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Everything's coming up... Blueberries!

Castlegar area wine producer has high hopes, with good reason
Paul Koodrin and his Heron Ridge winery are presently producing 4

A hard-working local man is reaping the benefits of his efforts.

Paul Koodrin of Thrums has parlayed a successful blueberry farm into what appears will be an equally successful winery.

The story of the Heron Ridge Estates Winery begins back in 1959 when a picturesque property along the Kootenay River was purchased by the Koodrin family.

It was some 20 years later that Paul, on a hunch, decided to see how blueberries would grow. It was also Paul, incidentally, who built the Thrums Market across the highway.

“We experimented with a small plot and it did well. So we thought we’d see what would happen,” the entrepreneur related on Sept. 21.

Paul went ahead with field preparation and plowing, then ordered 5,000 bushes before hearing from a neighbour that “You can’t grow blueberries here, we tried for 15 years.” After first being grateful for the belated tip, Paul went ahead. For whatever reason his plot proved fruitful and he had bumper crops of the plump and juicy favourites showing up with pleasing regularity.

Over the years a home-made wine had been enjoyed and in 1990 Paul looked into the possibility of taking the hobby commercial. He met with licensing roadblocks before getting a more supportive response after repeated tries.

The steep tax rates and regulations continued to hold him back until about six years ago when the situation got more accommodating.

“When they dropped the taxes and more or less made everybody equal I started working on this again,” Paul explained.

A pipefitter/welder by trade, Paul has advanced his enterprise in carefully-planned stages, avoiding the potential pitfalls of credit along the way.

“I’d go out... construction... make some money and buy a tank,” he described, “go back out again and work for another three or four months and buy something else.”

Instrumental in the operation are Paul’s wife Irene, his son Greg and daughter Stefani.

“We’re in full production now and getting extremely good results,” Paul said with a smile.

Full production, at this point amounts to 4,500 litres per year, the amount required under the licensing arrangement. It’s in Paul’s plans to double that number in the next year or so.

Paul Koodrin says there are eight outlets where his product is in stock, and that all eight are pleased with the Heron Ridge product. Locally the blueberry wine is available at Castlegar’s Uptown Liquor Store, Nelson’s Hume Hotel and the Taghum Shell.

The Legacy Liquor Store at the Olympic Village in Vancouver is another location and the reception has been very positive according to manager Darryl Lamb.

“It’s really tasty,” Lamb related by phone on Sept. 24. “You don’t often see blueberry wine because blueberries tend to be a little more expensive fruit, like raspberries.”

The buzz at the Vancouver outlet is all good.

“It’s an exciting product,” Lamb concluded. “We’re going to be doing some tastings down here soon. People are really interested because blueberry juice has the anti-oxidants.

“You already get lots of anti-oxidants in wine... but with the blueberries it’s a double amount.”

Drive-by business is welcome as well, with a tasting room newly set up at the Thrums operation.