It takes know-how, patience, and hard work to build a successful micro-winery. These qualities, along with an incredibly supportive wine-loving community, helped Denman Island’s Corlan Vineyard to rack up seven awards for their To Ewe organic wines – in just five years of winemaking.
“We’re small, and new, and in such a tiny corner of the world, that these awards are so unexpected,” say Corlan Vineyard owners, farmers, and vintners Pat and Selwyn Jones. “It’s a validation that our process of no intervention – no irrigation or tannins or additives – was the right way to go. And with all the local support, encouragement and harvest volunteers, it feels like a win for the whole island.”
The Dream Team
They credit vineyard staff, Jayne and Caitlin Fogarty, for the most recent gold medal awarded to the new To Ewe Raspberry Dessert wine at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in Rochester, New York.
Pat calls the mother-daughter duo her ‘dream team’, as the pair assist in all aspects of the farm and winery year-round. Jayne serves customers in the tasting room and helps out in the vineyard; Caitlin is a ‘Jill-of-all-trades’, assisting with vineyard maintenance, but also running the heavy equipment and diving into building and cement projects, learning as she goes.
It was Jayne who said, “I bet if you made a raspberry dessert wine, it would be great!”
The Joneses encouraged them to produce it and now Jayne and Caitlin can add the title of vintner to their job descriptions.
“I couldn’t quite believe it,” said Jayne of the win. “It was pretty exciting for us. We were all ecstatic. To me, raspberry just tastes like summer, and it seems like we hit the mark.”
“We all actually took part in making it,” she adds. “And Pat is a dream boss too – she’s just wonderful to work for!”
Corlan Vineyard is a source of pride for many Denman residents, mirroring the culture of the island: thriving volunteerism, environmentalism, sustainability, and organic practices.
“What’s really so very nice is that people are genuinely pleased for us. They are proud of a local business’ success. There is so much support – it’s amazing!” says Pat.
Many locals do more than enjoy the wine. Every Fall more than 40 volunteers come out to harvest the grapes at ‘picking parties’ and enjoy a harvest meal together in the Joneses home. This year, the pandemic means the harvest may look different, with smaller groups and an outdoor meal.
Sustainable, organic, vegan practices are win-win
Since the first batch in 2015, the five-acre vineyard produces about 500 cases of red, white, and dessert wines each year using sustainable, organic and vegan practices. They don’t add sulfites (a preservative), and while some wineries use non-vegan filtering or clearing practices, Corlan Vineyard cold-stabilizes its white wines and uses racking as their clearing tool.
Weed control is a combination of a ‘weed badger’ on the tractor during the growing season, and a flock of Clun Forest Sheep grazing between the rows the rest of the year. The grapes are ‘dry-farmed’, meaning they don’t irrigate the vines so are not impacting the island’s limited fresh water supply.
These sustainable practices produce certified 100% organic fruit that is more concentrated says Pat.
“The fruit is smaller, and we don’t get the tonnage that we could get if we had larger fruit, but we think we get more flavour.”
International wine critics and judges agree.
Their Chrome Island Red received a gold medal in 2020 at the International Biowine Prize in Germany, one of the most crucial quality contests for organic wines; and for the second year, won a Silver Medal at the Finger Lakes competition. Made from Maréchal Foch grapes and named for the lighthouse island at the South end of Denman Island, the full-bodied red is currently sold out, but you can expect the 2018 vintage to be available by the end of September 2020.
The Sandy Island White – from the estate’s Ortega grapevines, and described as a crisp, aromatic wine with citrus overtones – also won gold at the International Biowine Prize.
On target to sell out again
The pandemic has not slowed Corlan Vineyard’s success. They are on target to sell out again this year.
But you won’t find To Ewe wines at the liquor store. Pat says it is a complex and cost-prohibitive process, and in fact, they sell out of their 500 cases of wine each year from the winery at 8441 MacFarlane Road, Denman Island, and from the farmers’ market stands. On Saturday mornings you’ll find Pat at the Denman Island Farmer’s Market and Selwyn at the Qualicum Beach Farmer’s Market.
“One of the things we love is that we get to meet almost every person who buys our wine,” says Pat.
The Tasting Room is open with Covid-19 protocols including sanitizer, limiting the number of guests, and taking contact information. And although they have stopped the lunches in the lounge since March, Pat plans to provide small pre-booked dinners this Fall.
“I like every aspect of this life,” Pat says, “the farm work, the animals, making wine, interacting with customers.”
Although Pat and Selwyn would continue growing grapes and making wine for the sheer love of creating something, the official approval represented by the awards do mean a lot to them.
And yet, they find that it is the love, acceptance and enthusiasm from Denman Islanders that has been one of the best rewards.
Corlan Vineyard’s To Ewe wine awards:
- 2018 Sandy Island White – Gold at 2020 International Biowineprize;
- 2019 Raspberry Dessert Wine – Gold at 2020 Finger Lakes Competition
- 2017 Chrome Island Red – Gold at 2020 International Biowine prize; Silver at 2020 Finger Lakes competition
- 2016 Chrome Island Red – Silver at 2019 Finger Lakes competition
- 2017 Blackberry Dessert Wine – Silver at 2019 Finger Lakes competition; Bronze at 2019 All Canadian Wine Championships