Building a Sustainable Winery on Vancouver Island
From historically long droughts to unexpectedly early freezes, the B.C. wine industry has weathered extreme shifts in climate patterns. Unsworth Vineyards is located in the heart of the Cowichan Valley and takes a sustainable approach in the management of their 25 hectares of vineyard.
Chris Turyk is an alumnus of the UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture, and his family has built Unsworth with climate-resiliency in mind. Turyk developed his interest in agriculture at a young age, growing vegetables with his mother in their backyard.
“I never lost that love for food,” Turyk says as he chats about culinary school in the Napa Valley and volunteering at local farms that directly supplied restaurants.
In 2010, Turyk started Unsworth Vineyards with his father. The Turyks had sustainability in mind from the start and hired an environmental consulting group to advise on best practices such as ponds to capture rainwater and cover crops to replenish soils.
In 2017, Turyk began volunteering at UBC Farm for more hands-on experience in agriculture. By the next year, he was involved in the practicum program. Working alongside other farmers opened his eyes to the challenges, successes, and lifestyle in agriculture. For Turyk, the highlight of the program was its proximity to research projects.
“I’ve always had an interest in the educational side of farming,” Turyk says. “It was great seeing the scientific method applied to agriculture.”
After the 6-month program, Turyk went back to Vancouver Island to implement everything he learned. In the years since, Unsworth regularly tests their soil to measure microbial health, minimizes inputs by composting their own grape pulp, and incorporates no-till methods to preserve soil fauna and biodiversity.
Every now and then, Turyk visits UBC Farm and spends time with PhD candidates in the field, learning about applied research and following its progress into commercial use.
“There was a compost trial going on, developing a device that measured the off-gasses of beans and potatoes,” Turyk explains. “Eventually I saw the same device in a private company in Sonoma.”
The Turyks continue to grow Unsworth and the wine industry on Vancouver Island. From their first 2010 vintage of 200 cases, to today’s 12,000 cases, with enough vines planted to double that. They also have plans to create a sustainable small-scale farm and livestock garden to provide for local restaurants.
Turyk himself is extremely engaged with the B.C. wine and hospitality industries. In July, he spoke at a UBC alumni event about developing the region’s wine identity. With the recent challenges from climate change, Turyk explains that most conversations with the provincial government revolve around replanting funds and revitalizing tourism.
“I hope that what we’re doing at Unsworth can set the standard for how to install a vineyard in 2023,” Turyk says. “If you want to have your vineyard for the next 30 years, you have to start planning climate resiliency now.”