The Saanich Sommeliers winemaking club began in 1974 as the result of Alan Harris and Robin McNeil each moving to Vancouver Island. Both gentlemen were previous members of the Coquitlam Vintners Wine Club.
At that time there were already two wine-making clubs on Vancouver Island: The Victoria Winemakers Guild (who were very well established) and the South Vancouver Island Winemakers. This latter club had not shown any enthusiasm for new members and folded shortly thereafter. For reasons lost in the mists of time, it was decided that they would start a new club, run more along the lines of the clubs in the Lower Mainland area with which they were more familiar.
Alan Harris, having been on the Island a bit longer than Robin McNeil, had made contact with some local winemakers. Approximately a dozen couples were invited to meet at the home of Trevor and Isabelle Jones on February 13, 1974. That date marks the birth of the Saanich Sommeliers.
In the early days the meetings were very similar to the format followed today, with the exception that more meetings focused on the use of wines in cooking and the pairing of wines with food.
At the beginning, most wines were made from concentrates or locally available fruits. Those members brave enough to venture into the world of “real” grapes bought them through Armando Barbon at the long gone North Douglas Delicatessen. The choices at that time were Zinfandel, Carrignan, Palomino or Muscat – some knowledge of the Italian language helped during the crush that developed when the trucks arrived. The (manual) crusher was borrowed from North Douglas and a chicken-wire box that went under the crusher acted as the de-stemmer. If pressing was done at all, was done using a jury-rigged mesh of some sort with no mechanical pressure.
From these small beginnings has sprung the now strong and vibrant Saanich Sommeliers.
The club currently owns its own winemaking equipment, available for use by club members. The equipment inventory consists of:
- Bladder presses
- Basket press
- Bottle filling equipment
- Bottle corker
The Saanich Sommeliers now co-ordinates the bulk purchase of grapes and/or juice for the benefit of its members from the Okanagan region of BC and the USA.
In 2013 the Saanich Sommeliers was registered as a non-profit society in British Columbia.
The club continues to meet monthly for 11 months of the year (September to July). Throughout the year, the meetings are technically informative as well as social in nature. Special social events take plan in October (Oktoberfest), December (Your Just Desserts), January (Potluck Dinner and AGM), and July (Summer BBQ). The club has also returned to its roots by implementing a meeting focused on food and wine pairing. The format of club meetings continue to be enjoyed by both the household’s primary winemaker and their supportive spouse.
The Saanich Sommeliers is currently (2015) comprised of 26 households. These 26 households represent over 600 years of winemaking experience!
The Saanich Sommeliers welcomes other winemakers (either new or experienced) to join the club. If you would like to join the Saanich Sommeliers in continuing to make club history, please contact the Club Secretary.