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Winery scores big with hockey theme

KALEDEN, B.C. — Prairie natives Len and Myra Kwiatkowski used their love of wine to start a winery in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and their love of hockey to name it Topshelf.

Topshelf Winery officially opened in June, with several hundred wine enthusiasts from around the world gathering to sip Slapshot chardonnay, Point Shot pinot gris and Over the Top merlot, enjoy live music and savour the winery’s setting.

“The name was our son’s idea. He also designed the hockey helmet logo,” Myra said.

Joel, a professional hockey player who is currently playing in Switzerland’s National League A for SC Bern, played for the Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers.

Their son, Jason, now an airline pilot, attended the University in Calgary on a hockey scholarship.

Both sons honed their skills on the family’s backyard rink in Saskatchewan.

“Wine usually isn’t associated with sports, but, as Joel says, why can’t hockey players be known for their love of wine as well as of beer,” said Len.

Topshelf wines are sold at Okanagan outlets and at the farm wine shop. A wine distributor recently contacted the Kwiatkowskis about giving Topshelf wines wider B.C. exposure.

In the shop, visitors browse wine-related items, most with a hockey theme, while checking out the photos of players and memorabilia.

“Bobby Orr is my hockey hero. He was Joel’s agent when he was in the NHL,” Myra said, pointing to a photo of Orr.

Len, Myra and their family, which includes their daughters, Rhonda and Kerrie Anne, lived in over a dozen towns and cities in Saskatchewan.

“We moved a lot because of my job as a manager for Sask. Wheat Pool,” Len explained.

In retirement, he and Myra operated a fishing lodge on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast before buying their Kaleden property in 2009.

“The place was pasture surrounded by barbed wire fence and some machine shops,” Myra said.

The couple immediately set about clearing the pasture, working up the soil and replacing the barbed wire with deer fencing.

They then pounded 1,000 posts and planted 4,600 grapevines on about four acres of land, all by hand.

“While doing all this, we often spoke of how hard Len’s parents worked,” Myra said.

Joseph and Anastasia Kwiatkowski began farming in Rose Valley, Sask., after leaving Poland in 1936.

An experienced grain farmer, Len read widely and talked with many experienced growers to learn how to raise grapes.

“My husband thrives on challenges. He knows how to manage to do things on a shoestring,” Myra said.

Last year, their first crop yielded 1,200 cases of wine.

Myra learned the elements of winemaking as a student at Okanagan College and later as an apprentice at an Okanagan winery.

“I try to keep the entire process as simple as possible,” she said.

This year, she plans to make a blend of red wines, the majority being Merlot, which she will call Hat Trick in Overtime.

“We dedicate our wines to all sports enthusiasts and wine lovers,” Len said.

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