Cowichan style wine and marble with the Zanatta siblings

Cowichan style wine and marble with the Zanatta siblings

Loretta and Ivo Zanatta carry on family traditions with two separate businesses

  • Sep. 23, 2019 7:30 a.m.

– Story by Sean McIntyre Photography by Don Denton

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Though Dionisio and Claudia Zanatta would find things a tad different these days, it’s easy to imagine smiles crossing their faces if they could see what’s become of their once-humble Glenora farmhouse and their children’s efforts to bring a little piece of the old country to the Cowichan Valley.

“This is where it all began,” says Ivo Zanatta, during a lunch of homemade tagliatelle pasta topped with a cream sauce and summer chanterelles at the winery, now run by his sister Loretta, that still bears the family’s name.

Back when Dionisio planted their first rows of grape vines in the 1960s, the Vigneti Zanatta acreage was still a working dairy farm, though it’s easy to imagine the family convening for meals outside overlooking this scenic corner of the Cowichan Valley on warm summer afternoons.

Dionisio’s early efforts began as a hobby. When he noticed striking similarities between the climates of the Cowichan and his homeland, his penchant for winemaking transformed into a full-blown passion. The property would go on to become an integral setting for the testing of many European grape varietals, with much of the research conducted by Loretta while she studied agriculture at UBC. In the early 1990s, the vineyard became the region’s first official government-designated winery, making the Zanattas Vancouver Island’s “first family of wine.”

What their parents may find equally hard to fathom if they caught a glimpse of the farm these days is how the boutique winery attracts visitors from around the world, boasts a restaurant that rivals the best of Italian home cooking and is the source of Damasco, the best-selling white wine in the Cowichan Valley.

“I find that people who are touring the Cowichan are pretty adventurous,” says Loretta Zanatta, whose passion for agriculture, experimentation and lesser-known grape varietals come alive when she begins to talk of Siegerrebe and Zweigelt. “They are just open for new experiences. We get a lot of very athletic people, both palate-wise and otherwise.”

Dionisio and Claudia found this corner of the Cowichan Valley in the 1950s. As the story goes, Dionisio’s company was downsizing and management asked him to relocate to San Fransisco. Having travelled independently from north-eastern Italy to settle in Vancouver, Dionisio and Claudia had only just recently met and started a family. With an infant in tow and another on the way, Claudia vetoed any move to the United States. The family cast their hopes for the future to Vancouver Island, settling on a 120-acre farm tucked away in a corner of the Cowichan Valley. Other than the Glenora General Store and gas pump across the road, it was only the young Zanatta family surrounded by a few modest farms carved out of the towering forest.

The patio at Zanatta overlooks a section of vineyard that Dionisio dubbed “the library.” It’s a living record of nearly all grape varietals planted on the property since the family’s arrival. Surrounding the library of vines are rows of gorgeously gnarled fruit trees.

Once the last of the tagliatelle is devoured, Ivo discreetly leaves the table. Minutes later he returns, hands filled with soft, juicy figs harvested from a tree planted by his father.

“Dessert is served,” he says while handing out the freshly picked fruits.

There’s little that’s more quintessentially Italian than lunch al fresco overlooking a vineyard from a lush patio garden. But wait, there’s more. The winery’s walkways, tiles and tabletops are crafted from fine marble quarried from sources near Lake Cowichan and Tahsis. Even the stones that line the garden’s bright and aromatic lavender beds are leftover marble chips.

“It’s the only marbled quarried west of Ontario,” Ivo says.

While Loretta and her husband, Jim Moody, have been fulfilling Dionisio’s passion for grapes, Ivo has been following up with his father’s vision for stone. From its beginnings in 1980 as a small family business geared to supplying Vancouver Island residents with marble and granite dimensional stone, Matrix Marble has been thrust onto the global stage.

On a tour of the company’s showroom and worksite along Highway 1 before lunch at the winery, Ivo reveals great monoliths and ornate carvings destined for the newly redesigned Canadian Senate building in Ottawa, modernist countertops built for Canada Goose retail locations in cities around the world and massive slabs of rock headed to corporate office towers in Vancouver and Calgary.

“We’ve seen just a massive growth in the demand for local product because more people have an interest in Canadian materials,” he says. “Before, it was always Italian, Chinese or Indian, but now there’s more and more interest in these local products. The 100-mile diet applies just as well to stone and building materials as it does to food and drinks.”

Ivo acquired the knowledge and knowhow of stonework while watching his father execute his day job. Today, Matrix Marble employs 24 full-time workers, and Ivo oversees the entire production process from quarrying to countertop.

Much like his sister has done at Vigneti Zanatta, Ivo has taken a great idea and run with it. Refusing to remain still, the siblings have each developed ways to continually evolve and refine the products they offer. Whether it be the local Black Carmanah Marble or Zanatta’s refreshing Champagne-style wines, the siblings have carried over the hopes and dreams of a first-generation Italian immigrant couple and helped redefine a landscape that’s deeply rooted in Vancouver Island.

“We’ve survived,” says Ivo. “We may not be the biggest, but we’ve both survived.”

Survived and thrived.

Mom and dad would definitely raise a glass to that — cin cin!

AgricultureFood and Wine

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nick Warmerdam and his dog Diesel are inviting locals to check out the Lakeland Farm U-pick Flower Farm this spring. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
VIDEO & SLIDESHOW: Abbotsford’s Lakeland Flowers opens for spring

Tulip farm attraction opened on April 14, open to the public daily seven days a week

A man holds a child while speaking with RCMP following an erratic driving incident on Highway 1 in Chilliwack on Friday, April 16, 2021. The child and a woman (but not this man) were in this Jeep Grand Cherokee which hit a barrier and a parked car on Highway 1 and continued driving. The vehicle finally exited the highway at Yale Road West and came to a stop. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Video captures woman driving erratically with child after hitting barrier, car on Hwy 1 in Chilliwack

Smoke seen coming from SUV as it continues to travel eastbound of shoulder of highway

Video image
UPDATE: Bridge traffic moving normally after high-velocity crash involving logging truck

Northbound crash occurred at approximately 2 p.m., involves 6 vehicles, north lanes shut down

An undated picture of the Hope Station House. (Photo/Save The Hope Station House)
Hope council must consider all options for Station House: B.C. Ombudsperson

Investigation ‘revealed flaws in District’s process,’ statement said

The West Coast Women’s Show is among numerous events held annually at Tradex in Abbotsford. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Show producers start petition against city’s call for Tradex proposals

Abbotsford site should remain as events facility, petition states

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

Former Pitt Meadows city councillor David Murray was convicted of sex assault, and is now being sued by the victim. (files)
Former Pitt Meadows city councillor sued for sex assault

David Murray was convicted in 2017 of sexually assaulting a teen 25 years earlier

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Most Read