Northern Lights Estate Winery: Bell Family Brings New Business Venture to Prince George
From left to right: Winemaker Christine Leroux, Operating Partner Doug Bell, Farm Manager Noemie Touchette, Sales and Service Manager Wendy Stevens, Development Partners Pat and Brenda Bell.
Is there life after politics? Pat Bell seems to think so and he is putting his money where his mouth is! Pat along with his wife Brenda and son Doug are setting out to put Prince George on the map for fruit wine. Their new venture “Northern Lights Estate Winery” or “NLEW” is scheduled to open prior to the Canada Day Weekend and by all reviews it will be the success they are hoping for.
NLEW is developing their business based on fruit wines including Apple, Gooseberry, Rhubarb, Raspberry, Black Currant and Haskap. The crops were carefully chosen to produce high quality table wine as well as their ability to grow in cold climates. The Bells did their research, interviewing the owners of a dozen fruit wineries in BC and Alberta and developing a conservative business case based on the feedback that they received.
The origins of the idea came from Pat’s time as Minister of Agriculture and Lands. Part of the portfolio responsibilities included the wine sector and the notion of an expanded industry grabbed the Bells attention. Later, Don Bassermann; a friend of Pat’s, introduced him to fruit wines. This sparked the idea of using fruit that grows traditionally in Prince George to start up a winery.
The winery is located on the banks of the Nechako River and includes a 1200 square foot tasting room, a wine cellar capable of making 5,000 cases of wine per year and space for a future restaurant. The property has been planted with over 2,200 trees and bushes that will bear 10 different kinds of fruit. 2015 will see an additional acre planted and 2016 will see another acre. At full production the farm will produce over 60,000 pounds of fruit which in turn should make about 50,000 bottles of wine.
The Bells see their venture as far more than a winery. The site includes an amphitheater made of a series of grass terraces and capable of seating 250 people for outdoor concerts. A gathering place that Bell hopes will become a focal point for tourism in Prince George and will play host to concerts that will feature primarily local musicians with a smattering of higher profile acts. While this seems like a summer only venue the Bells have plans to hold special events throughout the year.
The NLEW Team includes Operating Partner Doug Bell along, Farm Manager Noemie Touchette, Wine Maker Christine Leroux, and Sales and Service Manager Wendy Stevens. “This is a team that any startup winery would love to have” says Bell, “It encompasses experience in large scale fruit wine production, high end service from Okanagan tasting rooms, and experienced specialization in northern fruit production” he adds. Pat and Brenda’s role is as development Partners and they actively support the operating team. Noemie’s experience and passion for fruit production comes with an Agriculture degree from Laval University. Wendy brings with her 5 years of experience at the well-known Quails Gate Winery in Kelowna.
A dream, a vision or a delusion? Only time will tell, but the Bells are optimistic that their new venture will find favour with Northern British Columbians.