Pass the slouching log cabin and patio corral and mosey up to the tasting saloon with the buggy out front. Step inside and jump to back in time with the saddle seats, player piano and fruit boxes full of wine. Shelves above are lined with antique containers. Walls are covered with sepia toned prints. Western film clips run on a loop. The only thing missing is sawdust on the wood floor.
Bruce Fuller is the marshall ‘round these parts, in case you can’t tell by his 10 gallon hat. He bought the spread in 2007 with a desire to embrace the history of Oliver and has since become immersed in it. He built the winery/saloon to match the history of the house, which is over 100 years old and was moved, log by log, from another part of the valley by the previous owner, a former miner.
In keeping with the history thing, Rustico is one BC’s few producers of zinfandel, that all-American grape that has kicked around California for 150 years, a favorite of the 49ers. (The gold miners, not the football team.)
The zinfandel is what caught my eye on the Rustico signs on Hwy 97 while we drove around Oliver, dealing with our investment house on Fairview Road. The weekend we took possession of the house, I sent some friends out to reconnoiter this raconteur, to find out if his zin was any good. They brought back a bottle of Bonanza Zinfandel and news that the Rustico guy was looking for us.
Not us, really. Just our piano.
As it happened, with the purchase of this house we inherited an antique upright piano. That weekend we moved in, our agent presented us with a dossier of the piano’s provenance, full of pages pulled from the Internet.
From that we learned the piano was manufactured by R.S. Williams and Son of Toronto sometime between 1890 and 1902, and it was played at Summerside YMCA Men’s Club during WWII. Previous to that, our agent told us, it had been played at the Golden Gate Hotel before it burned down around the turn of the century. The daughter of the woman who’d owned the piano was still alive.
But it wasn’t until we were able to spend more than one night in Oliver, the week after new year’s, that we were able to further investigate the piano, as well as Rustico.
Fuller was ecstatic to hear from us. Once we’d settled into his tasting saloon’s saddle stools, with tumblers of Isabella’s Poke 2008 Pinot Gris in our hands, he told us the story.
In the early 1900s Georgiana Evans was a piano teacher in the town of Fairview, the precursor of Oliver, located just up the road from our house. Once a week the miners from the surrounding hills came to town, loaded Georgiana’s (now our) piano into a buckboard wagon and rolled it up to the Golden Gate Hotel’s Bucket of Blood Saloon so she could play it for the dancing miners. Georgiana’s daughter Agnes, now 94, was a child at the time and accompanied her mother to these gigs. The rest of the week, Georgiana gave piano lessons.
Fuller likes to choose his wine names according to local legend – women for whites, of course – and he tells their stories with historical embellishment.
For the Pinot Gris, he says, “It’s the story of Isabella, playing piano at a saloon and looking for a miner with a poke of gold, and the miner who just wanted to poke her.”
Wait until you hear the Saloon Sally story.
As a member of the Oliver Heritage Society, Fuller was offered an antique player piano and he accepted it into his tasting saloon hoping it was Georgiana’s piano. Then, he found Agnes and asked her to come out to identify the piano. She came, but it wasn’t her mom’s piano.
However, what Fuller did learn, over glasses of wine, was that Agnes and her daughter were both painters and members of the local Sagebrushers group of artists. Fuller had some extra space on the second floor of the winery/saloon and was thinking it would make a lovely art gallery. At that meeting, they cracked a plan to open the Quail’s Roost Art Gallery at Rustico winery.
In May of 2011 the gallery opened. Fuller even put in an electric lift on the stairs to accommodate the 94 year-old Agnes. His dream still, was to find the original Isabelle piano so that Agnes could play it during gallery events.
Then our friends walked in his door and told him where to find it.
For Art’s Sake
So, after a wine-soaked conversation with Fuller, we have decided to place the Georgiana piano on indefinite loan at Rustico winery so that it may be played by the woman who learned on it nearly a century ago. The piano still sounds good, but it may need a tuning after it takes a bumpy ride up Rustico’s long driveway.
Stay tuned for a review of some of the Rustico wines we rustled up that day. Until then, check out my review of the Zinfandel.
Much obliged, partner.