Grow Good Grapes. Make Good Wine.

Ross Hackworth of Nichol Vineyard and Lock & Worth Winery like to keep it nice and natural.

by | Dec 20, 2020 | BC Wine, Farm Life

An illustration of Amy Ho, constellation Inspiration

Matt Sherlock and Ross Hackworth | Photo Abby Wiseman

These days ‘natural wines’ are sought after, but back in 2004, when Ross Hackworth got into winemaking, the trend wasn’t even on the map. Now, Hackworth is the owner and co-owner of two wineries at the forefront of low-intervention BC wines – Nichol Vineyards and Lock & Worth.

Hackworth grew up in Naramata, but it wasn’t until he was in college in the late 80s that he got into winemaking. He was living in Delta next to Portuguese neighbours making “18% screamers” with unknown grapes, so he decided to try his hand at winemaking.

“I got some grapes, and I tried making my own and the first couple months were absolutely horrid, and we just kept going from there,” said Hackworth. “When you’re that age, you walk into a college party with a box of wine, and you are pretty much in.”

Eventually, he got his hands on some better fruit. How corporate life took him away from winemaking until in 2003, on a visit back to Naramata, he caught wind that the Nichols, who previously owned the vineyard, were thinking of selling. 

“I came up, and I said if you are ever serious about selling, I’m thinking of buying,” said Hackworth. “They probably thought I was a corporate weenie looking for a deal, but I left my contact they checked out around, and I guess I checked out.”

At the time, Hackworth was working in the paper industry and was facing a potential transfer to Tokyo. The Nichols agreed to sell the vineyard, and within a few months, Hackworth left his corporate life behind.

It’s hard to imagine, but back then, there were only about nine vineyards on the Naramata Bench, a number that has swelled to over 40 lining the Bench.  From the beginning, Hackworth knew he wanted to differentiate Nichol by focusing on growing good grapes and tampering with the wine as little as possible.

“I don’t want a wine that is just made well. I want a wine that is as close to the grape growing on the vine as possible,” said Hackworth. “You pick the grapes, and you sort of steward them along to make sure it doesn’t go sideways, but that’s it.”

Nichol Vineyard in Naramata. Photo | Abby Wiseman

 ‘Natural’ or ‘low-intervention’ wine differs from the conventional winemaking process by doing as little as possible to the wine. Conventional winemakers will try to keep a consistent flavour year after year, including adding yeast, sulphur, fining agents, oak powder, to name a few. Being a ‘low-intervention’ winemaker means that they’ll do what they can to avoid using additives, which means the wines are a true reflection of the terroir in which they are grown.  

Hackworth has grown Nichol from 900 cases to upwards of 7,000 a year, which Hackworth credits to Matt Sherlock, the director of sales and marketing at Nichol and co-owner of Lock & Worth. He puts the ‘Lock’ in Lock & Worth.

“I intrinsically know good wines, but moving them through the Canadian system is invaluable to me, and he knows how to do it,” said Hackworth. “Matt will make 20 sales calls in a day and then go out and drink bourbon. If I made those sales calls, I would be in the basement with a six-pack – lights off.”

When Hackworth caught wind in 2009 that Poplar Grove was moving out of their original space, he moved fast to lock up the fruit and the facilities. All he needed was a right-hand man. At that time, he had been travelling back and forth to Vancouver and had gotten to know, and like, a few guys from Kits Wine Cellar and Sherlock was one of them.

A portrait of Matt Sherlock and Ross Hackworth

Matt Sherlock is co-owner of Lock and Worth with Ross Hackworth. Photo | Abby Wiseman

“They were great guys  no BS,” said Hackworth. “I was in Vancouver, and I approached Matt and told him I was starting a new venture, and I wanted a partner. It was a big risk for him because everyone wanted to hire him, so there is a lot of potential for employment and a lot of career paths he could have chosen.”

It’s true that at the time, Sherlock had a lot of prospects and was being headhunted by an international wine brand. He worked at Kits Wine Cellar as a manager and had gone for dinner a few times with Hackworth. They had the same views about wine – grow good grapes, make good wine.

Sherlock recalls Hackworth sharing his vision to open a second winery over dinner, then drinks, and more drinks. He was on deadline to give a company his decision about whether or not he wanted to work with them, but the prospect of getting into ownership was incredibly enticing.  

“It’s pretty much impossible to own a winery these days unless you are extremely wealthy,” said Sherlock. “It was a once in the lifetime opportunity.”

“I recall drinking like a fish with him until 2 am,” said Hackworth. “Matt said, let’s go for breakfast, and I just thought his guy was drunk, but the next morning we met for breakfast. We had the conversation and moved forward. Within six or eight months, we had grown the wine by 80 percent.”

Sherlock moved to Naramata, and the two got working on the new winery, initially dubbed Clean Slate. After receiving a letter from an Austrian lawyer who represented a vineyard by the same name, they switched it up and landed on Lock & Worth.

They had the name, the wine, and the minimalist label, now all they had to do was convince the old guard to buy some cloudy wine. 

“I was nervous the first time we sent visibly cloudy wine to Vancouver because 8 or 9 years ago, you were still dealing with the old guard at the front of houses,” said Hackworth. “It had to be textbook, and they didn’t care what you did behind the scene as long as the wines checked the boxes.”

Bottle of Nichol Vineyard wines
Two bottles of Lock & Worth Wine

Nichol and Lock and Worth wines are made with a non-interventionalist approach. Photo credit | Abby Wiseman

Sherlock was confident. He knew the dynamics of the industry were changing, and his predictions were correct. Around the same time, Sherlock started up Sedimentary Wines, which imported hard-to-find natural wines from Europe and had a front-row seat to the shift in tastes.

Lock & Worth has grown to 2500 cases of wine per year, popping up at more progressive restaurants and wine stores. The intention is to remain a small batch operation – keeping the focus, as always, on growing good grapes and making good wine.

“We’re not trying to be cool or anything,”  said Hackworth. “We just want to make wines that are true to our beliefs.”

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Excellent work. Well done you. Bravo.

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