Westmount resident and member of The Rotary Club of Westmount Rod de Courcy Ireland may be newer to the city, but he is certainly not a novice in business. He shared his story of the establishing of Black Prince Winery earlier this year with fellow members and guests of The Rotary Club of Westmount.
A career investment specialist, Rod gave it all up at the end of 2005 to follow his heart and go into the wine business… not just buying and selling but actually growing the grapes and producing the wine.
Born in England during the war. Rod’s life has taken him crisscross across the Atlantic from England to Canada and from Ontario to Quebec until he finally settled in Westmount two years ago. While living and working at his father’s stock brokerage firm in Montreal, in 1973 the Opimian Wine Society was founded in Montreal, and his interest in wine began. The Society began as a cooperative wine buying group at a time when the wine lists at the SAQ were less than exciting.
Part of the mass exodus of Anglos to Toronto in 1976, he continued to work in securities with an eye always on the Opimian Society. In 1984 he was appointed Area Representative for the Opimian Society’s Toronto chapter, with some 2800 members. In his volunteer position he was responsible to host tasting dinners 10 to 12 times a year for anywhere from 100 to 125 members depending on the venue and the amount of wine he had available in his Opimian cellar. At one point he had over $75,000 worth of wine in the Opimian Cellar, and about 1800 bottles in his own collection.
In 1989 he retired from the area rep position to join the Board of the Society, first as treasurer and then as president for seven years. During a 25 year period Rod had the opportunity to visit virtually every major wine production country in the world, and in several cases led tours of Opimian members, all the while developing his knowledge of wine exponentially. As president he had the opportunity too to visit all 24 chapters of the growing Society established in every province except the Yukon where he gave tastings in every city. During this time the Society grew from about 11,000 members to nearly 20,000 and the value of their wine orders grew similarly.
In the 1980’s there was a strong interest In Canada to invest in the California wine industry, and the Opimian Trust was formed to take part in the movement, along with many individual members. Typically they took small partnership interests in vineyards and wineries. “At one time we thought we had a bonanza on our hands when Allied Breweries took a $35 million dollar option on one of the properties. Unfortunately recession hit, and the option was dropped. I hate to think what it would be worth today, but the Canadians had exited.”
With the proceeds of the sale of the last property in Carneros in 2000, a group of members decided to invest closer to home and ultimately settled in Prince Edward County, just South of Belleville, Ontario. The following year the group purchased a 50 acre farm on the edge of Picton, near Toronto. The residence was converted to a tasting and retail space, and the barns into the winery. They planted 10 acres of grapes in 2002, and were up and running.The low budget Black Prince Winery was in business.
The winery’s staple red wine is Cabernet Franc, though it does produce Merlot, Pinot Noir and some other blends. Amongst whites are Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Grigio. Some of the grapes are bought in from farmers who may not have a winery operation.
In 2013 Rod expanded the Black Prince Wine business into a unique private label fund raiser/hostess gift program. An organization or an individual supplies the story for the back label on whatever they feel important. The front label will have the name prominently displayed. The retail price is $19.95, and Black Prince Winery donates back $5 per bottle to the organization.
For more information about Black Prince Winery go to http://blackprincewinery.com/