From farmhand to winery owner, but Karnail Singh Sidhu does not drink alcohol

Karnail Sidhu has been an electrical engineer, a new immigrant and a farmhand. He has now emerged as an award-winning Okanagan winemaker – one who doesn’t drink alcohol. Navneet Alang captures his story for The Globe and Mail

| Canada | 6 July 2017 | Asia Samachar |
Kalala Organic Estate Winery owner Karnail Sidhu began his wine-making career after immigrating to Canada in 1993, when he found his first job working in a vineyard. – PHOTO THE GLOBE AND MAIL / COURTESY OF SARAN GANAN

Kalala Organic Estate Winery’s 2012 Dostana cabernet sauvignon is a robust wine, with a strong tannic backbone. It’s not cheap at $45, but it has more humble origins than its tasting notes or price suggest.

The British Columbia winery is owned by Karnail Singh Sidhu, who arrived from India in the mid-1990s and, a short while later, was having lunch at an Okanagan vineyard where he had picked up work doing general labour.

The story of how he went from farmhand to winery owner reads as if it came from a brochure selling Canada to prospective immigrants. It also has a curious twist: Sidhu doesn’t drink alcohol. The award-winning winemaker smells and tastes everything he makes – but almost always spits it out.

Sidhu immigrated to join two brothers, and he worked alongside them at that first farmhand job. Knowing little about viticulture at the time, one brother suggested this wine thing was something to consider. “After all,” says Sidhu, relating his brother’s musings, “these people are selling bottles of juice for 12 or 15 dollars: that’s not a bad business to get into.”

What could have been a throwaway joke planted a seed in Sidhu’s mind. Although he had trained as an electrical engineer in the northern Indian state of Punjab, he found upon immigrating to Canada in 1993 that his qualifications weren’t accepted here. Casting about for options, he found his first job working in a vineyard.

“Being from Punjab, another field we thought we could very good in was farming,” says Sidhu, whose father was a farmer. Agriculture is such a fundamental part of Punjabi culture and folklore that he was taught farming basics in high school.

Sidhu heard about work in the Okanagan Valley, and moved his family first to Penticton and then Kelowna, finally finding steady work at Summerhill winery. There, his work ethic so impressed his superiors that they sent him for viticulture training at a local college, before promoting him to vineyard manager, a job he held for 10 years.

Formal training aside, Sidhu was also able to learn the nuances of wine making there, forming a close friendship with then Summerhill winemaker Alan Marks, who has since gone on to help many wineries, including Kalala.

“I knew that Karnail had a passion for agriculture and grape growing,” says Marks, who has a PhD in oenology (the study of wines) and food science.

“I knew he would do a great job.” The connection between the two men lasted: Dostana, the winery’s premium label, means friendship in Hindi and was named so for their rapport.

Sidhu’s next step was to buy vineyards, where he first grew grapes that he sold to other wineries.

But, by 2006, he had established the fledgling Kalala Organic Estate Winery, which began selling wine under its own label in 2008.

Today, the wines are widely available, predominantly in private stores in British Columbia, with a small amount sold online and going overseas to China and India. The winery has also expanded from shipping 700 cases in its first year to 20,000 in 2016, and sells both table and premium whites and reds, as well as icewines.

Sidhu’s abstinence pertains to an allergy to alcohol, not Sikhism’s proscription on booze. And though Kalala might seem unique in the wine world, he is far from being the lone Indo-Canadian in the B.C. wine industry.

There are the Dhaliwal brothers at Kismet Winery, Gary and Surjit Deol at Deol Wines, and others, many of whom share a similar path from an agricultural background in India to wine in British Columbia.

FOR FULL STORY, GO HERE. (The smell of success; The Globe and Mail, 4 July 2017)


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