Pat Bell to Open Canada’s Most Northern Winery

Northern Lights Estate Winery | BCBusiness
The Bell family at the site of Northern Lights Estate Winery.

Former B.C. cabinet minister Pat Bell is opening a fruit winery in Prince George

Pat Bell and his family hope to attract more tourism to Prince George and tap into a developing fruit wine industry with a new winery, set to open summer 2015.
“Prince George has always been home and we thought that it was a great way to bring tourism to the area with a new business that has somewhat of a pent up demand in our region,” says Pat’s son Doug Bell, who will act as operating partner of the winery.
Northern Lights Estate Winery is a seven-minute drive from downtown Prince George and will feature an orchard, tasting room and an ampitheatre for weddings and outdoor events. There will also be a restaurant, slated to open in 2016, which will highlight local ingredients and will have views of the Nechako River. Doug Bell fondly remembers visiting wineries in the Okanagan with his dad and hopes to bring the Okanagan winery experience—complete with restaurants and vineyards open to the public—to Prince George, where the closest winery is in Cash Creek, approximately a four-hour drive away.
Pat Bell says that he initially became interested in wine while serving as the minister of agriculture and lands. He later served as B.C.’s jobs minister before leaving politics earlier this year for health reasons.
“I had the agriculture file from 2005 to 2008 and thought maybe someday somehow I would [have a winery] but certainly it was something that gained my interest at that time and gained the whole family’s interest,” says Pat Bell.
The Bells are also hoping to capitalize on what they feel is an emerging fruit wine industry, says Doug Bell. The winery will initially offer four to six table wines and two dessert wines and will grow hardy apples, haskap, gooseberry, hardy cherry, raspberry, black current and rhubarb. Bell says that because of Prince George’s growing season they chose to produce fruit wine instead of traditional grape wine as many fruits grow naturally in the area. The one main exception being haskap, which is new to the area (from Saskatchewan) and will produce a wine similar in taste to pinot noir. For the first three years of production, the winery will purchase fruits from mostly regional carriers in Prince George and then will go on to grow most or all of its own fruit.
Christine Leroux is a wine consultant who has worked with wineries including Gray Monk Estate Winery and Inniskillin Okanagan Winery and says that fruit wines have gotten a bad reputation in the past for being overly sweet and poorly made. She is seeing more and more wineries working with wine consultants to improve the quality of fruit wine and break down that reputation.
“I keep getting phone calls from fruit wineries from Alberta and Saskatchewan,” she says. “There is starting to be a lot of good fruit wines out there.”
There are currently about 30 B.C. fruit wineries, which produce an estimated 50,000 cases annually or five per cent of the B.C. wine industry’s production, says Bell. He points to similarities in the growth of the grape wine industry in B.C. from the 1990s to today and is hopeful that the fruit wine industry will follow the same trajectory.
“Back in the early 1990s there were only about 30 wineries in B.C. and today there is over 250. The fruit wine industry is actually seeing very similar growth,” he says. “The industry is new and the acceptance of the different wines is one opportunity that I think is going to be great for us.”
The Bell’s goal is to start out producing 15,000 bottles a year and later expand to 5,000 cases per year. The first batch of wine will be sold onsite in summer 2015.