By Barbara Barrielle
Christine Coletta is a force in the development of the Canadian wine scene. Although she is the popular founder of one of the first custom crush facilities, Okanagan Crush Pad, her latest venture is only one in a long history of building respect for the British Columbia wine scene.
Coletta is tireless and innovative and, most importantly, she is not in it for her own benefit (although she has award-winning wine brands) but for the benefit of fellow growers and winemakers. Coletta is also a force in the culinary and responsible agriculture movements.
Having no formal winemaking or management training, Coletta learned as she went, took risks and created programs and standards that are vital to the Canadian wine and hospitality industry. Her days as a server, then restaurant manager and consultant resulted in a standard training program called ‘Serving it Right’ that is mandatory in the hospitality industry.
Before British Columbia wines were on the map, Coletta was consulting for the industry then became the first director of the British Columbia Wine Institute (BCWI) in 1990 where she launched the BC wine industry’s marketing standards and influenced how the rest of Canada and the world perceived this growing wine region. At the time, there were 14 winery members. There are now 250. She took British Columbian wines on a road shows with local chefs and growers, evangelizing the local movement before it really was a movement. Coletta loves her home area and wanted to let the world know, helping many wineries establish and grow along the way.
Okanagan Crush Pad, photo by Lionel Trudel
“As the first executive director of the BC Wine Institute in 1990, Christine Coletta’s strong leadership and depth of experience is reflected in her winery and wines today, and in mentoring others across British Columbia in quality winemaking, marketing and business operations.” Says Miles Prodan, CEO & President of the BC Wine Institute. “Her ongoing support of the BCWI, leadership, and ingenuity continue to help place BC VQA Wine among the best in the world.”
After her BCWI tenure and using what she had learned to help others grow, Coletta worked as a consultant and her family planted a vineyard in 2007 and introduced their wine brand, Haywire, in 2009. In 2011, Coletta and her husband, Steve Lornie, founded Okanagan Crush Pad.
“People are important to me,” says Coletta. “When I think of the people who helped me out, I know it is important to mentor people along the way when you see the right people.”
One of those people is Leeann Froese, owner of marketing firm Town Hall Brands and a young graduate when Coletta recognized her potential. “Having been hired by Christine 24 years ago fresh out of marketing school, and then working with her for the next 16 years and being mentored by her along the way, I can comment on her leadership. She is exacting. She has high standards, and expects a lot from you, pushing you in order to bring out your best.
“And when you are working hard for her, she will have your back no matter what. She has innovative ideas and visions, and she doesn’t keep them to herself. Instead she shares them and evangelizes and brings others along with her. This is why she’s recognized by many as such a leader in the industry.”
Coletta is not always easy to work with. “I think about all of the people I had cross my door, some of which I famously fired,” explains Coletta. “They went on to do even greater things!”
Matt Dumayne, Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, photo by Lionel Trudel
“I have worked for Christine for more than two decades and watched her take her ‘one woman show’ marketing company to owning a 45,000-case winery with 400 acres of land, employing a team of more than 40 people,” says Julian Scholefield, operations manager of Okanagan Crush Pad Winery. “I consider myself very lucky to work alongside someone with her drive and leadership daily. She inspires me to worker harder, do better and ‘get it done!’ with her passion for her work, her team, and our BC wine industry.”
The Okanagan Crush Pad idea was born knowing that the region had to encourage new wineries to develop but realizing that this was easier said than done. In British Columbia, as everywhere, land is finite and bureaucracy enormous.
“The barriers to entry were high and there was no sharing of information,” said Coletta. “There was a lot if ridiculousness to bar people from getting into the business, and we faced a lot of resistance when we set up. But, the agriculture ministry was pushing not to use land for commercial purposes, yet we were at a point where every winery needed to set up a production facility – on ag land.”
Custom crush made sense, and Coletta and her husband pushed forward allocating 30% of their production to custom crush clients while producing their own brands. They have seven to eight custom crush clients at any time and use old world techniques like concrete tanks and amphoras in production. The facility’s staff has expertise in sparkling petillant natural wines as well as methode traditionelle and charmat. They also produce a lot of Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. Coletta has 100 acres of organic certified grapes under cultivation.
Okanagan Crush Pad allows winemakers to create their wines and have incubated brands that have gone on to build their own facilities. OCP is full service with tasting areas, a brand winemaker and a consulting winemaker for clients.
Another leader in the BC Wine business is Christa-Lee McWatters, owner of Encore Vineyards among other projects, many of which involved her late father who was one of the first BC winemakers. “Christine has worked tirelessly to advocate for and improve our British Columbian wine and culinary scene for over 30 years. As the founding executive director of the British Columbia Wine Institute, she was instrumental in creating our VQA standards which has been the cornerstone of the development of our industry,” says McWatters. “With a passion for marketing, she has always been on the forefront of our industry, not just for her own winery; Okanagan Crush Pad, but for the benefit of others as well. Christine is always willing to share, offer advice, and encourage others. She understands the importance of a strong industry and give tirelessly of herself, all while having fun and inspiring others to do the same.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the British Columbia Wine Industry would not be as successful as it today without the leadership, passion, and energy of Christine Coletta.”
Photo by: Jon Adrian
And above this, Coletta doesn’t keep her knowledge and ideas to herself. She shares her resources and continually offers advice and encouragement to not only her own team and people, but also her community and industry. Thus, her most recent project is the team that formed the Okanagan Wine Initiative, where seven leading BC wineries have united to share resources and to collaborate on various projects internationally, across Canada, and in their home market, British Columbia.
Throughout the years, Coletta has not stopped innovating and propelling the industry forward to become a premium wine producing and wine tourism destination.
Coletta, in spite of her many accolades, remains humble and thankful. “I am very thankful to the consumers and local restaurants, who bought BC wine when it was an unknown and for helping make the industry what it is today.”