Ex Nihilo Vineyard changing the trend: from helpless to hopeful

On Saturday Oct. 14, Ex Nihilo Vineyards, in Lake Country, B.C., held an auction during their annual Harvest Dinner that raised $7, 200 for the Canadian Red Cross B.C. Fire Fund.

That same night Ex Nihilo also unveiled an original painting to be auctioned by a local artist, Alex Fong, called Any Way the Wind Blows.

 Jeff Harder, one of the owners of the winery, says that a painting is a good way to get people talking, and be able to take home a keepsake to remember after making a donation.

“It is an interpretation of what was going on in our world,” Harder describes the painting.

Harder says the painting and auction were the “brain-child” of his wife, Decoa, after their own close-encounter with a raging fire on July 15 during a summer concert and celebration at their winery, which shares land with their home.

Every summer Ex Nihilo puts on a sold-out concert, hosting singer Barney Bentall, with customers, friends, and family. This year the celebration held “mixed emotions” for the Harders.

“We are getting ready to sit down for a beautiful dinner.  Barney starts singing Beautiful Night – and we are watching our friends home go up in smoke only a short kilometre away,” recalls Harder.

Harder said their neighbouring friends lost not only their homes, but also their businesses.

One home accommodated a bed and breakfast and the other home belonged to a doctor and his clinic. Harder described a vineyard as similar, saying that more often than not there is a home as well as a place of work, which encompasses “years of labour, heart, and soul.”

“In the background the smoke was billowing above Barney. We didn’t know whether to keep going or cancel the evening.

“The wind was blowing to the east and the south, and we were to the north of the fire, so we decided to continue on with the show.”

Harder said that he never thought of the painting auction idea as a possible “trend,” but that they do plan to have another auction for his brother and others in northern California who are in the midst of recovering from fire disaster.

On Oct. 8 Jeff Harder received a phone call around 10:30 p.m. from his brother James Harder saying, “I think we are going to lose everything,” referring to his home and vineyard, James Cole Winery.

“I just felt helpless. I learned that definition,” relays Jeff Harder.

Fortunately, after many close calls, James Cole Winery survived the fires with minimal damage, but many of their neighbours lost everything. They are presently in the process of testing their grapes to see if they can be used despite the smoke.

Californian, Mike Albrecht, who visited Ex Nihilo this past summer, happens to be one of the firefighters putting out flames in California in the same area as James Cole Winery.

“One of the many rewarding parts of this job is getting the opportunity to lend a helping hand on a hard day – despite socio-economics,” said Albrecht.

Husband and father of two boys, Albrecht said that the good part is that they are “helping others on their worst days,” but leaving home for long periods of time to fight fires can be hard on the firefighters and their families because it leaves them feeling like they are living “parallel lives.”

“It’s funny how there’s this ‘6 degrees of separation,’ and how things can be big in one way and small in another,” reflects Harder.

The feeling of powerlessness is what inspired Jeff and Decoa Harder to do what they could to help, trying to change feeling “helpless” to “helpful.”

“If somebody was going to jump off a bridge I would talk them out of it, I could do nothing at the time.”

The couple, who have three children together, and Jeff three more children from a previous marriage, know all too well the feelings of fear when it comes to business, home, and family. Harder says the variables and unknowns of parenting are sometimes similar to growing grapes.

“We are the gardeners – keeping our eye on the plant.”

This past spring was not Ex Nihlo’s first close call escaping natural disaster, nor was it the last. In fact, just the previous night the Harder family did not have power in their home because of a windstorm. They have also experienced flooding in the early years that took out many of their newly planted grapevines.

“A ‘puff of smoke’ is a guy losing everything he has ever worked for,” said Jeff Harder.

“Fortunately here in Kelowna we didn’t lose any lives (this summer); in California, there have been losses of lives – and many missing.”

Jeff Harder said that he hears of people in Third-World countries dying everyday because of starvation and famine, and that perhaps it is time for our first-world to start paying attention and not take so much for granted.

“It is just natural acts? It is just a weather pattern in our earth that’s come about? I don’t know, but we are here, we endured and suffered, and we are doing all we can do to help,” said Jeff Harder.

Jeff Harder said that fires are unpredictable and can “jump,” which is frightening when a fire is close. He said there are many mixed emotions of grief and relief when one hears of a family losing everything, and another avoiding disaster.

He compared to it a hospital saying, “There are people having babies and there are cigars and popping corks, and on another floor there are children dying.”

“It changes who you are,” says Jeff Harder as he takes a bite of the cookie his wife, Decoa, made the previous night over a fire because of the loss of power in their home.

“So good.”

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