Dale Shortt can see it clearly.
A warm summer night, the sun casting its final light over his vineyard. People milling about his property, listening to a band playing, enjoying a picnic, walking through the vineyard or taking a tour of the winery, popping bottles of Millstone Estates wine into their shopping bags to take home.
Mount Benson serving as the backdrop to the west, a bluff rising from the Millstone River to the east.
It’s an idyllic scene that could one day come to fruition, but there is much work for Shortt to do on his five-hectare property.
“I didn’t buy this property 10 years ago with the intention of building a commercial winery,” said Shortt, a Nanaimo real estate agent. “I’d always thought about having a winery, but not necessarily anything on a scale like this.”
Then it just sort of happened.
After clearing the land, Shortt realized his property literally soaked in sunshine – in summertime it often registers several degrees warmer than other parts of the city. He purchased 6,000 grapevines and planted them on 2.5 hectares.
Six years later, the vines are thriving and bottles of Millstone Estates pinot gris, pinot noir and wild blackberry port are for sale. Merlot is in barrels and almost ready and Shortt hopes to have ortega and guwurztraminer available next year.
Though making wine for two years, the winery only received its licence to sell in June.
“On the first long weekend, just because of the sign out front, I think we did about $1,000 in sales,” said Shortt. “It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of money, so it’s nice to see it begin to pay for itself.”
The winery is located at 2300 East Wellington Road.
His marketing is just getting started.
As the only winery in Nanaimo – there are several in the Cowichan Valley, Ladysmith and one or two small ones around Parksville – Millstone Estates has excellent potential as a stop for tourists, cruise ship passengers and wine enthusiasts making the rounds on Vancouver Island.
“It seems to me like it will be a good addition to the mix of tourism product that we already have available here in town,” said Mark Drysdale, executive director of Tourism Nanaimo. “It will be nice to refer people to a winery that’s five minutes away instead of 45 minutes down the road. Typically, we’re sending people down to the Cowichan area if they’re interested in wine.”
Like the grapes themselves, the winery has room to mature.
The heritage house, one of the first homes built in Nanaimo, will one day be renovated, though it has just received a new and expansive country-style veranda for customers to sit and look over the vines as they roll down a gentle hill toward the Millstone River.
Shortt wants to use the front garden as a place for wine tasting, entertainment and a picnic-like atmosphere, which will require fencing or shrub planting to meet licence regulations.
The winery itself, which also has a music recording studio to whet Shortt’s appetite for guitar, is a post and beam building made of timber cleared from the property and beams recovered from a mill that was torn down. Inside, unique furniture, including the sales counter recovered from the old Johnson’s Hardware store, was restored and fits right in to the vintage-style decor.
“I picture lots of music flowing out of here,” said Shortt. “Maybe weekend jam sessions, some wine tasting.”
Along with real estate agent, guitar player, and host, Shortt is also the estate’s winemaker. Armed with an education in agriculture, experience from growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, and a lot of questions directed to people already in the business, Shortt feels he has the recipe for success.
“As the farm thing goes, I know what I’m doing. But I’ve been making phone calls to other people in the industry and for the most part they’re very helpful. Some keep their secrets, but most of the time people are willing to share their knowledge. This operation doesn’t come without its challenges.”