By Kristi Alexandra
When wine connoisseurs in BC want a sip of the perfect cabernet sauvignon or a pinch of pinot, they usually look no further than the Okanagan Valley, Canada’s proclaimed wine country. With rolling country hills and miles and miles of ripening vineyards, anywhere from Kelowna to the Naramata Bench to Osoyoos is the prime destination for a carafe of the best wine on offer to British Columbians — or so we thought.
Enter Pacific Breeze, Canada’s first garagiste winery located in the most unlikely of settings. Owned by Maurice Hamilton and Frank Gregus, Pacific Breeze sits in an industrial sliver of New Westminster located behind the waterfront quay and a busy set of train tracks, with no vineyard to speak of.
“The garagiste concept is very much the idea of being a small, independent operator who doesn’t necessarily own this giant vineyard, but is buying a small portion of it,” communications manager Daniel Simmonds explains.
Since the urban winery’s inception in 2005, a handful of other gargistes have popped up across the province prompting its own wine festival. Every April, the wine makers gather at Vancouver’s Heritage Hall for Garagiste North, “the small guys’ wine festival.”
“Garagistes are these unconventional spaces,” Simmonds says. “In the ‘90s, the original garagistes [were] working in garages, barns, and basements and it’s really hands-on, labour intensive work. It’s more like the rise of craft brewing, where you have these really small breweries where they produce a handful of different beers and literally about three or four people could run the entire operation.”
So what makes the urban winery unique beyond its unconventional setting? Pacific Breeze separates the viticulture (grape growing) from the oenology (wine making).
“As a wine maker, you might never be able to own a vineyard, so what you do is find out who’s got what for sale and you make it yourself,” Simmonds says, noting that the operation frequently sources fruit and grape from California and small amounts from our own Okanagan.
“One of the important things is that what we buy is the most premium fruit you can get your hands on,” he stresses. “There’s a lot of fruit in BC and we get offers to buy, but we’re really selective about which vineyards we actually buy from. If you can’t get the best fruit, then you can’t make the best wine.”
Currently, Pacific Breeze has 17 wines on its roster, with its Killer Cab—a red Bordeaux-Cabernet blend— and AssaZin—a California Zinfandel with aromas of blackberry jam and toasted vanilla—among the best sellers. And though those wines might make a sommelier’s mouth water, don’t expect to be able to pick up a bottle at just any BC Liquor Store.
Any BC-made wine sold in BCL’s are required to be BC VQA, meaning most of the grapes have to be sourced from within the province.
“I don’t know of anyone else who really brings in grapes and does what we do in Canada,” says winemaker Dylan Hamilton. Joined by his partner Devon Stewart, Hamilton is one-half of the winemaking team at Pacific Breeze.
“Why we do what we’re doing is if you’re going to go into the States and buy a bottle of wine and bring it back, for BC, it 127 per cent duty plus sales tax,” he says. “We can make the same product from the same grapes and we can bring it up here and make the same quality product.”
While still a Canadian product, Pacific Breeze wines source enough of their grape from outside the country that they can currently be seen at independent wine merchants and liquor stores — and of course at their own shopfront on Stewardson Way.
Pacific Breeze Winery
6 – 320 Stewardson Way
New Westminster, BC
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