Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Comox Valley’s 40 Knots Winery changes hands

 Photo: Brenda Hetman-Craig and Layne Craig. Photo by Sara Silver

The largest vineyard and winery in the Comox Valley, 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery, has just been acquired by a business couple who have moved from Fort St. John.

This is the second Comox winery that has changed hands this year. Earlier, film maker James Cameron bought Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery. The two transactions represent a show of confidence in the region’s small, but growing, wine industry.

The new owners of 40 Knots, which opened its tasting room just two years ago, are Brenda Hetman-Craig and Layne Craig.
The news release from the winery says this about the new owners:
“Hailing from Fort St John, the couple were seeking to start the next chapter of their lives in Comox. Layne, who grew up on a Saskatchewan farm, wanted to put his love of the land into play, while Brenda wanted to put her business management skills toward building a successful family business, one that would ultimately involve their grown children. It was an added bonus for Layne, a pilot, that the Comox air force base is nearby. Planes can often be seen overhead adding to the force of energy that surrounds the site. The pair met founder Bill Montgomery who was pursuing retirement and quickly came to an agreement.”
Bill and Michal, his wife, had grown accustomed to planes overhead since buying this property in 1990 but it clearly is still a thrill for visitors and for those tending the nearly 40,000 vines here.

Bill (right) also was new to the wine business. Born in Prince Rupert in 1949, he had operated a towboat company in Vancouver until he sold it and moved to Comox. He operated a hobby farm for a number of years before making the plunge and planting vines.

He prepared the 18-acre vineyard on a gravel-rich plateau above the Powell River Ferry dock, burying drain tiles so that the vines would not have wet feet. The vines were planted in 2007 and 2008. About a quarter of the vineyard was Pinot Noir. The other varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gamay and Merlot. The latter, the result of poor advice from a consultant, was a startling choice for this cool growing region. When Bill discovered that Merlot would not ripen, he replaced the vines – about 3,200 – with Pinot Noir and early-ripening Siegerrebe.

A grandly renovated former barn was turned into a 10,000 square foot winery, However, when the elegant tasting room opened in the summer of 2012, the Montgomerys listed the winery and its executive home for $4,900,000. Bill had perhaps bitten off more than he could chew.

“I am 63 and I wanted to know if there was a market out there,” he told me in 2012. “I have been living and breathing this place since I started it. As you are well aware, it is seven days a week. I thought we would kind of shut it down at the end of November, come back in February, early March. That’s not the way it works at all. It is 12 months of the year.”

The Craigs appear to be younger and they have lined up some help. To quote the news release:

“Brenda and Layne will maintain the name 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery. A line-up of Okanagan-grown wines is added under the name Stall Speed. The pair will be working with Summerland-based Okanagan Crush Pad winemaker Matt Dumayne, who will assist with viticulture and work with Vineyard Manager, Lucas Renshaw, on the wine portfolio.
“The new Stall Speed label, depicting an illustration of the air speed indicator from Layne's plane, offer a Meritage and a Merlot Icewine.

" ‘The wines that we can craft from Comox-grown grapes are delicate, aromatic and fresh. Our reason for adding a lineup of wines from the Okanagan is to allow for some bolder reds and Icewine that we cannot achieve locally so that we can present something for everyone's taste’, noted Layne.”

The current 40 Knots portfolio includes a Chardonnay, a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir, a rosé and an aromatic blend of Pinot Gris and Schönburger called Whitecaps. As well, the winery has a 2010 sparkling wine, Spindrift Brut, made with a classic cuvée of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This wine won a gold medal in a 2013 competition.



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