Clinton Lee and Serena Lu at their Vinoscenti Vineyards, on Colebrook Road in Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Clinton Lee and Serena Lu at their Vinoscenti Vineyards, on Colebrook Road in Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Love in the air at Surrey’s first land-based winery, reno’d and renamed

Vancouver couple works to revive winemaking with Vinoscenti Vineyards signage

“The plants are dancing in the wind now, moving to the rhythm of the sounds of the romance and love people are starting to share.”

With that bit of impromptu poetry, Clinton Lee pointed to grapevines that grace the winery he rebuilt, renamed and opened earlier this summer, on a plot of land not far from the Serpentine River in Surrey.

He and his wife, Serena Lu, have put their passion for wine into Vinoscenti Vineyards, located on 13 acres formerly known as River’s Bend winery, on Colebrook Road.

From the start, the renovation project was a challenge.

“The worst winter we had in something like 70 years, that had an issue with our timing,” Lee explained with a laugh. “We would have liked to achieve more here since then, but we really didn’t have the time. The weather was not permitting, and maybe the wine gods had a reason for that. So we shall bow down to their superior knowledge and, like all good things in the world, it takes a little bit of time.”

Lee, South African by birth, and Lu, born and raised in Taiwan, have to come this part of Surrey to make and sell wine, of course, but also to welcome the community to what they accurately call the city’s first winery.

Officially, they opened their doors during a grand-opening event in mid-July, when close to 400 people had a closer look at Vinoscenti and its offerings. They’ve also planned a number of special events for the summer and fall months, including paint nights, tastings and concerts.

“People who’ve come here this summer are very generous in their praise, and a lot of them are residents from the surrounding area,” Lee said. “A number of them said they had been here before and were more than pleasantly surprised to see the renaissance and change, the transformation here. I told those people to please see this as extension of your gardens, for them to come back and bring their friends.”

The winery’s roots date back to 1995, when vines were first planted there by Court and Annette Faessler, the original owners of River’s Bend. The property, bought and sold at least a couple of times, fell into a “dark period” in recent years, as the Our Story section of the Vinoscenti website suggests.

In January of this year, Vancouver residents Lee and Lu began their ongoing work to revive winemaking on the site, which has been “improved, renovated, refurbished,” in Lee’s words.

”We’re certainly the first Surrey winery, genuinely the first – and when I say genuine, I mean land-based,” Lee explained. “There are other wineries that are commercial but they don’t have actual land. We are the first. And that has a special cache for the community.

“Of course, Langley has wonderful vineyards, they do, and they’re highly respected, I respect them,” he continued. “I’ve tried their wines, and it’s important that we embrace this as the Fraser Valley and we’re on the outskirts, right – as a community, as an industry, then everyone does well.

“We want to make Surrey feel proud, because we have our own winery,” he added. “While we love you, Langley, we have our own, and I think it’s been far too long that we’ve been in the doldrums. We want to be that destination, and not just to drink wine. We are much more than that. We happily try our best to create this destination spot for a variety of people and events.”

At Vinoscenti, a section of vineyard has been cleared for wedding ceremonies, with enough space for a band to stand on a wooden stage built there. Overlooking the area is a deck where Lee and Lu hope to serve food and liquor to visitors, if and when their license application is approved.

In the vineyard itself is the makings of a Via dell’Amore, or “path of love” – a place where couples can stroll as part of a tour. Love “locks” are clipped to a chainlink fence, name-adorned river stones are placed under vines (to help radiate heat stored from sunlight) and a chalkboard will be built for people to write romantic messages.

“On these paths we’ve created, people can explore the five stages of romance,” Lee said. “These are different stages of love – turns and twists that we’ve all been through. So people can reflect on those changes in their lives, the different stages of love.”

Lu nodded in agreement as we stood in a grassy area filled with pinwheels, designed to spread “good luck,” and Lee continued.

“We want people to come out to the vineyard here, to explore, because it’s true, there’s just such a romantic aura on a stroll like this, in and around the grapevines,” he suggested. “People can sit on the patio and see the vines gently dancing in the wind, a tango as the winds change. But to come out here in the vineyard, it’s something unique for people, because guests can get only so excited about seeing stainless-steel tanks and some oak barrels. So we really wanted to make this an engaging place, where people can come and walk.”