Thursday, February 21, 2013

Helios Winery planned for West Kelowna

Terrabella winemaker Tom DiBello

In Greek mythology, Helios was the god who drove the sun in his chariot across the sky every day.

Winery entrepreneur Rob Ingram has chosen Helios as the name of a proposed new West Kelowna winery because the vineyard he purchased in January is exposed to the sun from morning to night.

Ingram, a chartered accountant, is the chief executive office of Terrabella Wineries Ltd., a Summerland company that began to build a portfolio of wineries with the 2011 purchase of Perseus Winery in Penticton.

Helios will be Terrabella’s second winery, with a tasting room to open next year on Boucherie Road, not far from Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. The first wines under the Helios label, however, will be released in September this year.

The Terrabella business plan projects a third winery in the South Okanagan, likely on Black Sage Road, and a fourth in Greater Vancouver. The timing of these is contingent on Terrabella’s future financings. Ingram raised $6 million from investors after taking over Perseus and he is about to go back to investors again to support the development of Helios.

The business plan calls for Terrabella to raise up to $20.5 million through a combination of debt and equity to develop its wineries to the point where the four are producing 60,000 cases a year. Most of the wine will be made either at central processing facility or at a custom crush winery in order to keep the capital costs down.

“By consolidating certain operating, management and marketing and sales strategies of multiple wineries, Terrabella will improve financial returns in what can already be a high-margin industry,” the company said in a news release.

There are comparable models already in the Okanagan. The Jackson-Triggs winery at Oliver does some or all of the production for four other wineries in the Constellation group. The Calona winery in Kelowna makes all the wine for Calona, Sandhill and Peller. The Mission Hill winery produces for a long list of brands. In this model, production and marketing costs are spread over several brands.

Terrabella wants all of its wineries in high traffic locations so that a substantial volume of wine can be sold directly, and most profitably, through the tasting room.

The Perseus winery is in a heritage house. It is almost within walking distance of downtown Penticton and it is on the street taken by virtually every wine tourist heading to Naramata Road. A renovation currently under way is expanding the wine shop and adding a small bistro.

Because of its location, the Perseus winemaking capacity is too limited to produce more than the minimum needed under the winery license. Because it is in a residential neighbourhood, it is unlikely that the neighbours would stand for the construction of a big producing winery.

In the 2012 vintage Perseus arranged to have 8,000 cases made at the Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland. The winemaker for Perseus (but not for Helios) is Tom DiBello, the California-trained winemaker who spent 10 years at CedarCreek Estate Winery before launching his own label and also becoming a Terrabella vice president.

Perseus may make several more vintages there until Terrabella has a central processing facility of its own. Helios is also likely to be an OCP client in the short term.

Helios is based on an 18-acre vineyard property immediately north of Quails’ Gate. It was acquired from Horst and Ilse Mueller, a retirement age couple who have grown grapes there for about 20 years. The vineyard has six acres each of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc and three acres of Gamay Noir. Until now, the grapes have been sold to Mission Hill.

The Helios wine shop, including some modest winemaking facilities, will be built 0n Boucherie Road in order to capture the drive-by wine tourists. “I was told Mission Hill is pulling in 130,000 visitors a year,” Ingram says. “Most of those people also visit Quail’s Gate. If we can get 10% of that ….”

Ingram is thinking of building a 10,000-15,000 square-foot production building in the southeast corner of the property near the Quails’ Gate production area, keeping truck traffic and crush pad noise away from the wine shop.

Photo below: Terrabella's Rob Ingram


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