Wild berry winery caters to unique tastes

DEWDNEY, B.C. — Small-scale wine makers navigate through a minefield of regulations and obstacles when bringing their products to market in British Columbia.

For brothers Fritz and Bob Sprieszl of Kermode Wild Berry Winery, that includes budgeting for higher recycling fees and planting acres of domesticated fruit, even though their business is wild berry wines.

Red salmonberry, blue elderberry and Sitka mountain ash wines are among their specialties, as well as Himalayan blackberry Merlot, saskatoon berry liqueur and Himalayan blackberry port.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride for me dealing with the liquor board. The biggest problem in this province is red tape and bureaucracy,” Fritz said.

“At end of the day, I just want to make wine and sell it.”

B.C.’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch recently suspended his licence to sell wine in the province because of disputes over container deposits and recycling fees. The suspension doesn’t extend to out of province and international sales.

“I could shut down my local sales tomorrow, but I don’t think that would be fair to my local customers,” he said. “We are probably in the top three for fruit wineries in B.C.”

Bob said drop-in traffic is high at their wine tasting room and orchard near Dewdney.

“We can hardly keep up with hardly any marketing now,” he said.

“We have a loyal following.”

B.C. recycling regulations classify businesses that sell packaged goods or supply printed paper to B.C. residents as stewards, which makes them legally and financially responsible for the costs of recycling those materials.

Multi-Material British Columbia, a non-profit organization financed by these businesses, is responsible for residential recycling programs for packaging, plant pots, aluminum foil packaging, certain types of plastic film packaging and drink cups.

Fritz said recycling fees have escalated substantially since he started his business, sometimes several times in the same year.

The Sprieszls have also had to contend with other provincial regulations.

Fritz said regulators initially ap-proved the self-financed venture’s business plan, but later decided the winery needed to plant two acres of fruit to comply with regulations.

“I had to be a farmer … spent more than $20,000 so far. It’s not cheap planting blueberries.”

The brothers planted four acres of blueberries and grapes but do not use them in their wild berry formulations.

“The wild is wild,” said Fritz.

Bob said it’s the niche market they have carved out for themselves, citing the popularity of their unique flavours of wines and their success in international wine competitions.

“How much more unique can you get than B.C. wild wines? No one else is doing wild berry wines.”

Allan Main, executive director of Community Futures North Fraser, is one of the customers who have discovered the local winery.

“When I first tried it, I thought it might be a bit of a novelty product, but I do find it is something I buy for myself and not just as a gift,” he said.

Fritz said wild wines offer a richer taste.

“We’re not using cultivated berries, so the berries have more flavours, sugars and tannins,” he said.

He used to harvest wild mushrooms and moss, so is no stranger to the remote areas of B.C. where his raw ingredients are found. He enlisted the help of Bob, who was a farm manager in Japan, to begin making wine with him.

The business, which offers 20 varieties of wild fruit wines, grew out of a need to find uses for surplus berries they picked for nutraceutical companies and jam makers.

Marketing initially involved sampling and taking their products into liquor stores across B.C. and today includes a website and word of mouth advertising.

Fritz said it’s tough to get their products into smaller privately operated liquor outlets in Vancouver because of limited shelf space for specialty products.

Fritz and Bob, who grew up helping at their family’s winery in Hungary, said markets are strongest in rural and smaller centres such as in the Kootenays and the islands and among people familiar with picking wild berries or home brewing.

“It reminds them of the past. It’s a connection,” Fritz said.