BCBusiness + BMO Bank of Montreal
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Credit: Photo courtesy Le Vieux Pin Winery

Entrepreneurs recall BMO team at the vineyard for first-hand research

Traditionally, entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry have struggled to get ongoing help from financial institutions, and the challenges are intensified for those in the winery sector. That’s been the case with Sean Salem and his wife Saeedeh Salem who’ve spent 13 years developing La Stella Winery in Osoyoos and Le Vieux Pin Winery in Oliver.

Although the Salems always knew their approach to wine making would eventually lead to financial success, it wasn’t until they established a relationship with BMO Bank of Montreal in 2014 that their venture really took off. “The hands-on support we’ve received from BMO is unbelievable,” says Sean.

“It’s as if they’re an extended family who for the past three years has taken us on a wonderful journey,” says Saeedeh.

The two entrepreneurs were committed to making a high-end, boutique product that would showcase Okanagan wine around the world. “Typically with wineries it takes years of investment to build a brand, and while we initially obtained financing to launch our business, it was impossible to get further support, even after we were established and began exporting product to Europe in 2012,” says Sean. “And yet, further support was crucial because it would allow us to meet growing demand and become profitable.” 

That all changed when the couple’s financial manager introduced them to James Dusik, Vice-president Business Banking at BMO Financial Group for the Kelowna, South Okanagan and Kootenay markets. Saeedeh says: “Previously, banks would give us forms to fill out and that would be it. But James and his team actually came out to visit us, inspected our vineyards and talked with our managers and wine makers.

“We were stunned by their care and attention. And, after they learned everything about our production to date, they gave us financing and a line of credit.” The Salems would experience the same degree of hands-on care with a BMO team headed by Todd Schneider, Penticton-based Senior Relationship Manager.

The couple was able to expand their Le Vieux Pin production facility and, due to the short supply of grapes in the south Okanagan, they then purchased three additional vineyards, expanding their total farmed-land base from 20 to 32 hectares. “The year after we got financing from BMO we were profitable, and this year we expect to produce 8,000 cases of wine from each winery, which will meet our growing demand in North America and overseas,” says Saeedeh.

When asked what he thinks compelled BMO to take such an active interest in their wineries when so many other financial institutions did not, Sean says that BMO’s managers and staff “have a genuine desire to help business people. They’re genuinely curious about different types of business and thoroughly educate themselves in order to provide effective solutions.”

He says: “Our wines are a success because every aspect of our work—from cultivation and harvest to production—is done by hand. I can’t express how satisfying it is to have a financial partner like BMO that exhibits equal care in helping us achieve our business goals.”

Created by BCBusiness in partnership with BMO Bank of Montreal