Steady hand had many tasks
Calming influence of Connie Bielert helped frequently fractious grapegrower association get through its formative years.
By Judie Steeves T
here were just four or five major wineries in B.C. to which growers could sell when Connie Bielert began working for the B.C. Grapegrowers’ Association in May, 1980. When she retired last year, she’d lost count, but it was closer to 300 and possibly more.
Membership in the growers’ association grew too, from 100 or so in those early days, to 700-800 today, although some acreage consolidation has been happening in recent years.
Along the way, Bielert had a hand in the growth of what has become a globally- recognized wine industry, and a
significant table grape sector as well, focused on the Summerland- bred Coronation grape. She began part time as a ‘girl Friday’ for the BCGA, but as the industry went through enormous upheaval, she played many roles, always in the
background. Also recently retired from the industry, grape grower Doug
Sperling of Kelowna, spent many of those same decades on the board, about half as president, and he says Bielert was a constant in an industry that was undergoing massive change.
She knew all the players and knew better what was going on than many in the industry. “With Connie there, common sense prevailed,” Sperling recalls.
Connie Bielert, retired administrator of the B.C. Grapegrowers’ Association.
“She always had the industry’s best interests at heart and she was always quietly there. I’m sure sometimes at meetings she just wanted to blow up, but she just stayed quiet and kept things going.”
Ironically, he and Bielert grew up in Kelowna, and Sperling remembers that
“Connie’s dad worked for mine, but we didn’t really know each other until she joined the grape growers.”
He grew up in the grape industry, went to university and returned to Kelowna with his wife Bev, with whom he’d also gone to school in
Kelowna, but, ironically, met at UBC.
In 1972, they bought land in Kelowna with Sperling’s parents and planted table and wine grapes, like Patricias and Campbells, some labruscas and hybrids.
Then in 1980 or so, his father planted some new varieties bred at the Summerland Research and Development Centre, including Coronation and Sovereign Opal, and Coronation really stood out, so they put in a vineyard of it.
At the time Sperling was president of the grape growers’ association and in those years, he remembers there being a lot of stress about the transition of the industry and the grape pullout program.
“We spent whole days locked up in the office trying to rationalize the industry.”
Sperling had a vineyard to run and a family, so those volunteer hours
British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2016 13
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