Lang Vineyards: Fortunes can be made in wine
1980 [Vineyards 1960s]
Fortunes can be made in wine. One only needs to hear how Guenther Lang turned his Naramata Bench purchase into the province’s first farmgate winery and his Freedom 55 exit into retirement.
He still lives minutes away on the same road of Lang Vineyards, a property he fell in love with and lived for a quarter of a century. The beauty won him over, he says. “I had not intended to be a grape grower — and later a winemaker — when I came to Canada.”
The son of dairy farmers, he emigrated from Germany in 1980 leaving Mercedes Benz where he worked as a financial auditor.
“I didn’t know anything about grape growing,” Guenther reminisces. “If you had two leaves here, I couldn’t say this is a grape leaf or this is a maple leaf. I couldn’t see a difference.”
Guenther went to work pulling out the original vines and replacing the lower portions of the vineyard with European vinifera grapes such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir but retained the hardier Marechal Foch hybrid for its superb qualities. Today, those vines are more than 60 years old.
Guenther quickly established a relationship with Mission Hill to supply grapes and work as their field rep in the South Okanagan — all while building up his wine acumen. His first vintages would be bottled at Mission Hill until his equipment could be purchased.
Under nine acres, Lang Vineyards was exactly the type of small farm operation the 1990 government regulations set out to support.
“It was the start of an industry with only a handful of wineries,” he says.
“The big wineries had a market, but we were just starting out, selling out of the farmgate.”
With little storage on-site, Guenther chose to harvest his Riesling grapes for ice wine, which offers intense flavour but lower yields. A chance encounter with a customer from Richmond opened the million-dollar market of the Vancouver International Airport duty-free, where Lang still supplies today.
Following two successful decades of winemaking, Guenther found his price when an offer came in 2005 from Keith Holman, who was acquiring wineries along the Bench. When the new venture fell into receivership in 2011, an investor from China, Yong Wang purchased the winery for $2.2 million.
[TOP PHOTO] High on the Naramata Bench, the rows of grapes stretch out at Lang Vineyards. Here the Marechal Foch plantings date back more than 60 years.
Feature: 30 Years of BC VQA
“My dad saw a southern slope and said it would be a perfect place to grow Riesling. Riesling needs all the sunshine it can get.”
Generational change in a business brings hurdles, so the Stewarts have taken purposeful steps to keep it all in the family at this historic BC winery.
It was the early 1930s when Giuseppe Ghezzi reached out to investors Cap Capozzi and W.A.C. Bennett to invest in Calona Vineyards.