Thursday, March 31, 2016

Maan Farms Estate Winery: a survivor

Photo: Winery manager Gaurav Maan

Three wineries have been destroyed by fire – but two bounced back to remain in business.

St. Hubertus Estate Winery in East Kelowna was destroyed during the 2003 forest fires but, since most of the wines were already bottled and stored in a nearby warehouse, sales resumed within a week while a new winery was built.

Granite Creek Estate Winery in Tappen was destroyed early in 2013. While the winery continued to sell wines for a time – a stock was in the nearby tasting room – the winery has since become dormant.

In July 2014, Maan Farms Estate Winery at Abbotsford was the victim of arson (still not resolved) that broke out about 1 am.

“As we locked up for the day after a busy Sunday we never, in our wildest dreams, expected to have to rush back to see our beloved facility engulfed in fire,” the winery said on its website. “In that moment, it’s difficult to think straight and not just fall to the ground as you watch all your hard work go up in smoke.”

But within two days, Maan Farms was selling blueberries and managing a U-pick operation from a tent. Since then, a new building has been erected, housing not only a winery and a tasting room but also a fruit market and a country kitchen.
 “All you can do is move on,” says winery manager Gaurav Maan. “A business like ours, it is hard to close us down. That is one of the biggest lessons I have taken from this. If we went through that, you can’t stop us. It has added to our determination. We are definitely opening new revenue streams that we did not have before.”

His grandfather, who emigrated to Canada from India in the early 1970s, began farming in the Fraser Valley in 1977. The family now farms about 80 acres close to Abbotsford, growing a significant variety of fruits and vegetables. The fruit wines in the Maan tasting room all are made with berries grown by the family.

Planning for the winery began about 2008 by Gaurav’s parents, Kris and Devinder. He is an engineer in a food processing plant. Devinder, who got a teaching certificate in Indian before coming to Canada in 1985, was running the farm market. “We want to do something different from what other farmers are doing,” she told me in an interview in 2008. “Our intention is to provide something they don’t have in the community, their own local fruit wines. It is not available yet.”

The winery also was developed to add value to the berries produced by the farm.

“There are about three pounds of berries in our blackberry wine and we sell it for $23 retail, whereas three pounds of blackberries would probably sell for $10,” Gaurav explains. “So we have increased our margin by making wine. The big reason we started making wine was for value-added products.”

The winery was established in 2012 but did little marketing beyond its wine shop until after the fire. In the past year, however, Maan has began placings its fruit wines in private wine stores in the Fraser Valley. The winery also has begun selling at farmers’ markets. The winery made just 400 cases last year but, in response to the good reception for the wines, will double that this year.

The winery has relied on consultant winemakers so far. The current winemaker is Laurent Lafuente, a French-trained winemaker and distiller who has worked in the Okanagan and on Vancouver Island.

“I have done most of the footwork and the labour,” says Gaurav (who is finishing a degree in finance at the University of the Fraser Valley. “He walks me through the steps and explains what needs to be done and why.”

The table wines from fruit are full-bodied (no water is added) and dry, made to accompany food. Demand from customers also had led Maan Farms to add red tables wines from grapes to its portfolio. Made in small volumes with 2013 grapes from the south Okanagan, these wines have only recently become available in the Maan wine shop. The positive reception to these wines has the winery considering the production of both red and white grape wines in 2016.

“Our bread and butter is our blueberry wine,” Gaurav says. “It is our top seller. The main reason people are fond of our blueberry wine is that we don’t add any water. Just as the best grapes make amazing wine, the best berries also make amazing wine.”

Here are notes on currently available wines. Raspberry and strawberry-raspberry table wines are sold out will soon return to the portfolio.

Maan Farms Blackberry NV ($22). The wine has a deep hue with fruity berry aromas and flavours. With good weight, an elegant texture and a dry finish, it recalls a Beaujolais. 88.

Maan Farms Blueberry NV ($22). In keep with the grape analogy, think Merlot with this rich and full-bodied wine. The blueberry aromas jump from the glass. The texture is smooth with a hint of tannin and with a dry finish. 89.

Maan Farms Maan Trois 2013 ($29.95). This is a Bordeaux blend with 33% each of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It begins with aromas of cassis and oak. On the palate black cherry and blackberry flavours mingle with hints of oak. The wine has long, silky tannins. 90.

Maan Farms Merlot 2013 ($20). A juicy unoaked Merlot, the wine begins with aromas of blueberry jam, leading to flavours of blueberry and cherry. Again the tannins are silky. 88.

Maan Farms Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($20). This has aromas of cassis and flavours of black currant and cherry. The tannins give this a firm texture, suggesting the wine should age a few more years. 87.

Maan Farms Cabernet Franc 2013 ($20). Dark in colour, this is a rich and juicy wine with lively brambleberry aromas and flavours, along with flavours of black raspberry and cherry. 90.

Maan Farms Raspberry Dessert Wine ($26.45 for 375 ml). Fortified to 17%, this wine’s berry aromas and flavours explode from the glass. Full-bodied and palate-coating, the wine is well-balanced and not overly sweet. 90.

Maan Farms Blueberry Dessert Wine ($26.45 for 375 ml). Generous and full-bodied, this fortified wine has spicy berry flavours and a deep colour. 89.

Maan Farms Blackberry Dessert Wine ($26.45 for 375 ml). Also fortified to 17%, this is a soft and jammy berry wine with a Port-like richness. 88.

Maan Farms Strawberry Dessert Wine ($26.45 for 375 ml). Bronze in colour, this is unmistakably strawberry in its dramatic aromas and rich, unctuous flavours that last and last. 90.


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