Our Story

This section is supposed to be a sort of historical record of the development of the vineyard in the unlikely event we want to look back and wonder what on earth we were thinking. The problem with documenting all this stuff is that it needs to run in chronological sequence or it becomes confusing. This then requires scrolling down through the entire page to see if there is anything new. It may not be as much of a problem as I think though, because it assumes people will actually want to read it. Anyway, our inelegant solution is to post the most recent update at the beginning of the page, and then move it into the proper sequence when there is something else uninteresting to talk about.

Recent Updates:

Since the last update of this section, now more than two years ago, the vineyard has matured, and surprisingly most of our vines have survived. This first update since then is going to cover a few things which may actually be of interest to other vineyard owners. But then they may not.

Crown Gall

In our first year, about 25 plants were infected by a sort of fungus called Crown Gall. Crown gall is a condition where you get galls that look like giant warts that very slowly strangle the life out of the vines. It doesn’t spread that easily, usually when there is some kind of nick or cut to the trunk by some piece of infected equipment, but it is pervasive in the valley. Being the paranoid kind of people that we are, we decided to pull out any vines that had been infected and replant with new vines. This appears to have been successful, and there is no longer any evidence of crown gall in the vineyard, but the replacement vines have not fared well – probably because it is a giant pain watering them selectively when they are spread out over the vineyard.

Bird Netting

There are times when this place is very reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” as there are literally millions of starlings cruising around looking for food. Apparently they can strip a small vineyard like ours in no time at all, so our next problem was bird-netting. Given that Riesling is a late ripening grape, the birds seem to go for other varieties of grapes that ripen earlier, and by the time the Riesling is of interest to them, the grapes are ready to pick. This is my theory anyway, but we are not really prepared to take the chance of not putting up the nets. The problem is putting up the nets takes about a day using a tractor equipped with a netting machine (which I don’t have, but lust after), and then another day to take them down again. I estimate this process would consume about 10% of my entire profits for the year. Then you have to have somewhere to store all the nets as well, and they get pretty bulky. The solution came to us when visiting Thornhaven, one of our favourite wineries in the area. The trick is to roll down the nets into tight bunches and hang them on the irrigation wire until needed. Thornhaven doesn’t seem to do this anymore, and there must be a reason why we are pretty much the only vineyard that now does this, but it hasn’t come to us yet. The nets may not last as long due to weathering, but netting machines cause a fair bit of damage as well. We are now into our third year of doing this, and our nets are none the worse for wear. In any event replacing the nets in the entire vineyard probably wouldn’t cost more than contracting out the process for one year. I don’t get it.

The Story:

As our dream of owning a vineyard approached reality, all sorts of  confusing choices started to surface. Things like location, size, “build or buy”, affordability —-and on it went. We started with location. This was the easiest decision, and was heavily influenced by Liz and John Lawrence who had already moved to the Naramata Bench in the Okanagan Valley and we had already spent a fair bit of time there. After looking at a number of available places (in the context of what you can afford) you kind of have to make a decision whether you are going to build or buy. We decided we did not want the stresses of building. This in itself limits the choices considerably, because most of the established vineyards either have “tear-down” houses with lots of land or new houses which were far too expensive. Even if the houses are derelict, you have a hard time convincing a seller that it actually has a negative value.

We ended up with two possibilities with renovated houses on them. One was on a 5-acre lot with established vines, and the other on a 2-acre plot which had previously had an orchard on it, but the orchard had been removed. The prices were not that far apart, and the larger property would have been the logical choice, but the more thought we gave it, the more we came to believe that the smaller place would be more manageable for us in our old age. There was space for up to 2000 vines which we could expect to produce approximately 5-tons from, and this in turn should produce enough revenue to qualify for “farm-status” and associated tax breaks. Costs would wipe out most of the profit, but it should be break-even at worst.

The only problem with how we went about all this is that by narrowing down your choices to fit your objectives, you end up with one option and zero bargaining power. No doubt we paid too much for it as a result, but that is the way it goes. We closed on the purchase of 1279 Evans Avenue on October 1, 2009 and agreed to rent it to the previous owners for a period of up to six months provided that we could commence setting up the vineyard immediately. This was important as we wanted to make sure that we did not lose an extra year before harvesting our first crop. In the meantime we continued to live and work in Calgary.

