Photo: Philip Soo (l) and Mario Rodi
curb appeal of the labels alone, the new Bonamici Cellars should be a great
virtual winery, Bonamici is a partnership of two old friends (hence the name):
consulting winemaker Philip Soo and veteran marketing executive Mario Rodi.
label, designed by Hired Guns Creative of Nanaimo, celebrates the friendship by
depicting two individuals floating along in the barrel-like gondola under two balloons. An
added touch is the capsule which repeats the balloon motif.
“The label is a metaphor
for two friends on the journey of building a great wine company,” Mario says. “It
is an adventure for the two of us.”
is the most charming new wine label from an Okanagan winery in some time. The
charm triggered a spontaneous smile when I first saw it. And I kept smiling
when I tasted the two wines, which are just now being released in some private
wine stores and restaurants.
go looking for the winery at the above address. That is the address of an
existing winery where Philip and Mario will make Bonamici wines for several
years before opening a winery of their own. The website is expected to be live
and Mario have several things in common in addition to a shared passion for
wine. Both are sons of immigrant families and both are alumni of Andrew Peller
who was born in 1957 in northern Ontario,
was just 12 when he started helping his immigrant Italian father crush grapes
for the family’s wine. Philip was born in Vancouver in 1969, the son of
immigrants from Hong Kong. “We had family celebrations but they never encouraged
kids to drink,” Philip remembers. “I was 12 or 13 when my first sip of alcohol,
Baby Duck, was at a Christmas party.”
It seems that was enough
to get Philip interested. After getting degrees in microbiology and food
engineering, he was offered jobs at a pharmaceutical firm and a company that
produced gourmet salads but, having been a good amateur beer maker while in
college, he took a job with a manufacturer of beer kits “because it was in line
with my hobby.”
Peller Ltd. bought this company along with a wine kit company. Philip was then
promoted to Peller’s winery in Port Moody in 2000. When the winery closed five
years later, he moved to the Okanagan to become a consulting winemaker.
He now has an impressive
list of clients. They include Dirty Laundry Vineyard, Noble Ridge Vineyard
& Winery, Gold Hill Winery, Adega on 45th Estate Winery and
Cassini Cellars. He has never paraded those names, leaving it to his clients to
have the accolades when the wines win awards, as happens often.
“I like to be anonymous,”
Phil says. “I like the wines and my clients’ efforts to speak for themselves.
It’s not about me. That also helps showcase the valley and the talents and the
people. It is not about me. It is about the valley.”
Mario spent about 20 years
in food and soft drinks sales before joining Peller in 1995 as general manager
of Wine Experts, as the kit company was called. He and Philip, who reported to
him, became close friends. Mario left Peller in 2009. Deciding to stay in the
wine business, he proposed Bonamici to Philip. “He is a great winemaker,” Mario
says. “I focussed on sales and marketing for my entire career. I thought this
might be an opportunity for us to get together and build something great.”
Philip’s experience as a
consultant enables him to identify the vineyards and growers needed to make
wines at Bonamici.
“I have known the growers
long enough that they are able to work with me,” he says. “They have seen the
quality I have done; and the insistence I have placed on them to get the
quality I need for Bonamici. They are more than willing. They share the same
values as Mario and I do.”
Those values include an
approach to contracts that charmingly quaint. “No, there are no contracts yet,”
Philip says. “I am old-fashioned. A handshake and your word is still as good as
a contract and I will not break that.”
Mario was ready to launch
in 2011 but Philip advised waiting for a better vintage, which came along last
fall. They have released a pair of blends from 2012 and have a big red in
barrel for release next year, along with another 2013 white.
“We have a three year
plan” Philip says. “This is our first year of it. If everything goes well, it
could accelerate to two years. But our plan is to have our own facility in
three to five years.”
Here are notes on the
Bonamici Merlot Cabernet Franc 2012 ($28 for 480 cases). This is a bold red, beginning
with aromas that are brambly, gamey and even a touch smoky (likely from the
barrel). There are flavours of blackberry, raspberry, spice, chocolate and vanilla.
The vibrantly youthful personality can be enjoyed now but the wine really
deserves to be cellared for a year or two. 90.
Bonamici Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2012 ($23.50 for 480 cases). This is a complex aromatic
white beginning with aromas of herbs, grass, spice and citrus. The lees aging
has added to the texture. On the palate, there are flavours of citrus and
apricot with a lingering dry finish of spice and herbs. The oak is very subtle.