting so many wonderful
people: our loyal customers and the many visitors to our tasting room, local
chefs and restaurant workers, staff at local wine shops, sommeliers and wine
enthusiasts, tour group directors, and the many devoted grape growers and
vintners in the Island wine industry. We thank
you all for the joy you have brought us.
“Please note that Heritage Farm, site of Starling Lane Winery, will continue
booking weddings, tours and related agri-tourism events. Contact Jackie Wrinch
for more information.
“We look forward to having you join us in celebrating our final year, which
will begin with our spring opening on Mother's Day weekend in May 2013.”
As understandable as the decision is, it is
a big loss for wine lovers. The three partners were exceptional grape growers
and John Wrinch brought the precision of a diamond cutter to making the wines.
Photo: Vineyard at Heritage Farm
Here is the Starling Lane profile from the 2009
edition of my book, The Wineries of British Columbia.
six partners at Starling Lane
initially considered calling it the Hanging Judge Winery because the winery is
on a farm once owned by Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie. British Columbia’s first
chief justice, he was unfairly dubbed the hanging judge after his death in 1894
even though he did not hand out an unusual number of death sentences for the
times, and even commuted some. Starling Lane’s partners decided against using
the judge’s nickname, prudently perhaps. “We started
thinking that some of the victims may have relatives in the area,” Jerry Mussio
The partners were among those pioneering Saanich Peninsula vineyards in the early 1990s.
Jerry, an educational consultant, and his California-born wife Sherry bought
their farm in 1993 and, in addition to raising sheep, planted a test plot of
Ortega. Jerry was born in Trail in 1944, the son of Italian immigrants, and he
was a home vintner. Planting vines on the farm’s rugged soil expressed his
Italian heritage. Ultimately, the couple expanded to just under a hectare (two
acres) of Ortega, Pinot Gris and Maréchal Foch. Sherry, a former teacher, is an
artist and the designer of Starling
Lane’s folksy but smart labels.
The second couple in the partnership are
John and Jacqueline Wrinch, whose Heritage Farm is the original Begbie
property. John saw the Mussio vineyard while buying one of their lambs and soon
began developing a similar-sized planting, with eight varieties dominated by
Ortega, Foch and Pinot Noir. A Victoria
radiologist, John had begun making award-winning home wines when he practised
When Starling Lane
was born, he was tapped as the winemaker because of his scientific
training. Jacqueline, experienced as an
event planner (the farm is a favourite wedding venue), became the tasting room
The third couple, Sue and Ken Houston, met
their partners at early meetings of the island’s grape growers association.
They also have just under a hectare of vines at their Hummingbird Vineyard,
growing Foch, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer. They are
natives and former owners of a heating contracting business. Sue transferred
her accounting skills to running the winery’s books while Ken managed the
renovations that turned the Heritage Farm barn into an attractive winery.
of the small vineyards that sprang up in the Saanich Peninsula
in the 1990s intended to sell grapes to Victoria Estate Winery which opened in
2002. However, the new winery’s offering prices were less than the growers
expected, and then that market evaporated as Victoria Estate slid toward
receivership. The Starling Lane partners decided to pool their grapes, their
talents and their resources to create a boutique winery making between 6,000
and 8,000 bottles a year from their own vines and from a contracted two-hectare
(five-acre) Cowichan Valley vineyard.
“Each of us was thinking about starting our
own winery but we realized that, with two acres of grapes each, none of us
would have much supply,” Jerry says. “But if we got together, we would have six
acres of grapes – a reasonable size to support a small winery. All of us have
some sort of history in winemaking. The other thing is that we are similar in
age. We were looking at the transition from professional careers and had a
desire to spend a little more time growing grapes and drinking wine.”
The winery works because the partners have
talents that support each other and a shared passion for growing good grapes.
That calls for unusual commitment, given the somewhat marginal growing
conditions of the cool and sometimes rainy Saanich Peninsula.
The most difficult grape to ripen among the varieties they grow is Pinot Noir
(Jerry and Sherry pulled out the few vines they had). Yet, at the Northwest
Wine Summit in Oregon,
the winery won a gold medal for its 2005 Pinot Noir and a bronze for the 2006
The secret, they have found, is to carry
only a small crop on the Pinot Noir vines so that the grapes ripen well. “And
when we pick Pinot Noir, we selectively pick only the best bunches,” Jerry says.
“In a poor year like 2007, we pick the Pinot Noir early, combine it with
Chardonnay and produce a traditionally-made sparkling wine.” And the winery
wins awards with this wine as well. Like the Pinot Noir, all of the wines are
hand-crafted, starting with good vineyard management.
With limited production and brisk sales, Starling Lane only
opens its tasting room on weekends in summer. Even when only one or two wines
are available, the winery is worth the visit. The Wrinches have taken pains to
retain features at Heritage Farm with a 19th Century feel. The
spirit of Judge Baillie remains in residence.