Photo: Bruce Fuller in the Rustic wine shop
Don’t be surprised if hundreds of people
emerge from the Vancouver International Wine Festival next week wearing
Anyone who presents himself or herself to
Bruce Fuller at the table of Rustico Farm and Cellars will be deputized as a
This is what Bruce does in the Okanagan
winery’s tasting room all season. He estimates that he has deputized at least
4,000 members of the Rustico Wine Posse, as the wine cub is called here. He
hopes that these deputies will spread the word for Rustico’s wines.
It is a bit of a gimmick but hardly an
empty one. Deputies are offered free
shipping of wine within British
Columbia. Other discounts also apply from time to
The badge reminds visitors of the
rollicking good time they had in the tasting room. No one in the Okanagan runs
a tasting room with as much élan as Bruce Fuller.
It comes from his previous careers in
marketing, including some years with The Pattison Group. Bruce is one of those people with more
promotional ideas before breakfast than the rest of us have all week.
Rustico, which he opened in 2009 with the
backing of silent partners, is the culmination of a decade-long dream to
develop an Okanagan winery modelled on an Italian village.
The property he bought for Rustico,
however, took him in a different direction, one inspired by the Okanagan’s
former history as ranch country.
The property, at the end of the Golden Mile
viticultural area south of Oliver, was purchased from the Crown in 1963 by a
dapper Hungarian immigrant called John Tokios. He had been working in a silver
mine at Beaverdell. When it looked like the mine was shutting down, he bought a
massive log bunk house, moved it to the property and planted vines in 1968 for
what eventually was a nine acre vineyard. The varieties planted included
Chancellor, a red French hybrid. The last of the Chancellor has now been
removed making room for, among other varietals, Zinfandel.
John Tokios reassembled the bunk house and
added a sod roof. Over the next number of years, he prowled the surrounding
sage-covered hills, collecting the bleached skulls of cattle and elk. He
“decorated” the bunk house exterior, including the roof, with these. There was
no habitation in the south Okanagan more unusual.
John died in 2000 and the vineyard was
purchased four years later by Don Bradley, a brewer who planned a winery here.
When the inspectors would not permit a tasting room in the bunkhouse – there
was some question about its structure soundness – Don put up a new building
next door for the winery and wine shop.
Then the whole property was on the market
again when Don changed his mind and moved to Victoria to start a brewpub. Bruce Fuller
was able to buy a near-turnkey winery and, after completing it, he was able to
open in 2000.
The sod-covered bunkhouse is still there
(seems there was nothing wrong with its structural soundness) but Bruce has
removed most of the animal skulls, since they might have turned off some
He has added a number of antiques,
including a centuries-old doctor’s buggy, to revive the heritage atmosphere. In
the rustic wine shop, he decants the wines into pitchers and serves it from
tumblers rather than fancy stemware. Only once has a wine snob objected. These
all reflect the thespian flare that makes Rustico Farm such an entertaining
As you might guess, the wine portfolio’s
labels are a little different. There is Doc’s Buggy, Farmer’s Daughter,
Isabella’s Poke, Mother Lode, Saloon Sally, Bonanza, Last Chance and Threesome.
Coming soon are a pair of Chardonnays – Silver Garter for the unoaked and
Golden Garter for the oaked version. Also under development is a bag in box
wine called Ambush, marketed in a box resembling a stagecoach strongbox.
At the wine festival, Bruce will be pouring
Isabel’s Poke Pinot Gris, Last Chance Zinfandel Merlot Chancellor blend, Doc’s
Buggy Pinot Noir and Mother Lode Merlot.
The fifth wine at the trade tastings on
Thursday and Friday afternoons is Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel, the flagship red
at Rustico. This is one of only two or three Zinfandels in the Okanagan. I
recently sampled one and here are my notes.
Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel 2008 ($34.95). The
full-bodied wine may well be unfiltered because it throws a bit of sediment,
which is not a problem if you decant the wine. It begins with aromas of oak,
vanilla and red berries. On the palate, there are classic varietal flavours,
including raspberry, blackberry and black cherry. The long ripe tannins give the
wine a generous texture. 90.