All it took was a lifelong dream of owning a vineyard, a continental jump and a year of searching for the perfect property, now Ben and Tersia de Jager have claimed their paradise as new owners of the Columbia Gardens Vineyard and Winery.
The de Jagers moved to Canada from South Africa seven years ago and after living in Timmins, Ont., and Flin Flon, Man., the couple decided it was time to pack up and move to the warmer climate of B.C. to pursue their passion for wine making, hospitality and entertaining.
“I had been watching the sale of the vineyard on the Internet for awhile,” said Ben. “We travelled to the Vernon and Kelowna area and saw fruit farms. But I always wanted to have grapes, that was my dream. And this property was always in the back of my mind.”
In July, Tersia (pronounced Tasha) was acting manager at Flin Flon’s Chamber of Commerce, and on a whim, booked airplane tickets to the West Kootenay.
She called her husband, who was at home between jobs, and told him to pack because they were flying back to B.C. in a few hours.
“I was getting discouraged and ready to find a house in B.C. but he wanted a vineyard,” said Tersia. “So I was at the stage to finally take a look at the property. It was literally within hours that we were on a plane from Winnipeg to here.”
The mother to three children ages 12 to 25, didn’t expect to put in an offer for the Station Road property, rather the sudden tactic was to spur her husband forward to find interest in other vineyards.
“At first I didn’t think this was the place for us,” she said. “But it didn’t matter what else I showed him it always came back to this place. When we finally came here it took me about 20 minutes to realize that this is where I want to live, I was now convinced.”
That was the end of July, by August the family had purchased the 49-acre vineyard and moved 12-year-old son Darin and daughter Leandri,23, into the property’s main house.
“It happened that quick, we put in an offer on a Saturday morning, within an hour it was accepted, and we moved here the beginning of August.”
Since 2006, Ben had been working in Canada as an electrical and mining engineer.
But his heart remained with a way of life he learned in earlier years attending the renowned Marlow Agricultural School, located near the city of Cradock, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
“We had our own vineyard at the school that we operated and maintained,” said Ben. “As students, we went to different farms and worked as labourers in the vineyard. But my background in actual wine making came from learning to make it myself.”
The de Jagers have retained the services of Lawrence Wallace, vintner and previous owner of the winery, and will continue to produce the high quality wines the vineyard is known for.
“Lawrence is still very much a part and will continue making the wine and teaching us the ropes as we go along,” added Ben.
The de Jagers, with the help of family and neighbours, have harvested varietals from the nine planted acres, but plan to expand the operation.
“We really want people to know that the wines will not change and are available,” explained Ben. “The wines will be the same quality and taste. If anything, the community can expect more to come.”
Currently the winery produces 10,000 bottles a year, ranging from white blends, red and rose/blush categories.
Aside from maintaining those vintages, de Jager has added an Osoyoos merlot to the tasting list, and is prepping an additional 12 acres for planting further grape varietals in the new year.
“My first taste of Columbia Gardens wine was earlier this year and I enjoyed it. I will change nothing from that existing product line, only expand with new products and plant more land with my family.”
The de Jagers have already begun renovations on the property’s second house, that will include three high end guest rooms with ensuites and an interior makeover of the wine tasting room.
“I have so many ideas that I can’t sleep at night,” said Tersia. “There are so many beautiful areas to develop into venues for weddings, family pictures or conferences. We want this to be a gathering place for the community because we love people and we love entertaining.”