Column: Death of winery founder offers an opportunity to reflect

Inge Violet, who passed away March 13, came to Langley from Europe with her husband and saw potential for wine production in the Valley

The death of Inge Violet marks a good opportunity to reflect on the dramatic changes that have come to Langley’s agricultural landscape and economy since she and her husband Claude moved here from Europe in 1981 to establish the Fraser Valley’s first winery.

She passed away of cancer on March 13 at the age of 80, and was remembered by her family and many friends at a funeral service on Friday. She will be missed by many.

Claude Violet (who passed away several years ago) came from a French family who had been wine makers for generations.

He and Inge, who was born in Germany, sold their winery in France in 1975 and began to look for other places in the world where grapes could be grown and wine produced.

They visited the Okanagan, California and Ontario, but eventually decided that wine grapes could be successfully grown in the Fraser Valley, if the right microclimate could be found.

In the early 1980s, this emphasis on microclimates was almost completely unknown in most agricultural circles.

They found a site on 216 Street that they felt was ideal for the growing of certain varieties of wine grapes.

In 1981, they began planting grapes on what became the Domaine de Chaberton Winery property, and quietly began a revolution.

Domaine de Chaberton, under the guidance of the very experienced Violets, was soon growing superb wine grapes and by 1991 it was producing wonderful wines.

The first output that year was 3,000 cases. Now, under owners Eugene Kwan and Anthony Cheng, it produces more than 50,000 cases per year.

When the Violets started making wines, no one thought wine could be produced from Fraser Valley grapes.

Keep in mind that at the time they first planted grapes in South Langley, most Canadian-produced wines were substandard in quality, and much of the output of wineries (most of which were large, corporate-owned facilities) was tied to quotas imposed by grape marketing boards.

When the U.S.-Canada free trade agreement was signed in 1987, there were widespread predictions that the end of the Canadian wine industry was near.

Instead, it changed and flourished.

The Violets were a big part of that revolutionary change, as much of the industry’s thinking shifted to what they had already been working toward — producing outstanding Canadian wine.

Their success inspired many others, both in the Fraser Valley, on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan.

The superb bistro at Domaine de Chaberton proved that pairing good food with good wines produced at the winery premises was a winning concept, and that wine and other forms of agri-tourism were a new and successful way to bring in significantly more dollars to the agricultural sector.

Other wineries followed their lead and opened in Langley. In addition, longstanding farms such as Krause Berry Farms and JD Turkey Farms, operated by current Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese, his wife Debbie and their family, began to pursue ways to attract people to their farms and highlight their products.

Other existing farm operations, such as Aldor Acres and numerous Christmas tree farms, found new ways to bring in customers and turn a visit to a Langley farm into a tourism experience for all ages – and to add to the farm’s bottom line.

This increase in agri-tourism also benefited agricultural-related businesses such as Otter Co-op and other local businesses.

It spawned wine passport and other tourism and marketing programs, and drew people from the urban areas of Metro Vancouver to rural Langley in increasing numbers.

The successes experienced by the pioneers of agri-tourism inspired others and the shape and variety of agriculture in Langley changed dramatically. Events such as the Fort Langley Cranberry Festival brought in thousands of tourists. The Langley Farmers Market opened other possibilities for the farm sector, and served to connect farmers with the ultimate consumers of their produce.

A pebble tossed into a pond creates a ripple effect. Claude and Inge Violet were at the forefront of a significant revolution in Langley’s agricultural economy, one that has also changed agriculture in many other parts of B.C.

It is important to remember and salute their significant contribution.

They made Langley a much richer place in so many ways.

— Frank Bucholtz is a retired editor of the Langley Times. Check out his Frankly Speaking blog here.

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