Tersia and Ben DeJager
The DeJager family brings warm and vibrant energy to Columbia Gardens Vineyard & Winery
South African-born Tersia and Ben DeJager are raising spirits in Trail, B.C. Ben is an engineer whose work brought him and his family to Canada in 2006. After seven years in Ontario and northern Manitoba, the family moved to Trail and acquired Columbia Gardens Vineyard & Winery in August 2013.
Ben studied agriculture in South Africa, majoring in winemaking and vineyard keeping, before he switched his focus to engineering. His dream of owning a vineyard has now come true. However, Ben still works at his engineering career, so although seasonal workers are hired during the peak summer season, the day-to-day operation of Columbia Gardens is handled by Tersia and the couple’s older son, Vern. Darin, a Grade 10 student, provides essential and much appreciated help as well. Their daughter, Leandri, presently attends university in Victoria.
If the success of the DeJagers’ venture has a powerful secret ingredient, it’s probably the warmth that radiates through Tersia’s voice and easy laughter. Within a moment of beginning my conversation with her, I felt like I was chatting with a friend.
Was it difficult to adjust to living in the West Kootenay?
We were in northern Manitoba for a few years first, and that was hard—the weather was brutal. We love everything about the Kootenay area from the weather to the people to the easy living. Strangers will visit on the sidewalks—I love that. The people in Trail and the surrounding area are just great.
What changes did you make at Columbia Gardens early on?
We added a guest house. We gutted and renovated a building that was on the property and made it quite an attraction. We call it the Grape Escape Guest House, and it’s brought us a lot of business and a lot of attention in the community. It’s been so successful we’re working on upgrading the kitchen and expanding the seating capacity.
Tell me about the local support you’ve experienced.
We have a few enthusiastic cheerleaders in the community, and they are so good about promoting the winery. The chamber of commerce, Terry Van Horne, Gina Ironmonger and some of our personal friends are awesome. We value them very much.
Is it important to you to be involved in your community?
Whenever we have time we try to involve ourselves in events in the community. Ben sits on the executive board of the chamber of commerce and the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation board, and we work closely with IncrEdible Trail.
We’re also co-sponsors of Lisa Nicole, a local country singer. She shot a music video on site here just before Christmas.
Tell me a bit about your business success.
For an engineer to be a self-proclaimed winemaker is a big risk, but it’s a South African thing to do— to jump in boots and all. We just did it, not knowing how we were going to make it work, but just determined that we would.
We still do that. On November 4 we attended the East Kootenay Wine Festival at Fairmont Hot Springs. At the very last minute Ben decided he wanted to use the show to launch a new variety that we produced, and we bottled it just hours before we left home. We took it there without a specific label or a specific name, but it received the People’s Choice Award.
We are developing a new line under the banner of Kootenay Moments—we have Kootenay Moments Red Romance, Kootenay Moments Easy Living, our Blush, and also a champagne-style wine which we haven’t named yet. We are trying to encapsulate what the Kootenays mean to us.
Do you have some practical advice for other entrepreneurs?
We’re strong believers that your passion should be your purpose. If you do what you love, you will get to the purpose of why you’re in a place, and for both of us that came true with the winery.
What would you say is your greatest strength or superpower?
I am a people lover—it’s natural for me to go the extra mile to make people feel special and important and welcome. My favourite word is excellence, and I honestly try to put that stamp of excellence on everything I do.
What’s something about you that most people might not know?
I love to write and to do motivational speaking at women's retreats and events.
How would you define success?
Making a difference, investing in people, being the best me I can be. That’s what’s satisfying to me. That’s living with purpose.