We are proud to hold the title of “First Family of Vancouver Island Wine.” Vigneti Zanatta is the result of serendipitous circumstance. When family patriarch, Dionisio (Dennis) Zanatta came to Canada in the 1950s from his home in Treviso, Italy, he did not intend to pioneer the burgeoning industry that has affirmed our region as Canada’s “Wine Islands” in recent years. Dennis was simply inclined to do what he loved, and, being Italian, that just happened to be making exceptional wine. After acquiring a working dairy farm in the Glenora region of Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, Dennis was inspired by the similarities in climate between his new home and his old.
The Cowichan Valley provides the ideal terroir for growing an impressive number of robust varietals, with the added bonus of providing Canada’s mildest climate and longest growing season. With its protected valleys and unique soils, Vancouver Island is the perfect venue for growing the cool-weather grapes that have made European wine the paradigm for centuries. Dennis recognized the potential for growing fruit viable for viticulture and he decided to start some vines himself, gathering clipping from friends to experiment with and planting them around the family swimming pool, where they remain even today!
In the beginning, the grapes and the wine were simply a hobby, albeit an increasingly involved hobby. Dennis expanded his plot of grapevines in 1970, experimenting with varieties such as Leon Millot, a red French hybrid, that he obtained from the federal government’s Plant Health Centre in Saanich, BC. A decade later, a chance encounter with the Provincial Grape Specialist led to our family’s role in pioneering the Island wine industry. Known as the Duncan Project or Becker Experiment, from 1981-1986, Dennis volunteered one acre of the Zanatta farm to the British Columbia provincial government as a test site for numerous varieties of grapes. Although only about two dozen survived, some of the lesser known grapes, such as Cayuga, Ortega and Auxerrois, thrived, setting the stage for the unique viticulture industry that Vancouver Island and our surrounding Islands boast today.
As the Duncan Project drew to a close, Dennis was all the more driven to plant the Zanatta land and craft wine. His dream was to have a small vineyard, even if just to keep the family in wine. Dennis continued to experiment and began a five-acre planting that would eventually become the basis for Vigneti Zanatta. Meanwhile, daughter Loretta Zanatta grew up inspired by her father’s enthusiasm for the art of winemaking and his dedication to the land. After completing her degree at the University of British Columbia, Loretta decided to continue her education in Italy, earning credentials from the University of Piacenza in Enology. During her time in Italy, Loretta studied viticulture with relatives and worked under a Spumante House in the doc region of Prosecco.
It was in Italy that Loretta became enamoured with the art and science of the champagne method of winemaking. She fell in love with the product and the process; the intricate care and attention it takes to create champagnes. The champagne method is very intimate and prolonged: the wine is refermented and aged in the bottle. Later each bottle is put on specialized racks and daily given a ¼ turn to coax the sediment into the neck. Eventually this sediment is removed by hand in a process called degorging. The champagne method requires knowledge, art and dedication, and it was a challenge that Loretta was eager to continue back home. Loretta was inspired, seeing firsthand how similar the climate in the Cowichan Valley is to Valdobbiadene, Italy and its surrounding area. Like her father, she knew that all of the elements needed to produce delicious champagnes come together on Vancouver Island.
Education and experience combined when Loretta arrived back home to a very important policy change: it was now possible to operate an estate winery with just two dedicated acres of vines as opposed to the previously mandated 25 acres. The Zanatta family began plans for our own farmgate winery, the first commercial vineyard to open on Vancouver Island in 65 years. Vigneti Zanatta officially opened our doors in 1992, paving the way for dozens of other area wineries and selling the very first Vancouver Island made champagne: the Glenora Fantasia, 1990.
Throughout our first decade, our winery and our family grew. As people became more and more interested in local food and local wine, we found ourselves at the centre of a wine-making boom on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. We began to dedicate more of our land to growing grapes and honing our craft. 1996 brought about a number of big changes at Vigneti Zanatta, when Loretta and husband, Jim Moody, took over Vinoteca, the Italian-influenced 1903 farmhouse that Loretta’s late sister, Ileana, lovingly converted to a tasting room, wine store and restaurant. The year also marked Jim’s first as principle winemaker, a position he still holds today.
Born and raised in the Pemberton Valley, Jim has always had an innate love of nature and propensity for experimental mixology. At age 15, he took over his family garden, winning prizes for his crop. While studying Agriculture with a major in Horticulture at the University of British Columbia, a field trip to the Okanagan inspired Jim to delve into the world of specialized Italian wines. Jim quickly found his legs in the industry, drawing from Loretta’s education and experience, as well as the encouragement and advice of seasoned viticulturist friends. Passionate about husbandry of the land, Jim is very much involved in every aspect of Vigneti Zanatta. Like his father-in-law before him, Jim loves experimenting with growing and with wine, believing that you will never get to enjoy the next new thing, if you do not try to create it.
After decades of making wine together, a lot has changed, but even more has stayed the same. To this day, we only vinify grapes from our own vineyard and try to bring out as much regional flavour as possible in our wines. While the Okanagan growing season comes on fast and furious, our Vancouver Island climate can only be described as slow: slow to start and slow to finish, which gives us fruit that is deliciously earthy and rich. With a growing season that extends well into October, our grapes have time to develop a depth of flavour that is completely unique to Vancouver Island and we are proud to make uniquely Vancouver Island wine.