When Cynthia Enns made the leap from Vancouver’s financial industry to building a winery on the bluffs of Lake Okanagan, she knew she would be embracing a different way of doing business. Acknowledging their emotion-based gamble, she and her husband David named their new enterprise Laughing Stock. But she didn’t anticipate the help she would get from the grape-growing competition.
“There’s definitely that farmer helping farmer thing,” says Cynthia. “When something goes bump in the night at harvest, if you have a press that goes down or you are short tanks, there’s often a rally call within the region. Winemaking is a competitive sport, but I think there’s this belief that if you help your neighbor, and their quality goes up, it only helps yourself.”
As she and her husband cultivated rows of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Merlot vines in the rich soil of the Naramata Bench, they started referring to the neighboring wineries as the “co-opetition.”
That sense of business community inspired the Naramata Bench Wineries Association ten years ago, the first of its kind in the Okanagan. Winery owners realized they could gain more from a collective marketing effort than trying to blaze a trail of awareness on their own. As the years passed, they ended up doing something larger than simply selling their individual vintages. They branded their region.
Today 24 of the 29 Bench wineries are part of the association. Pooling their funds, they each pay a yearly flat fee based on the number of cases they produce. Meanwhile, building on advertising efforts like a map for thirsty tourists seeking tasting rooms, the association created the tagline, “A story in every bottle.”
“Collaboration is really how they set about to compete and market this region,” says Tina Baird, marketing director at the Naramata Bench Wineries Association. “Instead of each winery going to Vancouver trying to get into the marketplace, what if we take our wines together as a group, sharing the expenses of venues?”
That question led to Spring Release in Vancouver, a popular annual event that now attracts 400 consumers and 400 trade professionals, all eager to sample the new barrels of fermented elixirs from the Bench. Loyal followings of association-organized wine tastings are growing in Victoria and Calgary.
Being a collective also allows the wineries to make a bigger statement when lobbying the government to change laws. Recently a convoy of tractors slowed down traffic on the Bench as wine farmers displayed a unified, frustrated voice about restrictive inter-province wine trade regulations.
“Wine is such a product of its place,” says Cynthia, who expects to be crushing grapes in September instead of October this year. Besides preparing for an unusually early harvest, she will also be reaping other benefits — thanks in part to her collaboration with her competitors. Producing 6000 cases of wine annually, Laughing Stock Vineyards always sells out. And that’s nothing to laugh about.
A former broadcast journalist who has worked for CBS, ABC and CBC, Tiffany began covering financial news when she was based in Toronto, working for CityTV and Cable Pulse 24. The UBC graduate’s career has seen her report on a wide variety of topics, including directing and producing a feature documentary about a controversial undercover police tactic, Mr. Big.
Besides her work for You Inc, Tiffany is also creative director for the fashion/lifestyle website Blue Besos. In between, she tries to find time to work on a novel about the TV news industry.
Her favourite interview ever was with cellist Yo Yo Ma.