If we are being honest, isn’t it the most fun to take a pretty picture of a glass of wine and throw it on social media with the hashtag cheers?! Don’t even get me started if there is a sunset in the background and our flip flopped feet kicked up sporting a shiny fresh pedicure. I seriously have to refrain from ONLY posting pictures like this. For me, there has always been something about wine that triggers relaxation and indulgence. In fact, my wedding was wine themed (don’t worry, I didn’t make my bridesmaids carry bouquets of grapes or anything). In hindsight, it was possible I was trying to force a feeling of relaxation on a day that is anything but! When I connected with the ladies behind Beyond the Vine, it’s likely that the first word out of my mouth was yes! Yes I wanted a day filled with wines that would dance on my tongue and carefully mastered food that would delight me with each bite. Yes I wanted a day with no responsibilities, no obligations….no laundry. Do I have you saying yes too? Do you want to go Beyond the Vine? Charlie van der Wey and Kelly Schnurr have created a gift of an experience to honour what Prince Edward County has to offer. I wanted to share what goes on behind the scenes, the beginning of the story, everything that needed to happen in order for me to be standing in a field of grapes, a gentle breeze tickling my cheek, and smiling, because I was drinking Brut at 9:45 in the morning on a sunny Saturday in July.
Tell us about the light bulb moment, that delicious moment when you know you are onto something. How did Beyond the Vine come to be?
Kelly: There are two things that contributed to the birth of Beyond the Vine. First, I had spent a season at The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyard and Estate Winery as their event manager. The passion that Caroline and her daughter Maggie had for wine, wine making, and the careful and delicate way in which they respected the land in which their 60 acres of vinifera grow are all pieces of the ingredients that came together to spark an interest in me. I had the opportunity to work in the tasting room, where I learned to identify the unique characteristics in each variety, and I began to form my own way of describing the wine to customers and friends. I discovered that I had a good palate, and I discovered that people really enjoyed my interpretation on the wine and how I delivered the information…. this was a total rush, and a really fond memory for me. Second, Charlie and I took a trip to Carmel, CA… she surprised me with tickets to a Carmel food & wine tour. We were really looking forward to this experience, and we had very high expectations. We had the opportunity to taste a number of chef plates, paired to wine at a number of very high-end restaurants. It was a wonderful way to see Carmel, but we didn’t feel quenched in our thirst for wine knowledge. The bottles were opened and poured, but there was no information delivered about the wineries, the vintner’s, the vintage or the varieties. I am like a sponge, and I was desperate to know more. That evening, while back in our hotel room…. I didn’t sleep a wink. In the washroom of our hotel room, I sat awake from 3-5am, brainstorming how I could integrate these two passions for wine & food in our own backyard, in Prince Edward County. This is when Beyond the Vine was born. I decided that I needed to up the ante and start really learning all that I could, so I enrolled with IWEG for my WSET 2, and passed…only two more legs to go!
How did you divide the work that needed to be done? Are your work styles the same or thankfully different?
Kelly: Luckily, Charlie and I have very different disciplines and experiences, but very similar work ethic and interpretation of what great customer service looks like. We sat down over breakfast the next morning and talked through the possibilities of starting our own “tour and event” company. Charlie has extensive experience in assisting start-ups and scaling global professional service organizations. She naturally wanted to see on paper what potential this business would have to sustain one of us full-time, and potentially both of us. We had a lot of work to do! Thankfully it was October, and we were aiming to launch in April. With a clean work slate ahead of us, we spent the winter months at the white board, drawing, making lists, meeting with potential vintners, researching other companies here in Canada and abroad. We developed a solid but flexible business plan and marketing plan for 2017. We quickly found that my niche was curating our tour and creating strong relationships with our partners. Together we began spreading the enthusiasm for our business and our business partnerships. With every new idea, Charlie would crunch the numbers and we would talk about what each and every scenario would look like. Did it meet our # 1 goal of a premium quality brand? And did it allow us to ensure cost and revenue were in check?
Even though I am happy to know the answer, how does a Beyond the Vine tour stand out from tours that a seasoned wine lover may already be used to?
Kelly: I agree with one of our tour reviews, “This isn’t the type of tour hosted by a professional tour guide – instead, it’s hosted by a professional chefs, winemakers, farmers, business owners, and community builders.” @lalalalaurav
We have CURATED an immersive wine and food experience that allows you to fully experience the County with all of your senses. Not many tour companies offer food at all, and not many tours take you behind the scenes to meet the Vintners/Purveyors.
How did you select the wineries to form strong partnerships with?
1. We chose our locations for the quality of wine offered.
2. The personalities, stories, and feel of the vineyard/winery.
3. We chose locations that met our expectations for creating a unique and elevated experience delivered by the Vintner/Winemaker or Purveyor – this personal touch was most important to us and our brand!
Kelly: We started our search for winery partners that would best showcase the wine varieties that the County has to offer. The cool-climate varieties found in PEC (like Burgundy) grow well in our climate, where there is a soil structure of limestone and clay. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. The Grange of Prince Edward is our first location, beautifully showcasing these varieties. Having spent some time in this region, these lighter bodied and higher acid wines have become my go-to favorites.
Not everyone who visits the County knows that we produce lighter bodied wines, and we wanted to showcase someone who is doing something completely different, and doing it well. Tony at Terra Cello is producing some of the heaviest red wines in the County, called Boca Nero and Vollpai, as well as Chardonnay and Italian blush. Tony grows and produces his wine in the County, but in the same style and discipline that his Italian Father and Grandfather did.
