Photo: Blind Tiger proprietors Charlene and Jerry Wowchuk
This winery takes its name from one of the terms (blind pig is
another) for illegal bars operated in the United States during, and even
It seems that the operators got around the law by charging
customers to see performing pigs, tigers or other animals while serving “free”
It is a flight of fancy to apply the name to a perfectly
legal winery in Lake
. Jerry Wowchuk,
who operates this winery with his wife, Charlene and their daughter, Morgan,
just wants to attach an aura of history to the winery.
is very young,” he explains. “It is hard to celebrate any history when there is
However, his ancestors in both the Ukraine and on
the Prairies knew the art of distilling and probably shared a drop or two with
friends. But they surely were too busy as hard-scrabble farmers to run blind
The closest Jerry has come to a blind tiger is presiding in
his winery’s charming tasting room. “I love working in the tasting room,” he
says. “I get people coming in from the Prairies. I like to talk. I am an
auctioneer, so that is all I do, is talk. There is always a connection.”
The background music is from his vinyl collection because he
believes that vinyl sounds better than digital music. The wines are served in generously-sized
Riedel stemware. “Even bad wine tastes good in that glass,” he says. “I will
never have those cheap little glasses.”
The decision to plant five acres of grapes in 2010 was
inspired by earlier vacations in Bordeaux
. “We fell in love with vineyards,” Jerry says.
They moved from Vancouver
to Lake Country
in 2007, looking for a quiet community in which to raise children.
“When I came onto this property, I said this is perfect,”
Jerry remembers. “Look at the hills on here. This is great, just like Tuscany
.” Prudently –
because Lake Country
is cooler than Tuscany
– no Tuscan varieties were planted. The two largest blocks in the vineyard are
Gewürztraminer and Riesling, with small blocks of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The winery also buys grapes to round out its portfolio.
The property had been a llama farm and then a goat farm. Since
it was already organic, Jerry and Charlene turned for guidance to one of the
Okanagan’s leading organic authorities, Karnail Singh Sidhu, the owner of
Kalala Organic Estate Winery.
They not only tapped Karnail’s advice; they also have relied
on him and consultant Dr. Alan Marks as winemakers, starting with the 2013
vintage, when they produced about 1,000 cases of wine.
Jerry is determined to continue as an organic producer.
“Even if it bankrupts me, I am not changing to conventional farming,” he asserts.
“If anything I will go more biodynamic, except for some of the weird stuff.
We’re small enough where we can just baby these vines and make some really
Running a winery is a long way from his roots in Winnipeg, where he was
born 49 years ago and where he and Charlene, his business partner, met in high
school. He started his career in the trucking industry, moved on to
manufacturing jobs, to plumbing and then to the repair of restaurant equipment.
“Because we renovated restaurants, we would have a bunch of
equipment left over,” Jerry says. “So we started taking them to auctions. I
realized it was a good way to make money.”
He moved his family to Vancouver
in 1994 and started a construction company that evolved into Kwik Auctions, the
business that Jerry and Charlene operate now from a warehouse in Burnaby
and their home in Lake Country
“Kwik Auctions has over 19 years of experience in the
Restaurant Industry, from service to the liquidation of restaurant equipment,”
the company says on its web site. “Kwik Auctions sells restaurant equipment,
accepts consignments, buys restaurant equipment or entire restaurants, and also
conducts appraisals. Of course, we specialize in Restaurant
. Our goal is to supply you with anything and everything
you need for your food service establishment. No food equipment is too large or
small- we deal with it all!”
The business allows them to develop Blind Tiger Vineyards
and to support other interests, such as the Harley-Davidson motorcycle that
Jerry acquired last summer.
In the 2015 vintage, Blind Tiger produced about 2,000 cases,
a level at which they intend to keep the winery for a while. “That is our
focus,” Charlene says. “This is a little pet project because everybody said we
couldn’t do it.”
Here are notes on the wines, except for the Gewürztraminer,
sold out before the end of the season.
Blind Tiger Pinot
Gris 2014 ($16.95). The wine, made in a juicy off-dry style, has aromas and
flavours of apple, pear and peach. 88.
Blind Tiger Riesling
2012 ($17.95). This is an appealing
wine, with aromas and flavours of lime and green apple. The racy acidity
balances the residual sugar, giving the wine a crisp, tangy finish. A slight
hint of petrol is developing (which is positive). 90.
Blind Tiger Pinot
Noir 2013 ($22.95). The wine has aromas of strawberry and vanilla, leading
to flavours of strawberry and cherry. It is a light but pretty wine with a
silky texture. 88.
Blind Tiger Pinot
Noir 2014 (Not yet released). The wine has aromas and bright flavours of
strawberry and raspberry with a touch of pepper on the finish. The firm texture
has just begun to evolve toward the variety’s classic silkiness. 89.
Blind Tiger Speakeasy
Red 2011 ($23.95). This wine, which was aged one year in American oak, is a
blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with a touch of Syrah.
The wine has aromas and flavours of vanilla, black cherry and blackberry with a
hint of chocolate on the finish. The tannins are long and supple. It is a wine
for current consumption. 89.