The starting Point

The Undeveloped Property – South View

The Undeveloped Property – North View

Our first, and only, really nasty surprise (so far anyway) was discovered during the process of spreading lime over the entire property, as recommended by the people we engaged to do the soil analysis prior to the purchase going through. We were tracing the lines from the septic system so we could mark them and avoid digging them up while doing the irrigiation trenching when we discovered the lines and the septic distribution box were badly corroded from years of use. Fixing this added a cool $10,000 to the cost of the place, but we figured it was far better that we discovered this up front rather than after we put in the vineyard.

As we were still living in Calgary at the time, (not to mention not having a clue how to do it) we contracted out the setting up of the vineyard to Earlco Holdings.

Their initial design was for an “L” shaped vineyard covering the entire West and North sides of the property, and leaving the Southeast corner (approximately half an acre) for the house and garden.


Work on setting up the vineyard started in November of 2009 with the spreading of the lime, and this was quickly followed by marking out the post positions and digging the irrigation trenches :


Irrigation Set Up

Post Set-Up

Phase 1 Set-Up Complete











By Christmas of 2009, we took possession, and all the planned work for Phase One set-up was complete and ready to install wires, drip lines (for the vines) and spinners (for watering between the rows) prior to planting. By this time we had decided to plant Riesling and had ordered the 1850 plants for the Phase One development.  We moved in on April 1, 2010, and shortly after this work in the vineyard started again with installation of the wires to hold the drip lines and the spinners. These had to be in place prior to planting:


Attaching Support Wires

Ready for Planting









The next step was planting  which we did on May 16 with the help of a team of 5 or 6 from Earlco. Planting consisted of digging a small hole, planting, attaching a bamboo support and  putting a milk carton over the plant to protect it from both the weather and from the spray of weedkillers. At about this time we also sowed fall rye grass to plough in in the fall to provide nitrogen enrichment to the soil.




For the next several weeks, there was very little else to do other than irrigate and wait anxiously for the plants to show signs of life. The space between the rows was still extremely bare and dusty but we could not sow regular orchard grass seed  until the fall after ploughing in the fall rye.

It was probably four weeks before the plants really started to grow, and the stages of growth of the plants varied enormously. with some only sprouting weeks after the first ones. We initially thought this was due to variations in the soil conditions but there was no pattern at all. It seemed like the plants had minds of their own. Eventually by  August all the the plants were  growing. This was pretty exciting because you would normally get up to 5 percent failure, and we had none.


During the period of July to September, we seemed to spend our lives weeding. We soon started to wonder what we had signed up for, and could take consolation only in assurances that new Vineyards are particularly difficult because you also have to worry about the weeds growing inside the milk cartons. Whether or not you use herbicides this is a problem because the whole point of the milk cartons is to protect the plants from weed spraying in the first place. The second problem is that wasps love building their nests inside the cartons and sticking your hand down the carton to nip off shoots is an open invitation to get stung.  We are now in our third year (2012) and the orchard grass planted between the rows has crowded out some of the weeds, and the clippings from mowing form a bit of a cover between the vines and have reduced the weeds to the extent that we are now trying to weed by hand. As we do this, we are removing the milk cartons, and this should also help.

The other thing you find being a farmer is that you try to maximize the usage of the land-area, and we had a huge lawn down the east side of the house which was not used for anything. We decided we could put in another four rows there which would give us another 120 vines. this is a bit of a gamble, because the area does not get as much sun as the rest of the vineyard, but we figured at worst we could use part of the area as a nursery section for cultivating replacement vines.  In order to get this section planted in 2011, we had to get the posts installed in the fall of 2010, and this was the beginning of Phase II which we now refer to as the Southeast block.

Phase II Post-Pounding

Planting the Southeast Block




Aside from the post-pounding and some help setting up the irrigation, we did all the work on the new block ourselves which was a good learning experience.  Ann & I planted the section in May (2011), and the whole process started again (albeit on a smaller scale).



By September of 2011, some of the plants were healthy enough to bear a limited amount of fruit, so we had to put up nets to keep the birds out. We had decided by now that we would only have about half a ton so there was no point in selling it. We did have an expression of interest from our neighbours, but instead decided we would make some of our own wine with the help from Earlco.

Bird Netting

We are now into 2012, and the only development in the vineyard for this year was the addition of one more row along the west side of the property, and a short row along the south side along Evans Avenue. This row is a little bit of an experiment as we planted Pinot Noir here, the only vines in the property which are not Riesling. We did this largely for cosmetic reasons as that section of the South fence is a little bare, and also we wanted to have a very small crop that we could use to play at being wine-makers as all the Riesling is now contracted to Synchromesh.


Where’s Waldo? – June 2012