A warm summer’s day is best accompanied by a crisp, fruity white wine or a light, easy-drinking red. There’s no better place to immerse yourself in such an experience then on Vancouver Island, with its spectacular scenery, foodie culture and fabulous award-winning wines.
Here you can explore a variety of wine regions, meandering along country lanes, past farm stands bursting with local products, before coming upon a winery tucked away in a lush valley, or perched atop a rolling hill.
How did this happen in a region some have described as “clinging to the climatic fringe of the wine world”? There’s something about a creative island spirit that doesn’t allow issues like location to get in the way. As early as the 1920s intrepid farmers used what they had in abundance – loganberries – to create an island wine: a sweet, port-like wine, but wine nevertheless.
Not content with their loganberry brew, islanders began experimenting with different types of grapes to find out which would respond best to the island’s wet winters and not-so-hot summers. Then in the early 80s the provincial government, with the help of Italian immigrant Dennis Dionisio Zanatta, tested 100 different grape varieties to see which could thrive on the island.
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Ortega and hybrids like Marechal Foch were singled out. In 1992 Zanatta opened the island’s first winery, popping the cork on a bottle of Ortega made with grapes from his own vineyard. Today his daughter Loretta continues his legacy managing the vineyard – the island’s largest – the winery restaurant, Vinoteca, and producing wines including Ortega as well as sparkling wines and a Pinot Nero.
Many of the island’s wineries are family owned which lends a relaxed, personal touch to the wine culture. For example, in tasting rooms you’ll often find vintners on hand, happy to discuss their wines and how they’ve coaxed island notes like cedar and blackberry into traditional varieties to produce distinctive wines.
So where to start your tour of the island’s wine regions? It’s hard to decide, as many wineries have one-of-a-kind features that make them worth a visit. Averill Creek Vineyard, a 40-acre estate winery in the heart of the Cowichan Valley, has a garden patio where visitors can enjoy a picnic lunch accompanied by spectacular views of the valley and one of the excellent wines – such as the Pinot Noir Reserve* — created by doctor-turned-vintner, Andy Johnston.
Thirty minutes south at Cherry Point Estate Wines, owners Xavier and Maria Clara Bonilla welcome visitors to their rustic bistro, where it’s easy to while away an afternoon, soaking in the sunshine, eating dishes made with local ingredients and sipping their fruity Ortega, Coastal Red or indulging in their famous blackberry dessert wine.
Even further south on the Saanich Peninsula, you can sample easy-drinking wines in the de Vine Vineyard’s tasting room, arguably one of the most beautiful in BC with breath-taking ocean and mountain views. Owned by the Windsor family, this island winery also grows its grapes organically.
There are wineries on Salt Spring Island or go north, to Nanaimo, Port Alberni or the island’s newest wine region – the Comox Valley. Here, the Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery, owned by Susan and Jeff Vandermolen, is already turning heads with distinctive wines such as the Blanc de Noir Rosé, and the Beauhemian, a flavourful blend that includes their estate grown Marechal Foch and Leon Millet. Nearby, at the almost-oceanside 40 Knots Winery, you can enjoy a picnic lunch accompanied by their earthy Pinot Noir and the sound of sea lions – a true island winery experience.
The island wine culture is complemented by a fabulous foodie culture – where talented chefs create gourmet meals with island grown products – everything from organic meats, just-caught seafood, local cheeses, and condiments like wasabi and sea salt.
It’s clear there’s a lot to take in and the best way to appreciate the island’s wine culture is on a road trip. That way you have the time and freedom to visit each region and, more importantly sip as many original island vintages as possible.
~ Janina Stajic