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Titanic director Cameron buys winery in Comox Valley

COMOX — James Cameron, director of the Oscar-winning Avatar and Titanic, has bought Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery in the Comox Valley, the first such operation started locally about eight years ago, for $2.7 million.
James Cameron wanted to find a Canadian base to pursue a passion for sustainable agri-businesses and "could have gone anywhere," said a source.

COMOX — James Cameron, director of the Oscar-winning Avatar and Titanic, has bought Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery in the Comox Valley, the first such operation started locally about eight years ago, for $2.7 million.

“He has a real interest in organic and sustainable growing and how important farming is for the world,” said Mark Timmermans, the man Cameron tapped to manage the eight acres of grapes and 84 acres of property in Courtenay.

“I was excited about that overall vision.”

Cameron, who grew up in Chippawa, Ont., has been scouring British Columbia for several months to find the best place to set up shop, travelling around Vancouver Island, considering opportunities in the Interior, scoping various islands and evaluating the atmosphere in local towns and cities along the way.

In addition to the winery, Cameron has bought multiple other businesses, including cattle ranching operations, to pursue his passion for sustainable agribusiness.

“He’s hiring people from the local area to do work on the farm,” Timmermans said. He took over from Comox residents Susan and Jeff Vandermolen on Feb. 6.

“We’re actually at the front end of the whole pruning of the vineyard. I want to make a dent in that,” he said before heading out into the field.

On the market for $3.1 million, Beaufort collected 27 medals last year from the International Wine Challenge in London, the All Canadian Wine Championships, and the NorthWest Wine Summit in Oregon.

Though you will find Beaufort wines, such as the 2012 Beau Nouveau Limited Release and the 2011 Blanc de Noir Pinot Noir Rosé, on liquor store shelves alongside the Wayne Gretzky Okanagan and other celebrity-endorsed products, there are no plans to push the already internationally acclaimed blended wines into a serious blockbuster territory.

“We’re going to carry on pretty much business as usual for the next year anyway,” Timmermans said. “We don’t have specific plans at this point to go into other crops.”

The Vandermolens will stay on to help with the transition of the winery over the next year.

Susan Vandermolen said the new owners are just “such a great family,” adding she was a bit surprised by the quick sale.

“We had put it on the market just over a year ago,” she said. “We’re thrilled, of course.”

Cameron is not a stranger to the farming business. He worked on his grandfather’s farm in Ontario when he was young, and recently acquired thousands of acres of land in New Zealand.

He has also made headlines for speaking publicly about becoming a vegan.

According to a source close to the business transaction, Cameron settled on the Comox Valley because of his appreciation for the quality of the community environment, adding this will allow him to spend more time in Canada. “He could have gone anywhere,” the source said. “He is going to become part of that community up there.”

It took several visits for Cameron to come to a final decision on his new Vancouver Island home base.

On one visit, he turned the heads of guests and employees at Crown Isle Resort when he landed on the driving range in a helicopter. Cameron stayed more than once at the location, which was recently named a PGA Tour Canada qualifying school site.

“They were a jovial group,” said Jason Andrew, director of development at Crown Isle, describing the energy he noticed surrounding the Hollywood director as he and others dined in the Timber Room.

Marty Douglas, a managing broker at Re/Max Ocean Pacific Realty, said that because of current economic conditions, now is the perfect time for buyers with deep pockets to get a good deal on local gems.

“It’s a good news story,” he said, noting million-dollar real estate deals have been up on the West Coast recently. “It’s not the sort of thing that pops up at a weekly sales meeting.”

Re/Max has also been shopping 40 Knots Winery to potential purchasers from Asia and Alberta. “Who knew you could have a winery or a distillery on Vancouver Island?” Douglas commented.

“There’s so much more opportunity to produce product here with the development of buying grapes from other locations and blending.”