In a valley that’s burgeoning with vineyards, a tech entrepreneur is striving to put Vernon-grown grapes on the map.
Markus Frind, owner of Frind Estate Wineries and founder of the highly successful internet dating site Plenty of Fish, has been developing 900 acres of recently purchased land – 80 acres at the north end of Tronson Road near the Vernon Airport, and 820 on the mountainside south of Bella Vista Road, just down from The Rise. Planting has begun on the future vineyards.
Vineyards are scarce and wineries non-existent in Vernon, but Frind is continuing a trend that’s seen grapes move north up the Okanagan Valley.
“If you look at the valley historically, everyone thought it was impossible to grow grapes outside of Osoyoos,” Frind told the Morning Star. “Then Oliver, Okanagan Falls, Kelowna – it just keeps moving north.”
Finding land with the right conditions is key, and a few degrees in temperature can make all the difference – something Frind has put plenty of effort into getting right.
“We started putting weather stations up and down the valley and monitoring which sites would be the best for grapes,” Frind said, adding the stations help determine which grape varieties can grow where.
“You’ve got that massive cold air flow coming down from the Lumby area. It’s very challenging to grow on that side of the city, but on the other side it’s dramatically warmer.”
Frind is growing on a south-facing slope with flat land, which will help produce grapes that ripen consistently.
“You want the south-facing slope so the air drains off. If the air doesn’t drain off when it’s cold, everything freezes.”
The award-winning wine produced at The Rise vineyards next door to the 820 acres was another positive sign of what can be produced on the hillside.
“It’s one of the best Pinot vineyards in Canada.”
As for when Vernon wine-lovers can enjoy a Frind Estates bottle from their backyard, Frind says there’s plenty more work to do, such as adding infrastructure and doing a significant amount of earth work on the 820 acres.
“It usually takes three years to get to production,” he said. “The wine industry is sort of ‘hurry up and wait.’ ”
After planting Pinot in one of the plots last year, Frind is now trying Cabernet Sauvignon, which will test the limits of what the vineyard can grow.
“(Cabernet Sauvignon) is the toughest by far. If I can grow Cab. Sauv., it means we can grow anything.”
“It’s just really exciting to get these lines in the ground and see what they’re going to do.”