The winemaking business learning curve has been straight up for one Maple Ridge family.
But after three years of growing grapes on a near-century-old Argentinian vineyard, Maple Ridge resident Terry Martens and his wife Cindy are seeing the fruits of their labour, Haarth Organic Wines, being sold in local stores.
In 2010, the couple bought the 85-acre (55-hectare) winery, which was planted with “very old vines,” Terry said, planted in 1921 and 1923.
Besides having a great appreciation for good wine, knowledge about the continent, and some good business sense – Terry deals in large mining equipment – the actual growing of grapes and making of wine was all new to the couple.
Typically, vines last about 100 years, so the Martens are having to replace some of their plants.
But these older vines also give “deep complexity and consistency” year over year, Terry said. “Ours are about as mature as they get,” Terry said, adding that “the deep root stock is what’s critical [in winemaking].”
The Martens spend part of the year back on the continent where they have lived in the past.
The Argentine climate is good for growing grapes as it is arid and the water is clean and glacier-fed.
But the altitude of the country also plays into the quality of the wine – with hot days and cold nights, the vines get plenty of sunshine during the day, but they can rest in the night so as not to get stressed.
The Martens make six different wines from their Argentinian grapes, four reds and two whites, and Terry hopes wine lovers in B.C. learn about the diversity of wines available from the South American country.
The Haarth vineyard produces Malbec, Bonarda – Terry’s favourite – Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo as reds.
Their white wines are Semillon Chenin and Chenin Torrantes.
“Argentina is more than Malbec,” Terry said, referring to the best known Argentinian wine. “Our Bonarda is a fantastic wine [and] our whites have been well received.”
Except for the Tempranillo and Chenin Torrantes, all their wines are certified organic, which involves a rigorous process, Terry said. The soil where the vines grow is tested twice a year and their wine is chemically analyzed twice a year.
The first year they were in business, the Martens entered their wines – their 2011 vintage – into an Argentinian competition.
Their 2012 vintage won three gold medals, two silvers, and their Cabernet Sauvignon won a double gold.
Terry said the family wants to emphasize quality over quantity, but they also want to keep their wines affordable, and most bottles are in the $20 range.
Their wines are being marketed through private beer and wine stores – not the government liquor stores – and Terry said local stores are selling their wines fast.
Haarth Organic Wines currently produces 200,000 litres of wine, which translates to 250,000 bottles, but the farm has the capacity for half a million litres.
Besides launching into a new business – which is drawing in his family as well – Terry loves to spend time in Argentina where he said the way of life is simpler, and the people he works with are honest and hard working – and not scared of hard work.
Terry grew up on a farm in Alberta before getting into the mining business, and growing grapes has brought back some lessons from his childhood.
“The thing that came back to me [from] when I was a kid [is] how dependent you are on mother nature,” Terry said.
The Martens’ oldest son, Peter, owns a separate company to market the wines, called Natural Wine & Spirit Import.
Martens is bringing his education on sustainability to the family business. With a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in environmental and sustainability studies, he knows how important it is to make the business case for being more environmentally friendly, taking into account the “triple bottomline” of social, environmental, and economic concerns.
“Wine is a very personal thing,” Terry said about his family’s business. “[We] are trying to make wines that appeal to different segments of the population.”
A few weeks ago, the Martens attended the Wines of Argentina event in Vancouver where there were 30 of their peers presenting their products.
“People just loved our wines, first, because they’re good wines, second, because they’re organic,” Terry said.
@ Copyright 2013