Brock grad Jeff Moote (OEVC ’19) hopes his Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) debut will be the toast of Thanksgiving tables across Ontario this year.
The Divergence Gamay Noir 2021 is the first he’s sold through the LCBO since launching his small-batch wine brand in 2020. The wine was picked up by the retailer through its prestigious Vintages program, which focuses on smaller Canadian and international premium wine releases.
“The success of Jeff’s Divergence brand highlights how Brock’s grape and wine science programs prepare graduates for success in the grape and wine industry, not just for traditional career paths but also for those with entrepreneurial ambitions,” says Debbie Inglis, Director of Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) and Professor of Biological Sciences.
Moote, whose background is in chemical engineering, had only a casual interest in wine when he first came to CCOVI. After taking a few courses, he decided to complete a Certificate in Grape and Wine Technology and pursue a career in the wine industry.
“I was working at a desk job and felt like I wanted to make something a little more tangible, work with my hands and create something that I could appreciate,” he says.
Since graduating in 2019, he has continued to work part time in the engineering field in addition to joining fellow Brock grads at Vintegrated, a consulting company focused on all aspects of the wine industry. It’s a role he describes as his winemaking apprenticeship.
At the same time, he began to think about making his own wines through Collab Wine & Beverages, which he says lowers the barriers to entering the industry for small-batch beverage brands by providing access to production facilities and other resources.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Moote suddenly had time to launch his wine brand. He has since released eight wines under the Divergence brand.
Selected through a rigorous tender process, his Gamay Noir will be on shelves at select LCBOs throughout much of southern Ontario. The LCBO release accounts for about a third of the bottles produced of this wine.
Seeing his wine at the LCBO is validation of Moote’s hard work and vision for Divergence Wines.
“The gamay is a wine that I’ve had some success with even before the LCBO release and it looks like the vintage will be sold out fairly soon, which is a really positive thing as new brand,” he says. “It means the brand is getting out there and people are appreciating it.”
Moote started with a plan to focus on sparkling wines — a favourite of his to make and drink — before he expanded into a range of different wines with the 2021 vintage.
“I was really just choosing things that were interesting to me,” he says. “I’m focused on classic wines done in a slightly unconventional way. The approach is to try and take Niagara grapes and show them at their best by creating interesting interpretations of what we do here in Niagara.”
While Divergence has grown faster than Moote had originally imagined, he says his goal is to build a small-batch brand that enjoys a dedicated following, much like he follows his favourite wineries and wants to buy their wines every year.
Moote continues to use lessons learned at CCOVI every day and he credits his time at Brock for getting him into the wine industry.
“I wouldn’t be doing this had CCOVI not sparked that interest and given me knowledge of what else there was to learn about,” he says. “The connections I made during the program with professors and instructors and during my co-op, really all the connections related to CCOVI and CCOVI grads in the industry, were instrumental in setting me down this path.”