Cardinals flock to Creston to build their nest at Red Bird Estate Winery
The terroir and the people of Creston are hospitable to these aspiring winemakers
Imagine sitting on a deck overlooking your vineyard and sipping a freshly uncorked bottle of pinot gris with your name and insignia on it. Pretty sweet, right? Now imagine the previous dozen years of work necessary to be afforded such an opportunity. Not quite as enticing, eh? Don’t be discouraged. Although difficult, owning a winery is within reach for those with the youthful exuberance to chance the endeavour and the dedication to see it through, such as Remi and Shannon Cardinal, owners of Red Bird Estate Winery in Creston.
“When we had the dream, we were just young kids,” said Remi. “We thought, ‘Hey, let’s do a winery! Go to wineries. Drink wine. This is sweet. Let’s do it.’ Everything was amazing.”
In an effort to find out if winemaking was for them, the Cardinals went to France for a summer and worked at wineries in that country. When they came back, they decided to embark on their quest for a winery in Canada. As they soon discovered, like a fine wine, creating a burgeoning winery from the roots up takes time, patience and a hefty price tag.
“We started looking and then realized we needed some money,” Remi said. “We bought a house in Alberta and worked there for eight years and put enough money aside so we could buy something in British Columbia and get going.”
A warm, welcoming valley
As you might expect, the Cardinals first headed to the wine capital of Canada, the Okanagan. Upon arrival, the entrepreneurial couple’s reception was less than ideal.
“In the Okanagan Valley, they were laughing at us when we were there shopping for land,” said Remi. “They were like, ‘Oh, you’re not millionaires!?’ So we said forget about that.”
Enter Creston. Besides the idyllic setting, conducive climate and reasonable land prices, the Cardinals found what they were truly looking for: a welcoming community.
“We came into the Creston Valley and they were like, ‘Hey, come over for a barbecue. Let’s talk about it.’ Wow, that was different,” said Remi. “The Creston Valley is a lot different than the Okanagan Valley. The community here is amazing. People are actually helping each other. The other wineries are fully open to sharing their equipment and knowledge. That was a big help when we first got started. Without their equipment, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. The other wineries in the valley are super friendly. It’s a great scene to be in. That really attracted us here.”
In 2014, a decade after their initial idea to start a winery, the Cardinals purchased a one-hectare (three-acre) plot of land and transformed the former bed-and-breakfast into a winery. Crops were planted a year later. In 2017, Red Bird Estate Winery had its first vintage.
Even with the winery up and running, the Cardinals can ill afford to kick up their flip-flops and share toasts to their success. The couple each have their individual jobs outside of the winery. Remi’s other business is Red Bird Sheet Metal and Heating, and Shannon is an environmental scientist working in reclamation for an Alberta company.
“We’re busy people,” Remi said. “We both work our day jobs, we have the winery and we have two little kids, Zoe and William, aged five and three. We try to include them and work as a family.”
Family ties also figure into the winery’s logo and name.
“My last name is Cardinal,” said Remi, “so Red Bird—Cardinal—it kind of went together. We wanted a company name that reflected who we are since my wife, Shannon, and I run the whole thing.
“We want to keep it small. I’m the youngest winery owner I know and I’m 39 years old. We didn’t come here retired with millions of dollars. We came in with working jobs and we’re doing it. It’s something special. It’s possible to do it even if you’re young and don’t have millions.”
Small batches make easy drinks
Being a mom and pop (and son and daughter) operation, the little-winery-that-could doesn’t have any employees. Running a winery of this size leads to what Remi calls the “small batch difference.”
“We have a hand-crafted product that pushes the quality up quite a bit,” he said. “We have pinot gris and gewurztraminer. Our style is light, fresh and aromatic with diverse aromas—easy-drinking patio wine.”
Visitors to Creston can stop into Red Bird Estate Winery for wine tastings and tours, provided they call ahead of time to make sure someone is home.
“It’s just a normal house with a winery,” Remi said of the modest dwelling. “It’s a small and cozy kind of deal—not pretentious or anything.
“We’re working on building a bigger winery building and tasting room. We’d like to get out of the garage and into a decent building. We came here with little money so we’re building it as we grow up. Hopefully, we can break ground in two years. It’s in the works.”
In the meantime, Remi prefers to meet and interact with patrons at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market.
“We’re trying to get really personal with our wines and clients,” he said. “Since we began living here, we’ve realized that Creston is an amazing community to live in for families and young entrepreneurs that start their own business here. There are a lot of people in their 30s who create and bring in their small businesses here. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one. It’s nice to be part of.”