By Pradip Rodrigues
West Kelowna, March 25 (CINEWS): Kalala, a West Kelowna Winery was deemed best in the world for Chardonnay Icewine at the 2016 Chardonnay du Monde Competition (8-11 March), the annual international competition between the best Chardonnay in the world held in France. The 2013 vintage Chardonnay Icewine one among entries from all over the world was selected by 300 international expert judges.
Possibly the only turbaned Sikh in the business
The proprietor and MD of Kalala Organic Estate Winery is the unassuming Karnail Singh Sidhu who does not drink alcohol ever, which never ceases to surprise wine connoisseurs. “I have never liked the taste of alcohol and it has never agreed with me,” says Mr Sidhu, adding that ‘it has nothing to do with religion’. In an exclusive interview with Can-India, the multi-millionaire reveals the secret of his success.
The early days
Karnail Singh Sidhu immigrated to Canada with his brother, sister and parents in 1993. Although his family had a farming background, Karnail had little to do with farming, he hoped to become a Mechanical Engineering given he had a degree, but quickly found it to be quite worthless as it wasn’t recognized. He and his brother resigned themselves to labor at neighboring farms around Surrey picking berries and doing other back breaking farm-related work. “We were told we could find better work in the Okanagan Valley ( home to many of Canada’s best known wineries) We moved there, but after a year, I went back to the Lower Mainland for a year because I still wanted to find work in my field. I got a job placement through the Employment Office which paid me 50 per cent of the salary. That way I could get my Canadian experience,” he said.
Jarnail finally did get a job as a commercial electrician, after completing an advanced electrical course, but around the mid-90s the economy wasn’t doing well and work dried up so he reluctantly went back to Okanagan to work on a vineyard. There was no opportunity in his chosen field, so he decided to get into another field quite literally and boy, did he hit paydirt?
He put down roots in a vineyard
He decided to put down roots and resolved that if it was going to be agriculture and not engineering as he intended, it had to be done right. “We were not a rich family, I had to prove myself and become successful,” he said. He joined Summerhill Pyramid Winery where he was given the opportunity to grow. “I took a course in Verticulture from Okanagan College (Verticulture is about producing food, flowers and herbs in small, manageable spaces using readily available tools and techniques) He worked his way up to field manager. I learned about wine making and organic farming.
He bought his first winery in 2001
While working at Summerhill, he along with his family brought a 10-acre winery in 2001. The next year another 10 and by 2005 the winery was 30 acres. “Most of my time was spent at my job at Summerhill and I realized if I had to make our winery successful, I had to work full time so I quit Summerhill after working there for ten years,” he said.
A united family venture
Today Karnail and his family oversee an 80 acre fruit farm, some owned, some leased. His wife Narendra whom he married and brought over to Canada in 1998 handles the books and accounts. She too held a Mechanical Engineer degree but plunged into the business and has ably assisted Karnail as he continuously grows his winery and expands his horizons. “She is the one who holds the fort and keeps me well-fed. I have two daughters 17 and 10 who I hope may follow us into the family business but I don’t believe in pressuring them. I am blessed, I am a lucky man,” he says.
Hard work is the secret of his success
While success like his Chardonnay Icewine is sweet, it also involves plenty of sweat. Karnail still puts in 12 to 14 hours at work every day. “My dad instilled in me the importance of hard work. He always said, ‘Land and money isn’t important, your health is important and people should respect you and take you at your word,” he said.
A multi-millionaire in in 2008
By 2008 Karnail became a millionaire several times over. His land holdings itself is worth millions and the Kalala brandname is currently estimated to be valued at around $3 million dollars.
Keep learning continuously
Like so many successful South Asians, the Sidhus have shunned the spotlight. Despite winning several medals for their wines over the years, they’ve never blown their trumpet. But now that their Chardonnay Icewine has been judged to be the best in the world, it is hard to escape the spotlight. In the highly competitive wine business, one cannot be complacent. And while Kalala winery enjoys an enviable reputation and brings in healthy profits, the Sidhu family has not put all their grapes in one basket. They also run an Insurance Agency they bought in 2009, it is run by his brother in the Lower Mainland. But Karnail’s passion and focus is his winery. “Making money is good, but I am more interested in constantly improving my wines through new techniques. It is a matter of keeping on learning all the time,” he said. And that is the key to his continuing success!