Friday, December 18, 2015

Class of 2015: Quidni Estate Winery

Photo: Quidni Estate Winery (all photos courtesy of the winery)

This fall, Quidni Estate Winery, which also has three bed-and-breakfast rooms, was voted number one on Trip Adviser for specialty lodging in Penticton.

Owner Marty Gunderson was ecstatic – rightfully so. The award signalled what a profound turnaround has occurred at this winery which, under another name and other owners, had not been successful.

It is all in a day’s work for Marty, even if it is the first venture in the wine business for this Edmonton businessman and entrepreneur.

Born in Fort McMurray in 1972, he grew up in Edmonton and plunged into business without bothering to finish a degree at the University of Alberta. His profile on LinkedIn rolls describes him as a “SCREAMING Capitalist, Disrupter, Challenging authority since 1972.”

He has been involved in the financial services industry for 17 years. His currant activities in that field include a directorship of the National Crowdfunding Association of Canada. He is also involved in real estate development and that was how he became a winery owner in the Okanagan.

Quidni had opened in 2011 as 3 Mile Estate Winery and slipped into receivership in the fall of 2014.

“I was involved in real estate development and one of my partners had an interest in this winery and asked me if I knew anybody that wants to buy a winery,” Marty says. “I said I don’t know anybody but let me check. Then I was asking other people if they want to buy a winery.”

On of those he contacted (through mutual friends) was Todd Moore (right), a captain in the West Kelowna fire department and a veteran consulting winemaker.

Todd, a one-time bicycle racer who is 49, started his winemaking career when he was 21 with Lewis Brothers, a fruit winery (now closed) in Grand Prairie. He went to work at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in 1991. He went to Australia for a vintage in 1993, returning in 1994 to help work the vintage at Blue Mountain Estate Winery before rejoining Quails’ Gate for two years.

From there, he moved to Vancouver Island in 1996 as the winemaker at Cherry Point for four consecutive vintages. Even after joining the West Kelowna fire department in 2000, he has kept a foot in winemaking as a consultant.

“The fire department was putting food on my table,” Todd says. “Winemaking became a hobby … but I love making wine.”

Todd was not interested in buying a winery when Marty approached him. But he offered to help Marty with the due diligence on making the purchase. He also was willing to run it. Marty thought that was an excellent idea. He bought the winery and relaunched it this year as Quidni Estate Winery.

Quidni is Latin for “why not.” The name was inspired when Marty got tired of explaining why he had bought the winery and just answered “why not?”

“I have always been a big fan of wine,” he says now. “It’s a fun business. For me … the fact that you are encouraging people to come together and enjoy some great wine with friends and family, frankly that’s been the big thing for me. I just liked the idea of doing fun things, now that I am a little bit older. I am not necessarily making money. Wineries don’t make a whole lot of money.”

The deal was closed during the 2014 vintage. “Three quarters of the way through the harvest!” Todd remembers. “I came in and I worked one day with [the former owners]. We crushed a ton and a half of Gew├╝rztraminer. I watched to see where you plug things in; then I was on my own.”

Not entirely on his own. “I think I pulled in every favour I have been owed in the last 20 years, by getting people to help me out,” Todd says. But he was able to make or bottle about 1,500 cases of wine, enough to get Quidni through its first season.

The potential of the winery begins with its location right beside Naramata Road. Marty Gunderson invested in additional production equipment and in improvements to make the building itself more appealing to wine tourists. The tasting room interior was refinished with barrel staves.

“We spent quite a bit of money renovating,” Marty says. “We put in what we call the Quidni catwalk. That gives a wine tourist the ability to overlook all of the wine preparation areas. They can see all of the tanks, the crusher, the destemmer without having to go all the way down. It is a way they can experience the winery without just tasting the wine. We want to show them why we are so passionate about making wine.”

This is all part of Quidni’s effort to give visitors a memorable experience, so that they return or become repeat buyers of wines. That is a tough objective, given that there are almost 40 wineries on the Naramata Bench, all competing to impress. The Trip Advisor award indicates that Quidni made considerable progress this year.

Marty has just begun. This summer he added winemaker Robert Thielicke to Quidni’s staff. Robert (right) had been the winemaker at JoieFarm for a number of years and before that was assistant winemaker at Mt. Boucherie Vineyards. Robert is part of Marty’s strategy to grow Quidni to a 15,000 case winery over several years.

In the 2015 vintage, Quidni roughly doubled production from its first vintage. That included 250 cases of Viognier; 100 cases of Riesling, 450 cases of an aromatic white blend of  Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer;  and 450 cases of what Robert calls a “delicious” sparkling ros├ę. As well, more Merlot has been crushed for Quorto, the winery’s port-style wine. And there will be a range of table wines.

Quidni wines are offered in three tiers, beginning with two affordable (under $15)  blends, WhyNot White and WhyNot Red. There is a varietal series, all under $20. The small lot top tier, under $30 a bottle, are marketed as barrel select wines.

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