Bernadette’s Take #50
The flying wine and shoe maker
Prudence Mahrer, Naramata, Okanagan Valley B.C.
To understand what kind of person Prudence is, you have to know the following facts:
She was the Swiss Champion in bodybuilding for at least 15 years.
She and her business partners owned two fitness centres in Switzerland. But when she came to Canada, she and husband Beat Mahrer bought an apple orchard.
I repeat: an apple orchard.
When Prudence (60) was looking for a way to do something about her poor English, she decided that the best way to improve it was to train for a pilot’s licence. “Because there were all these multiple choice questions and I learnt a lot of vocabulary”, she says.
Hey, why not? Prudence is right: “There are no Migros language schools in Canada.”
(I am inspired by this: If I want to improve my Spanish, I will take up – no, not bull fighting. But what about flamenco dancing?)
She and Beat had a winery in Naramata B.C. but wine was not enough for Prudence. So she hung up paintings of artists in the wine shop.
Later, she decided she would sell shoes – beside the wine – and opted for fancy stilettos to complement the Shiraz and the Merlot.
Maybe these things happen to you naturally when you are born to Swiss parents in the Zurich Oberland who gave their daughter an old English name.
Prudence and Beat used to travel a lot, especially in America and Canada. But after a few years, they felt like settling down. And because it was more difficult to emigrate to the States, they chose Canada.
During one of their holidays, they had helped a family picking apples in Penticton B.C.
As the entrepreneurial couple was looking for an opportunity in Canada, they bit into the proverbial apple. Prudence says: “We saw an apple orchard and thought: Let’s buy an apple orchard! So we bought it.”
They actually bought it before they had immigrated in 1989. That is how fast they are.
Well, you would not think that bodybuilding or fitness centres prepare you for the business of apple picking.
But Prudence and Beat were not fazed. “A friend in Möhlin told us how to prune trees”, Prudence says. It was a one-week-introduction.
In Canada, friendly neighbours taught them how to spray the trees.
That is how these guys got into the orchard business.
One day, the Mahrers decided to learn to fly. “We both made the private pilot’s licence”, Prudence recounts. “Then we said: “Let’s buy an airplane!”
So they bought a 182 Cessna, a four-seater, one engine machine.
One year later, in 1993, Prudence trained for the commercial pilot licence, too. Why? Yes, you are right. To improve her English even more. She got the licence and more vocabulary. (The Mahrers did not buy a Boeing, though.)
Because one of the hills in their orchard was very steep, too steep for apple trees, they had another of their spontaneous ideas: “Let’s plant grapes!”
That is what they did. Not that they had any knowledge of how to cultivate grapes. But what the heck, thought Prudence: “In Canada, you don’t need a certificate and you don’t have to study this.”
There is virtually nothing that Prudence cannot do. She says that at the time, there were 3 wineries on Naramata Bench, and their winery was number four. Today, according to Prudence, there are 220 wineries in the area.
For two years, they sold wine to the existing wineries. Then they thought: “Let’s have our own winery!”
And they did just that. Not that they knew anything about wine making. They hired a guy who had learnt his trade in Germany. “He became our consultant”, Prudence says. “But Beat was the on-site winemaker.”
“We were pioneers. We had to get our equipment from Switzerland and Germany.”
Their Red Rooster Winery started in 1997. “We became very successful”, Prudence says. “We don’t cut corners, we are very disciplined.”
“I love the marketing of the wine. It has to do with Swiss education.”
(I cannot remember a subject called marketing of wine when I went to school in Switzerland but maybe I had the flu that day.)
Prudence is very creative in marketing the wine. In her first shop, she had a gallery with paintings from local artists. And she is a natural when it comes to attract the right people: “We have so much fun with the costumers when they are coming to our wine shop”, Prudence says. You bet.
So she sold gallons of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz to unsuspecting costumers.
It helped that wine tasting became fashionable in Canada. “Today, it is a must to know about wine and food, especially amongst young people”, Prudence says.
In 2005, the Mahrers sold the Red Rooster Winery to Pellet Estate, Canada’s largest wine company. It had become too big and too successful for the Swiss-Canadian couple.
“For Beat, the decision was okay”, Prudence says. “But I missed it on the second day.”
They still owned 14 acres of grapes. So Prudence thought: “Let’s have a winery again!”
And so she did. Prudence got her Ruby Blues Winery in 2007.
“Our production is 48000 bottles a year. We sell 90 per cent of it in the summer in our store. We want to keep it small.”
And, sure enough, Prudence being Prudence, she had a new idea: “Let’s sell shoes!”
“Everybody does wine and cheese, but nobody does wine and shoes.”
So true. She sells a new design of shoes every year. They are made in Vietnam and their brand name is “Dear Prudence”.
The Beatles must have named their song after her.
You can see the shoes – and the vine – on Prudence’s website
Here are the Can-Swiss Quiz questions for Prudence Mahrer:
What gift do you bring home from Canada (or Switzerland)?
– When I visit my family in Switzerland, I mostly bring some outdoor clothes, if possible with a maple leaf on it.
– Coming back from Switzerland, I always have Swiss chocolate in my suitcase.
What product(s) do you miss most in Canada?
I wish I could find a bratwurst the way they are done at the Swiss soccer games. And Tilsiter cheese or Appenzeller cheese would be a real treat!!!! I would love to find an aromatic Canadian white wine….
Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Swiss men or women?
– Whatever Swiss people are doing, they do it to perfection; they are dressed as if they come out of a magazine. They are most knowledgeable in their job,
and of course they are always on time.
Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Canadian men or women?
Canadian people are pretty much the opposite of what I said about Swiss men and women. They instantly start talking to the next person waiting in a line.
They did it all kinds of jobs for a few years, so they know a bit about every branch.
They live on average 3 years in one place, so they have been all over this big country.
What triggered a culture shock for you in Switzerland or Canada (in one sentence, please)?
– When we wanted to rent an airplane in Switzerland and we heard of the regulations about renting, we asked ourselves how somebody would want to become a pilot.
– After spending two weeks in Switzerland and than going to a restaurant in Penticton, it was a true culture shock.
Which Canadian or Swiss personality fascinates you?
– Since I do not want to go into politics… Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis champion, is well known and has an impeccable reputation abroad which I am proud of.
– Canada produces many musical and sports stars. Not all of them are known in Switzerland, but most likely everybody knows Celine Dion. I saw a show of hers and it was fascinating.