By Mike Williscraft
While motorists are not supposed to text and drive, it may be a good idea to add no taking messages from the Governor General’s office while driving to that list.
“I almost drove off the road,” said Len Pennachetti of the moment when he received word he had been appointed to the Order of Canada.
The formal announcement came Dec. 20.
“The Order of Canada is one of our country’s highest civilian honours. Its Companions, Officers and Members take to heart the motto of the Order: Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam – They desire a better country,” stated the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada’s press release.
Pennachetti, who has been a dominant force on the local wine and tourism scene for decades earned his new status as a “member”, according to the release, “For his key role in developing the Ontario wine industry and for fostering tourism in the Niagara Peninsula region.”
The news was a complete shock to Pennachetti.
“I got a call from Rideau Hall. I was driving. I still remember where I was. I was driving through the valley right here in Jordan,” he recalled, noting the woman who called was one of the governor general’s fact checkers.
“I nearly drove off the road. It was quite an interesting conversation because she knew a lot about me.”
A short time later, some additional information arrived by mail, with two, snowflake lapel pins part of the package.
“I was told I would be allowed to wear them starting yesterday (Dec. 30 when the appointment was announced).
As one might suspect in this current COVID-19 environment, the traditional formal presentation many may be familiar with seeing has been put off.
“They are delaying it. That was made clear in the letter I received with the package,” said Pennachetti.
“It’s indefinite. They have not made any decisions.”
Pennachetti’s drive to grow the fortunes of the wine and tourism sectors ascend far beyond what was his Jordan-centric operations – Cave Spring Cellars and Inn On The Twenty.
In 2017, Inn on the Twenty was sold to Vintage Hotels and its owner Jimmy Lai.
About two years ago, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Niagara Entrepreneur of the Year Award committee.
Key at that time, and a major pillar in his Order of Canada nomination, was Pennachetti’s stellar industry record.
Among his cherished accomplishments: his prized, internationally recognized vineyard for Cave Spring Cellars; the building of Main Street Jordan into a major tourism entity, and; his tenure on the Vintners Quality Alliance board of directors during the time the VQA designation was developed and eventually proclaimed by the provincial government in 2000.
The application process goes far beyond the providing of a career overview. Three nominees have to sign on. Supporting letters from a series of leading industry contacts and formal interviews with those people as well as others are all part of the research and fact checking which goes into reviewing a nomination.
“It’s been over three years since we sold the hospitality side of it. It has worked out well,” said Pennachetti.
“We’ve got a great partnership with Vintage Hotels.”
Going off topic, Pennachetti discussed the serious situation facing that company’s owner at present.
“I never met Jimmy Lai, but it’s just really horrible to think that they just put him in jail today in Hong Kong,” he said last Thursday, Dec. 31.
“In my mind, he’s a freedom fighter and he deserves our support and it’s a shame. That speaks a lot about that company. If he was a Canadian citizen, and I don’t think he is, I would be nominating him right now for the Order of Canada. What he is doing is extraordinary.”
The sale of the hotel was, in part, to allow a full focus and further development of the Cave Spring entity. This meant new and replanted vineyards as well as a new retail operation at their Cave Spring Road site.
The difficulties in the restaurant sector due to COVID-19 have impacted wineries since a major partner of the industry has been largely shut down.
“We’ve had to pivot,” said Pennachetti, noting the importance of the LCBO remaining open to at least maintain a connection to the market for those who sell through that avenue.
That is about the only positive thing he has to say about the LCBO and how the government has wine sales structured and that COVID has forced consumers to buy direct from their favourite winery, a silver lining of sorts.
“We have far better profit margins in that channel, so that’s a blessing but, as you know, we, as an industry, have been arguing for years that we should have direct access to our own market and the explosion of online web store sales has essentially given us a virtual version of what we always wanted.”
“I would change the entire beverage and alcohol system – regulatory and taxation. If you were the minister of finance and you told your deputy minister, ‘Go and design a system which will maximally disadvantage the domestic wine industry, your deputy minister would come back with the LCBO’.”
“We don’t have access to our own customers in our own market, which is just punitive.”
The most recent addition in his arsenal of features is the new tasting room at Cave Spring Winery, located at 4043 Cave Spring Road.
“I was worried one location would cannibalize the other, but that did not happen,” said Pennachetti.
“It’s a totally different experience. We’re so fulfilled to finally have some place to showcase the vineyard because, you know, we’re called Cave Spring for a reason.”
“We’ve always been associated with Jordan, but the average person would have no idea we’ve got 200 acres of vines up there.”
“It’s a thrill for us to showcase it and welcome the public.”