Incubator wine village in the South Okanagan offers shared resources for startups 

Like tiny homes, the miniature wineries stand out against the tall cliffs of McIntyre Bluff, a vibrant energy pulsing in the cluster of modular buildings.

The circle marks the birthplace of a new generation of wineries.

The tech sector may have its angel investors and accelerator labs, but this incubator is igniting the dreams of newcomers to B.C.’s wine industry. 

With a three-year lease, start-ups can share crushing equipment, operate their own production, and welcome visitors to their tasting space. 

“You always have somebody that’s ready and willing to offer a helping hand,” says Daphne Scromeda, a co-owner in JoiRyde Winery. “When things start to not work properly, like with our press or crush or things like that, people will pop in. So, we collectively all come together to solve problems, share equipment and share knowledge. It’s a great support system, especially when it’s your first time doing this.”

The pandemic prompted Daphne and her co-owner Stacy Allen to switch gears. They combined their wine and hospitality backgrounds and, as Daphne says, “decided to take the leap. This is the next joy ride of our life.” 

The pandemic also paused the professional careers  of volleyball players Kyla Richey (captain of Team Canada) and husband Rudy Verhoeff, who had dreamed of owning a business together. Family support made the investment in Valley Commons possible.

“Friendships and family ties are strengthened, and community is created, when people gather to enjoy a glass of wine and good food,” says Kyla. “A village is community. We are so excited to be part of this.” 

The District embraces the new while it builds on the old. Located on Osoyoos Indian Band land, the connection to the local Indigenous community is strong. Nk’Mip Cellars, the first Indigenous-owned and operated winery in North America, has joined the circle to open a satellite tasting bar. 

Osoyoos Indian Band member Sam Baptiste, general manager of Nk’Mip Vineyards, partnered with Eric and Leo Mide to launch Vintners Cove and enlisted winemaker Aaron Crey to develop the portfolio. 

One of the first onboard was Gneiss Wines. Given the pedigree of their managing partners, husband and wife team Michael Daley and Josie Tyabji, there is no doubt the District can also attract seasoned professionals who desire to focus on small lots artisan wine production.

“Matt finally convinced us to come out of retirement and create our own brand,” says Josie. “Gneiss resonated with us for two reasons. We wanted to celebrate the rock, and we wanted to celebrate the sense of place in this landmark, McIntyre Bluff.”

That gneiss rock collects the heat and projects it back into the vineyards. It retains some of that heat into the evenings and, as Josie says, “creates the conditions for unbelievable wines.”

A three-acre vineyard has been planted on-site, with Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo grapes ready to thrive in the sun.

“For me, this is where wine country really comes to life, in the South Okanagan. This is where you have the best opportunities to grow the best fruit,” says Josie. “It allows you to grow the Shiraz and the Cabs that nobody else in the valley can really capitalize on.”

Moreover, it’s the perfect opportunity to launch the wine career of the third generation in their family, daughter Christine Daley.

Other industry veterans partnering in the Gneiss endeavour include Craig Welsman and the District’s builder, Matt Kenyon of Greyback Construction. 

Like a perfect pairing, Michael and Matt combined their years of winery expertise and construction excellence to bring the village concept to life. 

The modern architectural lines intrigue, but the visual anchor is the amphitheatre. More than 600 patrons can gather for outdoor events and the space operates as a en plein air restaurant. With each building built on a slight elevation, patio patrons can also enjoy the concerts in the central hub. 

It’s like having box seats at the hockey arena; just add great wines, stunning views and an infinity pool. 

In total, the village circle includes 13 wineries and a mini-brewery, Trading Post, which operates the eatery. The final spot is saved for a craft distillery.

Living up to its vision, the District is a new industry landmark. “When you’re entering into the area, it’s the gateway into the South Okanagan,” says Josie.  

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