An Early History Of The BC Wine Industry

  • By Jamie Drummond
  • 10 Feb 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
Made possible by
Naramata Bench near Penticton BC - Credit : Wines of BC

In part 1 of a two-part potted history, we look at the early beginnings and growth of the B.C. wine industry up until the late 1960s. 

The Myth Of Father Pandosy 

While common lore has it that the origins of the B.C. wine story began with a French Catholic Missionary named Father Pandosy, there are others who dispute this idea. Father Pandosy was part of a small band sent up to the Okanagan in 1859 to set up an Oblate mission near the site of today’s Summerhill Pyramid winery in Kelowna. There is a letter on record showing that he ordered French vines from another Oblate mission in what is now Oregon for the purposes of growing grapes for making sacramental wine, however it appears that Father Pandosy had been posted elsewhere well before the vines arrived. Records from these times are understandably fuzzy, but it appears that there is no evidence that any of this wine was ever sold commercially. 

The Early Beginnings 

Prohibition began nationally across Canada in 1917 and was continued for a time after the World War I war by the provinces. It ended in British Columbia in 1921, thus clearing the way for winemaking to really begin. 

Wine historian John Schreiner believes that B.C. wine history really began in 1923 with the establishment of Growers’ Wines Ltd. in Victoria, first making sherry-like fortified wine with loganberries and other fruits from Vancouver Island and the lower mainland, before progressing to producing wine with purchased, mostly native Labrusca grapes in 1932. 

The Casorsos, arguably the most recognised Italian family to settle in Kelowna during the 19th century, began growing wine grapes around 1925 when Charles Casorso planted a vineyard of  Labrusca on a 35 acre property in Rutland. In 1930, his two brothers Pete and Louis planted a 45 acre vineyard on what is now known as Casorso Road that now supplies the Sperling Vineyards winery with Marechal Foch, Riesling, and several other vinifera varieties. 

In 1927, J.W. Hughes, a leading horticulturist, began developing vineyards in East Kelowna, expanding from 45 acres near Okanagan Mission to 75 acres by 1933, and eventually had over 300 acres of grapes in production. Today, Tantalus, Sperling, and St. Hubertus wineries source grapes from those same sites. 

Calona winery was first established in 1932. Originally called Domestic Wines and Byproducts, it was launched by Italian vintner Guiseppe Ghezzi. After exhausting his funds and looking for additional financing, he approached Kelowna’s Italian community headed by Pasquali “Cap” Cappozzi, a successful local grocer. Over time the Cappozzi family gradually squeezed out the Ghezzi syndicate, bringing in  Pasquali’s three sons to run the winery in the early 1960s. The sons were young and aggressive in their business, and seeing what the Gallo Brothers were doing in California, copied much of their business model, right down to the shape of their containers; at one point they almost brought the Gallo Brothers into their business. They were hugely successful, at one point even expanding to Quebec, although this project eventually turned out to be unsuccessful.   

Up until 1961 there were only two wineries in B.C.: Growers’ in Victoria with their largely berry wine production and Calona winery in Calona, which had started out making apple wine and eventually switched to making grape wines.  

A Slow But Steady Growth 

It was in 1961 that Hungarian Andrew Peller of Andrés Wines Limited came to B.C. and established his first winery in Port Moody. Having first first applied for a winery licence in Ontario, he was told that he could have it on the condition that he make only sweet white wines, not the full range of table wines he had envisioned. So he moved out west to B.C. 

He was to discover that at this time B.C. was very interested in economic development and was granted the land for the winery free from the Port Moody municipality. The B.C. government finally granted him a winery license on the condition that he would establish a vineyard in the Okanagan.  

Initially there were no grapes available, so in order to get started Andrés imported grapes and/or wine from California. Peller did try, unsuccessfully, to establish a vineyard in the Similkameen Valley, but he subsequently supported the Osoyoos Indian Band in their development of what is now known as the Inkameep vineyard, just north of Oliver, one of the most important vineyards in the south Okanagan. 

In 1966, as vineyards were being developed to supply Andrés and Calona, there was another expansion in wine production with the founding of the original Mission Hill and Penticton's Casabella, which eventually became a part of the Jackson Triggs organization 

To be continued in “The Modern Age Of The BC Wine Industry” 

Naramata Bench near Penticton BC - Credit : Wines of BC