Alex Nichol: Swapping professions for hobbies and hobbies for professions

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
March 9th, 2011

From career musician to vintner and back again, Alex Nichol of the Selkirk Camerata has run the gamut and will be bringing both of his crowd pleasing projects to The Rouge Gallery on March 19th for the latest installment of the Rouge Music series. Filling the acoustically-blessed hall with the sounds of two violins and a double bass, the trio, put together from the ten-member Camerata, will share wine, chocolate, music and good cheer with the lucky audience.

 Wendy Herbison  (violin), Vic Neufeld (violin)and Alex Nichol (double bass) will be performing a musical journey through history with Baroque and classical works for string trio.

Nichol’s journey leading up to this event has been an interesting one indeed in which he swapped his hobby for his career and his career for his hobby. Now retired and living the good life in Nelson, Nichol began his journey with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra when he, along with trio-mate Wendy Herbison, joined the ensemble full time. Shortly thereafter, a serendipitous chain of events began leading him to his next career.

Shortly after they married, Nichol’s wife was finishing up duties at Carleton University in Ottawa, occasionally commuting back and forth to Vancouver to be with her new husband. During that time Nichol took up residence in Vancouver with his mother in law.

“Her mom liked a glass a wine in the evening so when I’d come home from a concert we’d have a tickle,” recalled Nichol. “She made her own port. I thought “Hey, I should get into making something like this.””

Starting with fruit wines and different flowers a new hobby emerged and Nichol became as a home-vintner. By the time he chose to take a sabbatical year from the VSO in 1979 he had three or four barrels of wine on the go at any one time in his basement.

During that year he studied with a base player in the UK. With some free time on his hands he looked into taking some sort of continuing education course. Building on his winemaking hobby he took a wine-merchant’s course prior to moving back to Vancouver.

In 1989, when the VSO declared insolvency, the opportunity to move in a new direction presented itself and within several months of looking at a property in Naramata, Nichol’s real estate agent called back to say the property next door to the one he had looked at was on the market. Serendipity literally had picked up the phone and called him.

Rom 1989 to 2006 he successful ran the Nichol winery and vineyard, putting his musical career on the back burner. Indeed his hobby had become his new profession. Alas, 17 years into the project he and his wife were looking to retire and became victims of their own success and the success of the region. Property values, based in part on the success of the burgeoning wine industry, had risen to a point where when decided where to relocate for retirement, the Okanagan wasn’t the best option–much as they loved the region.

Former symphony mate and long time friend Wendy Herbison who will be joining Nichol and Neufeld on the 19th in Rossland. She had relocated to Nelson during that time and sang the wonders of the region to her friend. Noting that Nelson was a beautiful place with relatively low property values and a thriving music and arts scene that lacked a strong classical presence, Nichol was sold and relocated to his new home. Settling in, he and nine other instrumentalists gathered together to form the musical collective that is the Selkirk Camerata. This super-group doesn’t necessarily play together but rather is a pool of talent to draw from forming various groups among itself to perform at different events around the region and province.

Nichol’s career has now come full circle. The profession he once made a living at became his hobby as his wine making hobby became his career. Now retired from the wine industry he’s jumped full steam back into the musical world and on March the 19th will bring a case of Nichol Winery wine to the trio’s performance at the Rouge.

Throwing some chocolate into the mix, courtesy of The Mountain Nugget, the evening is setting up to be one more in a serious of outstanding cultural events that paint the town red at Rouge with a little Syrah red wine thrown in for good mix.

Categories: Arts and Culture

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