Product innovation and quality are two key elements behind the success of Gemmrich W. Nursery, a grapevine propagation farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., that helped earn Wes and Briar Wiens, the title of Ontario s Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) for 2011.
The Wiens purchased their grapevine propagation business in 2004 from the previous owner, Martin Gemmrich, who was a third generation propagator. It was an opportunity that in some respects fell into their laps, says Wes.
We were picking up new vines for our own vineyards from Martin and out of the blue he suggested we buy the business, he says. He didn t have any children and he had been thinking about an exit strategy and who could be a possible successor. We had an excellent relationship with him and he saw that my father had a future in my brother and myself. He liked our approach to farming and viticulture and that prompted him to approach us about it.
Wes and Briar now concentrate on the propagation part of the farm, while Wes brother and father continue to run the original vineyard, which was purchased by their grandfather in the mid 1970 s.
Vine propagation involves taking wooded cuttings from vine material that is deemed useful for root production and then grafting on buds from different grape varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and others. The grafted stock is grown for one season in a nursery field and then sold to grape growers and vineyards across Canada, mainly in Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Quebec. Last year the farm produced over 100 different vine combinations using 35 grape varieties.
Vine propagation is a very traditional practice done much the same way for more than 100 years, however there aren t as many multi-generational grafters in Canada as there are in a wine growing country like France. That lack of experience has it drawbacks, but can also be a bit of a blessing, says Wes, because it has prevented him from becoming entrenched in old ways.
It allows us to approach what we do with an open mind and apply new processes, procedures and products to what we do, he says, adding that new technology has been another factor in the development of the farm. Automation throughout different processes is one thing we have embraced and also GPS technology has been a valuable tool as far as our field maintenance and vine establishment are concerned. Those are two technical tools we have really benefitted from.
The Wiens constantly strive to build on the excellent reputation established by the previous owner. Everything we do is for the purpose of producing better quality vines for our customers and because of that we have experienced customer loyalty in the industry that has allowed us to grow, says Wes.
Research has formed another big part of their business plan. We are focused on research related to better understand grapevine physiology and how we can create better quality vines for our customers, he says.
It hasn t always been easy to keep abreast of new developments in the industry. Wes has often travelled to more established wine regions around the world to learn new practices and technologies. He also participates in joint research projects with the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Brock University and Niagara College.
The Canadian wine industry is fairly small, and that s part of the reason the Wiens have an eye to expand into U.S. and other international markets in the years ahead. Wes is actively involved with the Canadian Grapevine Certification Network, which is working collaboratively with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to re-vamp the Canadian certification processes for grape vines and make it easier to access export markets while increasing the confidence of the Canadian market against grapevine diseases.
As a young farm family with four small children, Kaityn, 8, Berlin, 6, Rowan, 5 and Addisyn, 1, the Wiens are honoured and humbled to be named OYF nominees. They say stories of innovation and dedication they ve heard from the other finalists were a huge encouragement for them.
Dedication and innovation are definitely two words I would use to describe our own philosophy, says Wes. You have to be dedicated in agriculture these days in order to make a go of it. But you also have to be innovative and creative to see the opportunities out there, whether it s through developing, alternative markets, procedures or technology whatever it is that will give you an edge.