A group of Brock University graduates is fulfilling the dream of adding a boutique winery to their successful vineyard operation — and helping out students in the process.
Spouses Robert (OEVC ’20) and Liz Harold (BA ’12), along with Tracey Schenck (MA ’16) and her husband Joe Schenck (also Liz’s brother), currently own and operate Hanck Vineyards in Vineland on the Twenty Mile Bench. The family grows Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling wine grapes that they sell to local winemakers. After nearly two decades of honing their craft and earning accolades from their winery clients, their goal is to now produce and sell their own wine in an intimate winery setting.
“It’s been a labour of love for all of us — 20 years plus in the making — and we’re getting close to the finish line,” says Robert, who earned his Certificate in Grape and Wine Technology (OEVC) at Brock’s Fall Convocation on Friday, Oct. 16. “Joy is really at the centre of all this; we want to create a great experience for customers in this little slice of heaven on the southeast corner of King and Victoria.”
The group planted their first vines in 2004 and began exploring the art of winemaking a few years later.
While Joe has a long family history in farming and grape growing, Robert says he enrolled at Brock to expand his education and gain more confidence in the vineyard.
“I learned that viticulture and winemaking is both an art and a science and Brock taught me to look holistically from the vineyard to the final product in the bottle,” he says, “They also taught me to be focused, optimistic and patient from vintage to vintage. I now have a deeper understanding of the viticulture and winemaking continuum — that’s all thanks to the world-class faculty, staff and instructors at Brock,” he says.
All four partners have a passion for learning. In addition to their degrees from Brock, they all hold bachelor’s degrees from the University of Guelph, and, in Robert’s case, a Master of Business Administration from Columbia University.
As their way of giving back and supporting those who share their passion, the team has dedicated two rows of their Gewürztraminer grapes (some of the vineyard’s most “phenomenal producers,”) to be used by students in Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture program.
Steven Trussler, Senior Lab Instructor for Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) and one of Robert’s former instructors, says an important mandate for the program and the research institute is to strengthen industry connections through partnerships like this one.
“We’re always so happy to see our graduates succeed in their careers after leaving our programs,” he says. “Not only are they launching an amazing new venture, but they’re also giving back to the next generation of grape growers and winemakers and continuing to build a great network of Brock alumni within our industry.”
The Harold/Schenck team looks forward to also providing experiential learning opportunities to Goodman School of Business students in the Social Media and Search Engine Marketing course.
David DiPietro, Senior Experiential Education Co-ordinator in Goodman, says they are excited to get students involved in the project once the future winery opens.
“One of the goals for experiential learning is to engage with alumni, so when an opportunity like this presents itself, it checks all of the boxes for what we are trying to do,” he says. “This partnership will be a win-win: for the students to work with a recent grad and help to get their winery off the ground, and for the partners to engage with our students and get some innovative ideas to help jump-start their venture.”
Robert and the team would also like to continue to partner with the University and utilize the research and outreach programs offered by CCOVI to support their operations in the future.
“There’s so much expertise at Brock,” Robert says.
For now, the partners have their sights set on the future, with a hopeful opening date of Summer 2021.
Tracey, who is also Program Co-ordinator for Brock’s Masters in Applied Gerontology, is looking forward to the day when they can showcase “this unique little place in Vineland — King + Victoria — that you should visit if you really love Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.”
“We have lots of family and friends who have been supportive and a part of this vision,” she adds. “We look forward to building a bigger network and working with all of our partners — especially Brock — to spread the word.”
To join the partners on their journey from vineyard to winery, please visit the King + Victoria website.