Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fire destroys Granite Creek Estate Winery

Photo: Granite Creek's Doug (l) , Heather and Gary Kennedy

An early morning fire on January 15 completely destroyed Salmon Arm’s Granite Creek Estate Winery and its entire inventory except for stock in the wine shop, which is in a separate building.

Quoted in the Salmon Arm Observer, Heather Kennedy, one of the owners, said: “We have no wine, all our stuff for the next few years is gone, all the wine that was being aged in oak for three to four years is gone.”

The two-storey winery building was located across a forested ravine, perhaps 100 yards from the Kennedy home (which houses the wine shop). Gary Kennedy, Heather’s husband, spotted the flames about 4.30 a.m. The winery was fully engulfed by the time the firefighters arrived to contain the fire’s spread. A nearby vineyard was unscathed.

“Thank God it didn’t get the house,” Heather is quoted as saying.

Cause of the fire has not yet been determined. The source was in the winery basement. It is not considered suspicious.

The winery was insured but, as Heather told the newspaper, “you never get what you put into it.”

Granite Creek will continue to sell its remaining stock but the winery’s future is undetermined at this point. “I don’t know what we are going to do,” Heather told the newspaper. “Would we rebuild? I don’t know.”

This is just the second time in the history of B.C. wineries that fire destroyed a winery. During the summer of 2003, the massive forest fire southeast of Kelowna razed the St. Hubertus Estate Winery processing facility. However, St. Hubertus was more fortunate. Except for a few barrels of port, the wine inventory had all been bottled and was in a warehouse that was untouched by the fire.

Established in 2003, Granite Creek made about 2,000 cases of wine in the 2012 vintage.

The following is the winery profile from my book, The Wineries of British Columbia, published in 2009. Since then, the number of wineries in the Shuswap has grown to six (or eight if the wine touring borders extend as far south as Armstrong. The employment details in the profile are no longer current.

Granite Creek is a partnership of two of the three generations of the Kennedy family that have farmed in the Tappen Valley since 1959, when Robert Pemberton Kennedy moved there from the Fraser Valley. Gary Kennedy, Robert’s son, was completing a doctorate in agricultural engineering at the University of British Columbia when a family crisis required him to come back to the farm. Doug Kennedy, Gary’s son, was born in Vancouver in 1972 while his father was at university. Doug and Mayka, his Polish-born wife, juggle winemaking with bringing up daughter Gabriella, and pursuing international careers in the oil industry. And Heather, Gary’s wife, looks after the tasting room when she is not cuddling her granddaughter. Granite Creek offers the complete family winery experience.

Once an organic farm and likely an organic vineyard in the future, the Kennedy farm formerly produced livestock and dairy products. After leaving that business - most of his family were not interested in dairying - Gary canvassed other opportunities to keep farming his land. He compared the Tappen Valley’s climate with wine regions in Europe and New Zealand, brought in two consultants and settled on vines. 

 “We’re right out in pioneer country here,” he observed a few vintages into the project. In 2003, the Kennedy family planted four hectares (10 acres) of vineyard and, a few years later, cleared another hectare on a hillside. There is considerable potential for more vines as the winery grows.

The vineyard was planted primarily with Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch, Kerner, a significant test plot of Pinot Noir and small plots of about ten other varieties. As a professional agrologist, Gary Kennedy is proceeding carefully to determine the vines best suited to the site. Doug hopes that Pinot Noir in particular will be one of the successes of this test. “If it works out, it could create quite a unique wine in our area,” he says. His father believes it will be 2010 before they will know with some certainty whether Pinot Noir will succeed. Foch, on the other hand, is doing very well.

Other varieties, including Syrah, Merlot and Gamay, are produced for Granite Creek by contract growers near Oliver. Climate change one day might bring the Tappen Valley’s growing conditions closer to those of the Okanagan. For now, however, the valley has a shorter season, cooler nights and more rain – so much so that several vineyards in the area have not installed irrigation. Initially, Granite Creek, named for the creek flowing through the property, also installed no irrigation. Gary, noting a long-term trend to drier weather, has decided to irrigate new plantings, if only to get the vines well established.

Gary calculated that his vineyard project would really become viable with the opening of a winery, the third in the Shuswap Lake region. The idea was embraced enthusiastically by Doug and Mayka. “My wife and I have been home winemakers for years,” Doug says. Trained in computer science, Doug started his business career in northern British Columbia with Schlumberger Ltd., an international oilfield service company operating in 100 countries. Doug soon found himself promoted to management and working in central Africa and Russia. He and Mayka, a chemical engineer and also a Schlumberger employee, have travelled Europe’s wine regions extensively.

Starting with an initial production of 2,000 cases, Granite Creek is on its way to a target of 5,000 cases.  The long-term plans call for building a new winery into a mountainside, using gravity in the production process and burying the cellars. The tasting room is currently on the ground floor of Gary and Heather’s home, with the existing winery just visible across a forested ravine. There is a picnic area and a seven-kilometre trail system that the Kennedy family has developed for hikers. It connects with a more extensive network of trails on adjoining Crown land, popularly with horsemen.

And it is well worth making an appointment for a tour. The family is thorough about it, spending up to 90 minutes on a leisurely walk through the winery and its bucolic surroundings.


At January 17, 2013 at 12:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about your misfortune. Losing a family wine company and having to start over would be so hard.


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