Photo: Scott Stefishen
Tastings: No tasting room
Stefishen laughs when asked to explain this winery’s cheeky name. “Everyone in the industry says if you own a vineyard
or a winery, it’s a money pit,” he says. “It doesn’t end.”
If there is anyone who has
figured out how to keep the pit from getting too deep, it is Scott. He launched
this winery in his garage in Oliver under a three-year permit from the town (likely
renewable for three more years) His annual production is limited to 575 cases.
His commercial license relieves him from the cost of buying a vineyard while
allowing him to buy grapes both in British Columbia
and in Washington
State, where grape prices
(but not grape quality) are significantly lower.
He does not intend to stay
small forever. “As soon as we have product and sales, the bank can look at us
for debt financing,” he says. “Either we will take out a small loan, purchase
another building and keep our commercial license; or purchase vineyard land and
switch over to a land-based license. The end game plan is to own our own land.”
in North Vancouver in 1979, Scott’s interest in
wine was sparked during a French vacation in 2000, starting in the Beaujolais region. In 2004 he and Kristie, his wife, went
to Perth in Australia,
where she enrolled in Curtin
world-renowned physiotherapy program.
who had been taking business courses at Capilano University,
switched to to Curtin’s winemaking and enology program. “I decided I didn’t want an office job,” Scott says.
He made wine at two Australian wineries, including Stella Bella Wines and Rosebrook
When the couple returned
in 2008, for family reasons, they took their professional qualifications to the
Okanagan. Kristie established a physiotherapy clinic there while Scott spent
the 2008 crush at Road 13 Vineyards, working with Michael Bartier.
On the strength of
Michael’s glowing recommendation, Burrowing Owl Vineyards hired Scott in 2009.
“The only problem he had with me is my chosen NHL team,” Scott quipped. Scott
is a fan of the New Jersey Devils while Michael supports the Montréal
“I left Burrowing in
December 2010,” Scott says. “There were not many jobs available that would give
me the flexibility I needed. At the time, my wife was working full time on her
business and it was not feasible for both of us to be working full time, with
two young children. That was mostly how this venture came about. I needed
something I could do to keep myself occupied and passionate about wine.”
He has also helped Sandor
Mayer at Inniskillin Okanagan during two vintages, with a primary focus on
learning to make Icewine.
something I wanted to know,” Scott explains. “For me, it is all about learning
and keeping on learning. It is always nice to work under another winemaker and
see what they do differently – and see how you can improve your own technique.”
In the 2012 vintage, he returned to Road 13, this time working with J-M
Scott also kept a hand in
at winemaking by crushing about a ton of grapes each vintage, producing wine
for his family’s personal consumption. At
this stage, Money Pitt is not much larger than a home winery. Scott has no
intention of getting in over his head.
“I have a commercial
winery license at this stage,” he says. “That was the only option I had. I did
not have the capital and I did want to involve investors in purchasing land. It
is $100,000 to $130,000 an acre. It is not an affordable business model to get
into. My plans for the future are to grow until I can afford my own land or
find a partnership I can work with.”
The commercial license
gives him flexibility in sourcing his grapes. His first white release, a blend
called Markup, is Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from a vineyard in
Oroville, along with Chardonnay purchased at the end of the 2012 vintage from a
grower in the Similkameen
His red wines include a
Meritage blend, a Syrah Malbec blend and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc
blend, with grapes sourced in both the Okanagan and in Washington State.
The cap of 575 cases a
year for the next three years is a consequence of his zoning of his home on one
of Oliver’s main streets. “I am operating under what is called a temporary use
permit,” Scott explains. “This technically becomes a commercial zone although
we are in a residential area. The town is allowing us the opportunity to grow.
The town is trying to develop more businesses in Oliver. We are the trial run
to see if the temporary use permit will help.”
He is not uncomfortable
with that cap. “Mostly, it is about controlled growth,” Scott says. “I don’t
want to have the multi-million expenditure right off the bat, and having to
worry about making ends meet. I want to sell out in a year. Even if the
demand’s there, I would much rather sell out than have [unsold] stock.”
He has chosen to launch
Money Pit with moderately-priced blends. The white is a blend of Sémillon,
Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, selling for $15 a bottle. The reds, when
released, will all be under $24. The
reason I want to do that is that I want to get my name out there and I want to
sell out. If I can keep my costs low and my prices low, I hope to sell out
every year and build my base.”
With no tasting room
planned, Scott is selling the wine through restaurant contacts, friends and
family, with the help of a website that is currently under construction.
Money Pit Markup 2012 ($15). The
wine begins with aromas of herbs and wild honey. On the palate, there are
flavours of ripe cantaloupe and tangerine with an herbaceous note from the