When Zac Brown and Julie Powell took ownership of Alderlea Vineyards in 2017, it was already one of Vancouver Island’s oldest and most respected vineyards. Former owners Roger and Nancy Dosman had “laid it out meticulously,” says Julie. “It was a very healthy vineyard that produced wine with a great reputation.”
And it was clear to this winemaking couple, each with a 20-year corporate career under their belts, what they wanted to do: “take it further”. Especially where sustainability was concerned.
“Alderlea has been producing nationally award-winning wine for years. We had a tremendous foundation to start with,” says Zac. “We wanted to push sustainability, which isn’t just about the environment for us. It’s also about a healthy local economy.”
In terms of environmental impact, Alderlea is a model for progressive practices. Energy used is carefully managed. Wastewater is reused on site. Its spray programs are low impact. The tractor is powered by recycled cooking oil from local restaurants. Compost fertilizes the vines. Grass and clover cover crops are used to encourage soil biodiversity.
But how does Alderlea practice sustainability when it comes to driving a vibrant local economy? Julie and Zac explain that it all boils down to choosing local partners whenever possible. These include firms like Island Hose & Hydraulic, Hired Guns Creative, and Great Little Box Company/Ideon Packaging (GLBC).
“When you buy a bottle of wine from Chile or Australia, what local impact does that make? But when you buy a bottle from us, so much of that value is staying right here, on Vancouver Island,” says Zac.
Like many producers in the beer and wine industry, Alderlea’s focus on local-only sharpened in the wake of COVID-19. It’s no exaggeration, say Zac and Julie, to state that local wine lovers are truly sustaining their business; a reality that’s reflected by their slogan: “Island wine for island people.”
“Before the pandemic, our business was heavily focused on the wholesale market,” says Julie. “But with restaurants and bars struggling so much, we had to market ourselves more actively towards local customers visiting our tasting room.”
Key to this effort was a rebranding initiative that GLBC was honoured to support. To appeal to individual consumers, their products needed a “good shelf presence”, as Julie puts in. That meant, in part, more captivating labels that featured materials like foil.
“One thing I didn’t appreciate before this process was the impact of texture,” says Zac. “Computer mock-ups of a label don’t show how it will feel. But when I actually saw our wine in a liquor store and watched someone pick up the bottle to read and feel the label, I realized that the tactile experience is something that drives sales.”
Julie agrees: “Our sales did increase and I don’t think we would have done that if the packaging wasn’t spot-on. In a restaurant setting, it’s less critical, because the bottle is often already open by the time it arrives at the table. But in retail, packaging is everything.”
Now that they’ve managed to weather a pandemic in their first decade of operating Alderlea, Zac and Julie are looking forward to the future. Having once worked corporate gigs in, respectively, health and safety, and human resources, this couple knows that no industry is exempt from disruptions.
“After stressing about inventory and the ability to meet consumer demand for our product for years, we’re excited to be increasing our production later this year by working with a new vineyard,” says Julie.
“We’re poised over the next few years to grow production by about 50%, and that’s a big step to take without hiring additional people,” adds Zac.
As Alderlea takes this big step, we are excited to provide support in the form of a “good shelf presence.” We love their sustainability mission, and what it’s driving for both the environment and our shared local economy.