James Wyse (WINNER)
Founder, Burrowing Owl Vineyards Ltd.
When Jim Wyse launched Burrowing Owl Vineyards, he had no experience in wine making but had found some cheap vineyard land south of Oliver. Following the 1988 free trade agreement with the U.S., Canada paid vineyard owners to pull out their grapes, expecting them to replant with more commercially competitive varities. Most took the money and abandoned the properties, which sold for as little as $2,000 an acre. In 1993, Wyse paid double that for 100 acres, followed by 120 acres a year later.
“I’m a business person, and this was a business,” he says. “We didn’t treat it as a romance. Even though my wife and I have always enjoyed wine and have travelled in wine countries in Europe and so on, this had to work financially.” With a background in engineering and development, “I could add, subtract and I do lovely spreadsheets. I was very comfortable with the numbers that I was getting from my two vineyard managers and what it was going to cost us to plant and acquire the French varieties that we wanted.”
Initially just selling grapes to wineries, by 1998 Wyse decided to open a winery, not originally part of the plan. “We knew it was very capital intensive,” says Wyse, “so the biggest risk was probably that one, because we knew exactly what we would get paid for growing Chardonnay and Cabernet and Merlot and so on, but we didn’t know that we’d be able to produce a good wine. And better still, would we be able to sell it for a price that would return our investment?” Burrowing Owl now produces 50,000 cases of wine a year and won a 96-point double gold medal for its 2012 Merlot in the 2015 San Francisco International Wine Competition and Canada’s only gold at the 2015 Syrah du Monde. There is now a restaurant and a 10-bedroom guesthouse, rated 10th on Condé Nast Traveler’s Best Hotels in Canada: Reader’s Choice Awards 2014.
The vineyard’s name was inspired by a sign about reintroducing burrowing owls to the region. “We did not know what a burrowing owl looked like,” says Wyse. “We just named the property so it would be a little more fun than having a numbered company.” Now Burrowing Owl is committed to preserving the natural environment, and the Wyses are active in the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC. “When we had the successful winery running, we were quite happy to give something back to the birds who have given us a name,” says Wyse.
Mandy Farmer (FINALIST)
President and CEO, Accent Inns and Hotel Zed
When Mandy Farmer took over Accent Inns from her father in July 2008, the first three months were smooth sailing. Then the recession hit, and revenue dropped. A year later, she discovered all five inns had leaky building envelopes requiring extensive repairs. Undaunted, Farmer used the renovations to update, rebrand and reposition in a changing economy. And in 2014, she achieved her dream of opening a fun, affordable, midcentury-style motel: Hotel Zed in Victoria. Unable to convince her three elderly business partners to buy an appropriate property, she had spotted a midcentury diamond-shaped motif hidden beneath 1980s awnings on the company’s independently run Blueridge Motel and realized, “I’ve got my diamond in the rough.” In its first year, revenue is projected to grow 50 per cent, and Farmer is looking for properties to transform into Hotel Zeds. “I think there’s a lot of really bland hotel product out there,” she says. “Accent Inns and Hotel Zed, they’re a breath of fresh air.”
Jeff Donnelly (FINALIST)
President, Donnelly Group
For Jeff Donnelly, whose motto is “Be true to yourself and your neighbourhood—the people will follow,” a pub should be truly a local. In 1999 at the age of 24, he bought The Bimini, licensed in the ’70s as B.C.’s first neighbourhood pub and birthplace of Greenpeace. Inspired by British gastropubs with foodie menus, updated decor and DJs playing, Donnelly introduced the concept at The Bimini and hasn’t looked back. Donnelly Group now operates 11 public houses, three cocktail taverns, two nightclubs, two national pizza franchises and five barbershops—each with its own neighbourhood character—and is expanding to Toronto. “We’ve never been outside of Vancouver so I’m spending a ton of time in Toronto right now, and I love it,” he says. “There’s so many similarities with the densely populated little pockets. It’s going to be pretty fun for us.”