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some of the original Bacchus vines being over 30 years old. The winery also
sources fruit from the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. The original
owners were Claude and Inge Violet, who had sold their vineyard and winery
in France and moved to B.C. in 1975 to start afresh. After a couple of
decades establishing the vineyards and winery, they sold to Anthony Cheng
and Eugene Kwan (another lawyer who, like me, found solace in wine).
Throughout its history, it has relied on pioneer winemaker Dr. Elias Phiniotis,
Cyprus-born and Hungarian-trained. I asked him of his life’s journey.
Elias told me he is often asked how he became a winemaker in Canada,
and he replies, jokingly, that it was an ill-planned “escape” from a career in
his family’s vineyard in Cyprus.
After graduating from school and then spending a year in England studying
electrical engineering, he received a scholarship to attend university in
Budapest. This meant learning Hungarian (having already learned English),
but he did well and decided to transfer to his main interest—chemical
engineering, in which he received his master’s degree. But there were no
jobs. He managed another scholarship, this time in viticulture and oenology
at the Budapest Research Institute of Grapes and Wines. He earned his
Ph.D. and then returned to Cyprus to work the family farm. Hence arises
the ill-conceived “escape”.
This was in late 1973, just before Turkey invaded Cyprus following the
coup d’état by Greek nationalist elements in the Cypriote population. Elias
was doing compulsory military service. The country was in turmoil and the
economy collapsed. At the urging of his wife’s family they moved to Vancouver,
although he thought his winemaking career was done. “‘What was I
going to make?’, I thought. ‘Pinecone wine?’”, he says wryly. Pulp and paper
seemed more likely for a chemical engineer. But there were a few wineries
here after all.
He tried unsuccessfully to work with the principal B.C. wineries of that
time before he got a career break. After a stint working for Wine Arts doing
recipes and technical analyses for wine kits, he was hired as the chief winemaker
for “Uncle Ben’s Gourmet Wines”, which Elias convinced Uncle Ben
to change to “Golden Hills”. For those au courant with B.C. wine history,
Uncle Ben’s forays into the wine and beer industries are the stuff of legend,
especially his Pierre Trudeau–inspired “Fuddle Duck” take on the popular
Baby Duck. But Elias stuck it out, gained Uncle Ben’s trust and began major
improvements in the wines. Unfortunately, Uncle Ben overextended himself
financially and the winery and brewery went into receivership.
But Elias was now known in a very small industry and went from there
to Casabello Wines (now also gone, but a major B.C. player in the 1970s and