Humanities grad honoured for impact on wine industry

Thomas Pennachetti (BA ’86) was bitten by the philosophy bug during his first week of classes at Brock University and has never looked back.

Years later, the same philosophical questions and big ideas that inspired him to major in Philosophy led the St. Catharines native to co-founding Cave Spring Vineyard (CSV), an internationally renowned winery with his brother Len Pennachetti and founding winemaker and fellow Brock Philosophy graduate Angelo Pavan (BA ’78, MA ’79).

A guiding force in the Ontario wine industry, Pennachetti, Senior Vice-President and Partner at CSV, was awarded the Faculty of Humanities Distinguished Graduate Award on Sept. 16 as part of Brock’s Homecoming celebration.

After graduating from Brock and completing a master’s degree in philosophy at York University, Pennachetti worked alongside his family as they went from growing grapes to making wine. CSV was born of the simple idea of making wines reflecting the soil and climate, or ‘terroir,’ of the site the family acquired in 1973.

For Pennachetti, the research involved in his studies, including breaking down the big questions into fundamental concepts, has been central to his success.

“People who combine critical thinking with creativity thrive in the business world,” he said. “Whether you are studying philosophy, history, language or literature, the humanities develop these invaluable traits.”

Three people pose in front of a red wall with a framed award certificate.

Brock University President and Vice-Chancellor Lesley Rigg, Faculty of Humanities Distinguished Graduate Award recipient Thomas Pennachetti (BA ’86) and Dean of Humanities Carol Merriam at Brock’s Alumni Recognition Reception on Saturday, Sept. 16.

During his studies at Brock, Pennachetti became interested in epistemology, specifically early modern theories of knowledge. He fondly recounted how his then-undergraduate mentor, Professor George Nathan, told him that philosophy is about making distinctions to solve problems.

“This was a terse, powerful idea, and it has stayed with me,” Pennachetti said.

Pennachetti found his academic preparation to be valuable when confronted with the need to create a compelling story about CSV wines and the Niagara Peninsula as an emerging wine region.

“Wine can be demanding for consumers in a way that other products are not,” he said.

Pennachetti recognized that wine marketing must inform and educate people without being overbearing, and that it will only resonate with people if it is captivating from the start.

“In my studies, the philosophers who impressed me the most shared a knack for using inspiring prose to pass along complex theories, bringing their ideas to life. In wine’s little corner of the marketing universe, I learned the importance of weaving threads of knowledge into the dialogue. You boil everything down to the basic ideas and then wrap them in an inspiring narrative,” he said.

Today, CSV is a premier destination on Niagara’s wine route with an international reputation driven mainly by its critically acclaimed Rieslings. Pennachetti has been instrumental in establishing the winery in markets throughout Canada and beyond, playing a pioneering role in opening global markets for Niagara Peninsula wines.

Pennachetti’s commitment to CSV’s founding principle of producing authentic, cool-climate wines has never wavered, nor has his commitment to re-shaping perceptions about the Niagara wine region and Niagara wines.

Many factors shaped his career path, including his academic studies, his family’s passion for viticulture and winemaking, a deep and shared interest among family and co-workers in producing wines that convey a sense of place, and his belief in Niagara as a rising star in the world of wine.

“Life inevitably pulls you on a course; but be sure your interests inform its path,” Pennachetti said. “The more open your education is, the more directions you can follow. Here lies the magic of the humanities.”

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