Hillside founder returns to stomping grounds

The woman who founded Hillside Winery is returning to the Naramata business

One of the pioneers of the Okanagan wine industry and small wineries throughout B.C. is returning this week to her old stomping grounds.

Hillside Winery (Cellars) founder Vera Klokocka, who now lives in Nova Scotia, will be honoured this weekend at a special reception at the Naramata Road winery, which she and her late husband Bohumir founded over three decades ago.

The Czech immigrants purchased the 3.5-acre orchard in 1979 and by 1984 the fruit trees had been replaced by gamay noir and muscat ottonel grape vines which are still producing.

Related: Grape harvest in full swing

Described as a woman who would not take no for an answer, Klokocka is best remembered for her work alongside fellow vintners Günter Lang of Lang Vineyards, Adolf Kruger of Wild Goose Vineyards and others for changing the face of small wineries forever.

At the time provincial regulations were stifling to the smaller players in the burgeoning industry, making it almost impossible for them to make and sell their own product directly to customers.

Described as “bending the right ears of cabinet and policy makers” the group were instrumental in bringing about the Farmgate Winery Policy in 1989.

The new regulations meant wineries of five acres or less could sell their products to consumers from their premises also called “the farm gate.”

For their efforts the vintners became known as the little wineries that could.

“She’s a tough cookie, a character and wherever she is and wherever she lands it’s in her blood to farm and do something different,” said Jody Schwindt, Hillside’s sales and marketing manager. “They were immigrants, they fought hard to be here and they fought hard against government.

“She was one of a very few female winemakers at the time. Her husband was part of the winery but it was really her who had the vision and was the face of Hillside.”

From the outset Vera’s goal was to produce terroir-driven (specific flavours relating to soil, climate and terrain) wine which is once again the goal and especially with the unique micro-climates that exist along the Naramata Bench.

To stay true to those ideals Hillside now uses only Naramata-grown grapes.

“It’s all about getting back to Vera’s initial vision, we want to showcase what it is we do right here in our backyard, in our vines that are adjacent to our property and all our region called the Naramata Bench,” said Schwindt. “There’s elegance in Naramata wines that maybe isn’t present in other regions, it’s not to say they don’t make fantastic wines, it’s just a totally different style.”

Vera sold the winery she created in 1996 and with husband John, she continues to pursue her passion for the craft she began over 30 years ago.

The event is Saturday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. RSVP at www.hillsidewinery.ca.

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