Photo: Wild Goose founder Adolf Kruger
In another sad week in British Columbia’s wine country, Wild
Goose Vineyards and Winery announced the death on November 20, 2016, of its
founder, Adolf Kruger.
He was one of the most influential pioneers of the British
Columbia wine industry, which now has more than 300 wineries. Wild Goose was
just the 18th winery when it was licensed in 1990. A government official said
he would be lucky to sell 2,000 bottles a year. Wild Goose now makes and sells
about 11,000 cases a year. The winery has won more Lieutenant Governor’s Awards
for Excellence in Wine than any other Okanagan winery.
Adolf has been honoured by the industry with, among other
accolades, the Founder’s Award in 2006. A modest man (with no reason to be
modest), Adolf was literally speechless when the award was presented.
I got to know him during numerous interviews and tastings at
the winery. In latter years, that always involved a lunch with Adolf and his
two sons in the kitchen of the family home. As his wife, Susanna, laid out cold
cuts and freshly-baked buns, the Kruger men matched each other with highly
entertaining wine industry commentary.
The lunches ended after Susanna, who had as sharp a wit as
her men, died in 2014. Those who came to know Susanna and Adolf experienced a
very special couple. I expect the winery will be jammed on the afternoon of
December 3 for an open house to remember Adolf.
Here is a long except from my 1994 book, The Wineries of British Columbia.
profile includes much detail on Adolf and his family. Hagen Kruger is now the
winemaker, as is son, Nik. Roland handles wine sales.
was born in 1931 in Kehrberg, a German village southwest of Berlin; his wife,
Susanna, is from a German-speaking enclave in Rumania. A compact but muscular
man, Adolf was raised on a farm far distant from wine country. "It was
strictly potatoes, asparagus and rye," he says.
In 1949 the
entire Kruger family fled the communist regime of East Germany and spent a year
as refugees in West Germany. Adolf and a brother came to Canada to work on a
wheat farm near Winnipeg for the 1951 harvest. Once the harvest was completed,
they headed for the city. It was here that Adolf completed the high school he
had missed in Germany and, after spending two years in university, became an
electrical designer. Susanna had emigrated to Winnipeg independently in 1951,
where she worked as a seamstress and met Adolf.
In his spare
time, Adolf began designing yachts, a passion that led the Krugers to move to
Vancouver in 1964. He designed boats for others and eventually built his own
twenty-four-foot sailboat, later sold because Susanna proved to be, in Adolf's
phrase, "a whiteknuckle sailor." In Vancouver Adolf worked for Wright
Engineers Ltd. an engineering
consulting firm, in a drafting design job that involved several exotic overseas
assignments, including more than a year in Syria and Iran on a pipeline
construction project. When the engineering firm reduced staff during the 1982
business recession, Kruger was loaned to another consulting firm. Apprehensive
about this temporary arrangement, he began looking for a career change.
He found it
that fall while visiting a friend, grape grower Nick Brodersen, who has a
vineyard near Kaleden. In February 1983 Adolf bought his own property south of
Okanagan Falls. "It was a terrible place, nothing but sagebrush and
cut-down trees and an old gravel pit," he says. "Even though it was a
terrible piece of land, the price was right." As he feared, his
engineering design job was eliminated in January 1984. By March the Krugers
were pounding in the posts to support the vines they began planting that
Wild Goose has
been a family business from the start because Adolf invited his sons, Hagen and
Roland, to join him as partners. Hagen, born in 1960, had become a draughtsman
(and still works in that trade), while Roland, born in 1964, worked as an
electronics technician until he joined his father full-time at the winery. One
result of the partnership is that the Wild Goose wine shop is always manned
by some member of the family, usually either Susanna or Hagen's wife, Kerry.
"People really enjoy going into farm wineries and being able to talk to
the owners," Roland believes.
One day after closing
the purchase, Adolf Kruger went to take a closer look at the barren tract on
which he was hanging his future. Noticing a path, he followed it to a small
clearing, completely surprising a large flock of geese feeding there. "They
literally exploded, frantically trying to get out of this clearing,"
Kruger recalls. He ducked and shielded his head against panicking, low-flying
geese. "It struck me as an omen," says Kruger, an avid and
experienced fowl hunter. He decided: "If I ever get a vineyard here, I'll
call it Wild Goose." He thinks that the name gets across the message that
he makes Canadian wines. Adolf Kruger is a patient and pleasant man, but he
bristles when someone suggests he is making wines on a German model.