Our third location, Karlo Estates is a blend of both worlds; Sherry produces most of the traditional Burgundian varieties, as well as all of the 6 Bordeaux reds (Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere) as well as a Gewurztraminer. I like that Karlo Estates offers a mix of traditional and experimental varieties, this allows us to appease all palates.
Tell us about the curated events you offer.
Kelly: We are curating dinner experiences at various wineries called a FEAST FOR THE SENSES: A 5 COURSE WINE MAKER’S DINNER. I can tell you that one finalized date is on October 5th at Karlo Estates, it is an excuisite vegan dinner!
We are also looking forward to bringing the County to various events in Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston etc. Our event goal is to curate PEC for any event that is looking to serve local wine (as well as charcuterie items, preserves, etc)
Do you both consider yourself foodies?
Kelly: I guess technically you can call us foodies, in the sense that we go the extra mile to make every meal the freshest, local, prettiest, tastiest that it can possibly be. We are not afraid to try new things!
I was able to see the passion you feel for Beyond the Vine….what was a job you’ve had where you felt the opposite of passion?
Kelly: For me, any job that does not allow for some sort of flexibility and diversity (location, work style, responsibilities or the ability to do more than one task at a time) is not where I want to be.
Charlie: It’s a funny thing for me, I have worked in organizations where I have put structure and process in place but my number one goal was always to ensure these environments are flexible enough and also allow for creative processes to flow. I have left rigid environments early in my career where there were no exceptions to a rule, where the environment was over processed, the creative process was non-existent, and the morale was low.
Do you feel you’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
Kelly: I do, but it is important to realize that you cannot just throw caution to the wind, you have to work with someone to learn the trade/field, and no matter what you do… you always have someone to answer to, whether it be a boss, or a client.
Charlie: When I was a child, I definitely had a lot of ideas, but most of them were how can I make a buck? It did not come from a place of creativity, but more of survival. My parents pinched pennies and I recall doing some fairly silly things to test if I could make a buck. Looking back now, I am thankful I didn’t pursue any of them full time.
Let’s speak to your love of Prince Edward County. What do you have fun with when you have some free time? What are some of your favourite hidden gems in the area?
Kelly: It’s too hard to just choose a few, but we like driving around discovering some new favourite wines. We often head into Waupoos to visit the County Cider Co, I love driving down to Cherry Valley in the spring to pick-up my heirloom tomato plants from Vickie’s veggies, I will drive over to Picton and stop at Loch Sloy army base to visit our friends’ new art gallery, Maison Dupoivre. Landry’s is a usual stop, where we pick-up our tomatoes for jarring in the fall. Slicker’s has the best ice cream in Canada, try the camp fire! Google SLOW TACO, and make sure to grab one of Andrea’s incredible hand-made soft tacos. Saturday mornings at the Wellington Market are a must. Baked goods from Enid in Wellington with an extra delicious flat white from the General is a nice pairing. Visit the cutest little gallery space around the corner from Enid, called Sybil and Frank Gallery – go not only for the art, but for the wonderful charm and conversation with Craig Alexander (heart!) I could name a number of my favorite wineries and wines…. but it wouldn’t be fair, or a short list, lol.
I know for myself, going on the tour certainly made me want to go right back to the county….it was almost painful to drive past so many amazing places I would want to check out. I’m sure that was one of your goals! How else do you want a tour guest to feel at the end of the day?
Kelly: We want to spark something in each person, a connection to the County. We believe it is the personalities that you meet, and their stories that make the experience an unforgettable one. We hope that each guest will take these stories with them when they open a bottle for their friends.
What do you have to say to someone who may be a bit hesitant about the early start?
Kelly: We may in fact change this up a bit next year to accommodate people who are driving into the County on the same day, but I usually don’t have to say much…. once they arrive to our first location, they have forgotten just how early we started. The good news, they return at a decent time to have a nap and go for dinner if they so choose instead of having to go out right away for their dinner reservation.
Last question, and just for fun, if someone gave you each a basket of your favourite things, what would be included?
Kelly: olives, honey, cheese, coffee and meat charcuterie, wine of all sorts and bunch of foodie magazines, with my airedale at my feet and the cats in the garden.
Charlie: definitely coffee, nuts, chocolate, all sorts of vinegars and mustards, olives, biltong, hard cheeses, wine and vodka. A good novel by Bryce Courtenay and some home design or food and drink magazines. Music is definitely a big part of our lives…we’d have to have music from all decades and genres!
While I don’t want to give everything away about the day I had with Beyond the Vine, here’s one takeaway: until you do a tour at a winery, you have NO idea the insane amount of work that goes into what you so easily open and pour around your kitchen table on a Friday night. It takes heart as evidenced in Caroline at the Grange, it takes the pride you hear in Tony’s words at Terra Cello, and it takes a peaceful confidence that radiates from Sherry at Karlo. I’ve found myself hesitating to complain that the amount of rain we’ve been getting is putting a damper on my pool days, thinking instead of these passionate people who make their living off of the earth and are drastically affected by what Mother Nature throws at them.
And speaking of the weather, did I mention that Kelly GUARANTEES the sun will come out at exactly the moment you arrive in Wellington? (disclaimer: this guarantee is not scientifically founded and she should not be held liable for a bit of cloud cover)
In all seriousness, plan on a Beyond the Vine tour (side note: husbands you can likely score at least two years worth of brownie points if you surprise your wife with tickets!), take the time to slow down, and enjoy the new experiences and friends that come your way. You even get to visit the adorable alpacas at Chetwyn Farms!
To steal a popular phrase from Kelly…the whole magical day was “off the hook.”