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New blueberry winery ventures into Chinese market

With help from an investor and hard work learning the vines, Frank Shang hopes to be off to the races with a new winery on No. 6 Road.
Frank Shang
Entrepreneur Frank Shang is hoping many more bottles of organic blueberry wine, like the one he’s holding, will be produced at his latest business venture — Sun Way Winery — on No. 6 Road. Photo by Philip Raphael/Richmond News

If you ever wanted to credit someone for coming up with the old saying, “there’s not enough hours in the day,” you may want to bestow the responsibility on Frank Shang.

That’s because the 37-year-old entrepreneur has managed to build his love of plants and trees into a thriving landscaping business and now he is busy setting up a Richmond-based winery, bee-keeping business and a horticulture club.

The multiple ventures has helped earn the native of Harbin, China a spot as a finalist in RBC’s Top-25 Canadian Immigrant Awards.

“I work all day managing the landscaping business and now the winery and bees. And when I get home, it’s time for family. But when they go to sleep, that’s when I start my other job and that’s studying up on my winery operation course,” Shang told the News during a visit to Sun Way Winery which is in the midst of construction on a southern portion of No. 6 Road.

It’s not been an overnight success for Shang, who came to Canada in 2001 with his family and later started MRD Landscaping Inc., a business that earned him the Richmond Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2016.

A business student in China, he toiled at a number of labouring jobs in the Lower Mainland where he learned to operate heavy machinery and forklifts before joining a landscaping firm that presented him with an opportunity to start his own operation in 2006.

“I come from northeastern China where it’s very cold and not many plants — Harbin is near Russia,” Shang said with a laugh. “And when I came to Vancouver, I saw trees and all kinds of plants everywhere and thought this would be a good place for a landscaping business.”

With almost zero knowledge in plants and the landscaping trade, Shang went to night school in Vancouver where he studied horticulture.

Nearly 12 years later, after building up his business and landscaping clientele, Shang is studying how to make blueberry wine.

With the assistance of an investor/friend in China, the winery was established on 10 acres of land that belonged to Bob Fisher, a longtime Richmond blueberry grower. A portion of the property fronting No. 6 Road will house the 6,000-square-foot winery, while the remainder is dedicated to growing organic blueberries, which will be turned into wine. The majority will be exported to China where it is a much sought after product because of its high antioxidant properties.

“Richmond’s soils are perfect for blueberry growing and we have a market already established in China,” Shang said, adding that plans are to open for business this summer and the first bottles exported in winter.

Cost so far to set up the operation has been $2 million for the winery building and equipment, plus $3.5 million for the land, which was bought two years ago.

To help pollinate the blueberry plants, Shang started up his bee business after completing his urban beekeeping program at Vancouver Community College.

“It’s the first organic program in Canada and I got my certificate last year,” Shang said, adding he intends to have a total of six hives, which will also provide blueberry honey that will be sold through the winery.

While it’s yet another business under his care, Shang said his motivation to keep bees came primarily from his interest in helping support the population of pollinators, which is under threat.

“I learned about pollinators and their decline through my landscaping business and thought that since I had the blueberry-growing property, I should try and do something to help the environment,” he said. “And next year, when I have some experience with bee-keeping, I can maybe rent them out to help people pollinate their plants.”

A property adjacent to the winery site will also house Shang’s venture into teaching horticulture, which will be delivered in Mandarin.

“We will have room for about 10 to 15 people who are interested in landscaping and gardening. I am also creating some core programs, such as turf management, blueberry farming, bee-keeping and landscaping solutions,” Shang said, adding he’s keen to help others get into the landscaping business. “We have so much opportunity here. There’s enough for people to share.”

So, where does Shang’s drive come from overseeing so many endeavours?

“I have big dreams, ever since I was young,” he said. “For example, I don’t want to be a landscaper for my entire life. It’s just one part. I also want to share my knowledge — teach people the right way to do things — and help protect the environment.”

This story appeared in print as "‘Big dreams’ fuel bevy of businesses"