When the Krugers canvassed
the wineries on what to plant, they were routinely told to plant hybrids.
"A lot of people were mentioning Foch and Chelois," Roland recalls.
"But being originally from Europe, he had ideas of putting in European
Adolf knew which
grapes make the best wines, for he had been a keen amateur vintner in
Vancouver, one of the most serious of the winemakers in his hobby circle. They
were all using vinifera grapes from California Kruger's favourite reds were
made by blending equal quantities of Zinfandel and Alicante — and he decided
his ten-acre vineyard would be planted entirely to vinifera. With white wines
then in vogue, he planted only white varieties, Gewürztraminer and Johannisberg
Riesling, and, not then planning his own winery, contracted the grapes to
Mission Hill winery. The Krugers believed that their soil, with its rocks, clay
and sand on a southern exposure, was particularly good for Riesling.
The natural progression from grape
growing is to winemaking, Roland observes. The idea had been planted during a
family vacation to Washington's Yakima Valley, which is dotted with small
family-owned wineries. Something else also nudged the Krugers: the rising
concern among the growers that the coming free trade era would cripple
commercial wineries in British Columbia, who would then try to survive by
offering low prices for grapes.
"The last thing
we wanted," Roland says, "was to be stuck with ten acres of grapes
and to be offered $200 to $500 a ton. So we independently began lobbying the
government, writing letters, talking to individuals, and this went on for two or three
years." Eventually, they learned that two other small growers were doing
the same thing. It was not until a 1988 meeting in Penticton with government
bureaucrats that the Krugers actually met Günther Lang and Vera Klokocka, who
had also been pestering the politicians for licences.
One of the government
officials, fed up with being pressured, asked the three growers just what they
wanted. Backed by his colleagues, Adolf Kruger spent half an hour sketching out
what became the parameters for farmgate wineries.
Shortly thereafter, Premier
Bill Vander Zalm took a personal interest and, as Roland says, "it wasn't
too long after that that we had the guidelines for small wineries." Adolf
Kruger prefers to give the credit to a presentation made to Vander Zalm by two
other growers, Terry Wells and Alan Brock. He is convinced that if Vander Zalm
had not gone to bat personally for the farmgate winery concept, it might never
have emerged from the bureaucracy.
With his memory
for anecdotes, Roland recalls vividly the date when the Krugers received the
coveted licence: June 11, 1990. It was a nasty, cold day, pelting with rain —
and a customer showed up at the door to buy wine. "He came in and loved
the wines," Roland recalls. So did subsequent customers. "We are a
bit stunned by our success — it exceeded our expectations," Adolf says.
understates how tough it was at first. There was a concern among consumers and
restaurateurs that the quality of farmgate wines would seldom be better than
that of homemade wines, especially since several estate wineries earlier had
come to market initially with disappointing products.
The Krugers, like the
other farm wineries, had to
hand-sell wines, persuading buyers one at a time. With no wines listed in the
liquor stores, the personable and easy-going Roland Kruger took to the road,
selling restaurants and convincing private stores to carry Wild Goose wines.
"In the Vancouver area, I set up a network of beer and wine stores to
handle our products," he says. "It was a selling job . . . but now
they help us push our products."
impractical regulations imposed on farmgate wineries have not made his job any
easier. For example, farmgate wineries are not supposed to warehouse their
wines off the winery premise itself and they must be paid immediately for the
wines they deliver.
have invested carefully and modestly in equipment, buying it — Roland calls it
scrounging — around British Columbia, from the Pacific Northwest and from
Germany. The winery's horizontal basket press was designed and built by Adolf.
Recently, the Krugers have begun to invest in American and French oak barrels for
aging their reds, Adolf being a particular fan of big reds. "I don't care
for oaked whites," he says. "I like a rather fresh or fruity white
wine. But I do prefer to age reds in oak." In 1994, when the winery was
enlarged and a spacious tasting room added, Wild Goose released its first Pinot
noir and made its first Merlot.
"Our goal in the first
couple of years was to produce clean wines, wines with no faults," Roland