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COASTAL LIVING: Chateau Wolff vineyard finds new owners

NANAIMO – Matt and Natalie Riga wanted to experience Island life and sold their successful restaurant
Mackenzie Brisbois

New owners have revived a dormant Nanaimo winery.

Chateau Wolff Estate, once owned by Harry Von Wolff until his death in 2005, is back in production and its first vintage will be available for purchase sometime in 2015.

New owners Matt and Natalie Riga moved from Ontario’s Prince Edward County where they ran a successful restaurant and learned about the difficulties of cultivating pinot noir grapes. The couple shares Von Wolff’s original dream of producing specialty wines from a small, boutique winery and purchased the estate in December.

The estate’s vineyards, now more than 20 years old, have been looked after by Von Wolff’s family over the past nine years.

The Rigas lived on the Island for three years prior to opening their restaurant in Ontario.

The Island and the winery offered an opportunity to break away from the high-pressure restaurant business and pursue a more relaxed way of life.

“We’re starting our family and we wanted to move back out here to the Island, so we sold our restaurant,” Matt Riga said. “We wanted to stay somewhat in the industry, but didn’t want to own and operate a restaurant, so we thought maybe we’d try something else that we’d really love to do.”

The estate’s location, next to a growing community, was a key selling point, plus the fact they could start producing from the vineyard almost right away.

“The vines themselves are very old and mature, which is hard to find on the Island, especially when you’re starting up a new business, so that was a huge plus, and also that it was so close to Nanaimo,” Natalie Riga said.

About 70 per cent of the estate’s vines are pinot noir.

The remainder of the vineyard produces chardonnay, small amounts of bacchus, viognier and sieggerebbe, plus a smattering of more obscure, mostly German, white grape varieties.

To help gain hands-on experience with wine production, the Rigas brought in Mackenzie Brisbois, a professional winemaker and vineyard manager.

Brisbois is a graduate of the University of Guelph and Niagara College who has worked with pinot noir in South Africa, New Zealand and Ontario.

The Rigas are learning from Brisbois, who is rejuvenating the vineyard to raise its production.

“We just started at the beginning of the year, which is the pruning season, and we’ve seen a whole cycle go through,” said Natalie Riga.

The estate’s wine tasting room and other facilities are undergoing renovations prior to opening.

For more information on the winery, please visit the website

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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