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A Napa Valley winery in North Vancouver
An exclusive award-winning winery is well hidden among warehouses and autobody shops in North Vancouver.
There’s no sign on the nondescript, one-storey building and the blinds are drawn tightly shut. It’s nearly impossible to notice, easily mistaken for storage space or empty offices.
The low-lying building is disguised on purpose; the wine is only for members of California Cult Classics, a high-end club making bottles that routinely win competitions against the very best from Napa Valley.
The inside is a startling contrast from the exterior; hardwood floors, plush leather chairs, a Louis Vuitton purse on the desk, hundred-dollar wine bottles on the shelves.
The concept is simple – to recreate the best Napa Valley wine in Canada.
Grapes are transported in refrigerated trucks from California vineyards to the winery within 36 hours, fermented for six to 18 months, then poured into custom bottles, all in the 7,400-square-foot building.
The oak barrels, which cost $1,400 each, are used only once so the wine can absorb the most intense flavours and then are sold to vineyards in B.C.
The winery is technically a U-vin because members are involved in the process, adding the yeast themselves and bottling their own wine, but that’s about all it shares in common with typical make-your-own-wine operations.
“We want the absolute best. We have a philosophy of no compromise,” Frank Gigliotti, California Cult Classics’ owner and winemaker, tells The Outlook on a tour last week.
He passes by dozens of oak barrels in a large room at the back of the building that produce 24 cases each. At around $10,000 a barrel, or $35 a bottle, wine of this quality is a steal if you can afford to buy a half or whole barrel, like most club members do.
“Our wines compete with the best in the world,” says Gigliotti. “Against bottles priced anywhere from $150 to $400 or $500.”
And that they do. The American Wine Society ranked his wine best in category five times. Most recently, he won best merlot from Napa and Sonoma valleys.
“Nobody believes us, but we did win these tastings,” says Gigliotti proudly.
That’s exactly why he doesn’t advertise his business. Most members hear about it through word of mouth because, after all, it’s difficult to trust such high quality wines can be produced in a light-industrial area of North Vancouver.
Gigliotti has a long list of jobs on his resume before opening California Cult Classics in 2005, including president of the B.C. Lions, VP of an import/export company and marketing manager for Columbia Records, working closely with artists including Billy Joel, Celine Dion and Bruce Springsteen. Not to mention owning and operating Panache Entertainment, a studio and recording company in North Van.
He’s been making his own wine for the last 25 years, for only close friends at first. After falling in love with Napa vineyards back in the late ‘80s, Gigliotti decided he wanted to make wine professionally but didn’t want to leave Vancouver. So, eight years ago, he opened California Cult Classics, “a Napa valley winery operating right here in North Vancouver” under a U-vin licence.
He now has 500 members, including Mike Gillis, the Canucks’ general manager who had the team sign bottles with their logo. Most members are from North and West Van, but they hail from throughout the Lower Mainland, paying a one-time fee of $500 and $250 a year after that.
Back in the fermentation room, a bunch of grapes have just arrived from Napa Valley.
“It’s the best grape growing region in North America, if not the world,” says Gigliotti, pouring a sample of his rich, tropical chardonnay from Beckstoffer Carneros Creek Vineyard. “We have a ‘no compromise’ approach. These are the top, top, top grapes available.”
He uses the same grapes, for instance, in his cab sauv as Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon, a $400 bottle from Napa Valley.
“Our objective is to make the best wines in the world, ones that you’re proud to put on anyone’s table,” says Gigliotti, “And we’re definitely doing it.”
California Cult Classics is located on Roosevelt Avenue in North Vancouver. Look closely or you’ll miss it.