Victoria TASTE Festival 2009

Pictured above: Sips & Seafood at The Inn at Laurel Point. Photo by G. Hynes

The Main Event

What a treat it was to taste at TASTE.  The Main Event was held in Crystal Gardens – a terrific, spacious venue for a tasting. Kudos to the organizers and numerous helpful volunteers for making for the smoothest tasting I’ve been to in a long time.

Here are some TASTE-ing highlights:

Getting my first taste of Muse Winery’s offerings for the first time – this North Saanich organically managed winery used to be named Chalet Estate Winery, changing to Muse earlier this year under new ownership.  I thought their Viognier showed well.

Learning about MooBerry Winery, located on Parksville’s Morningstar Farm (also the home to Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, hence the Moo).  This fruit based winery also recently underwent a name change – from Morningstar Creek Winery to the much more memorable MooBerry. The farm’s abundant fruit crop are turned into off-dry and full-on sweet fruit wines, like gooseberry, cranberry, blackberry, blueberry and raspberry.

Meeting Salt Spring Island’s newest winery – open for one short month.  Mistaken Identity Vineyards is on the Island’s North end, near Ganges Harbour.  The Island’s only organic winery, their estate grown grapes are supplemented with organic grapes from Okanagan’s West Bank until they can produce enough on their own. Abbondante Bianco is light and refreshing blend of five white varietals, and their aromatic Gewurztraminer was quite nice.  Reds will be ready in spring 2010.

Sipping Tugwell Creek’s meads – we’re so lucky to have them as part of our wine making culture.  Their Wassail Gold Sparkling Sac Mead is a delish and unexpected effervescent treat – try it!

*While the lower level of the Gardens was all Islands wineries, the upper level featured wines from everywhere else in BC.  Well thought out Taste organizers!

My first stop on the upper level was at Le Vieux Pin LaStella Wineries– and if it wasn’t for the fact that time was running out, I easily could have just plopped myself down here for the rest of the event.  The two sister wineries employ organic and biodynamic practices on their 50 acres scattered through the South Okanagan in small parcels.  Wines are mostly named in musical terms – better to convey emotion.  LaStella – Lastellina Merlot Rosato was my favourite – an elegant, balanced beauty of a rose – hard to spit this one.

Next on to Hillside Estate Winery, and the best Gew I tried that day – smooth, spice, wonderfully aromatic – delish.

At Gray Monk I was happy to break from still wines and enjoy a few sips (again – couldn’t spit!) of their Odyssey Brut.  Full bodied, toasty and brioche-like and celebratory.  I could get used to this.

Mt. Boucherie made me happy by having their Ehrenfelser Estate open – aromatic, perfumed, delicate and delish.  A sure summer winner.

At Poplar Grove, I was able to taste their Cab Franc (one of my favourite BC grapes).  This was an excellent Okanagan Franc – herbal and dusty and cherry.

 

Island Champions with John Schreiner and Island Vintners.

No one knows the BC vintners, winery owners and vineyards better than John, and hearing him share his personal stories and interviews with Island winemakers was priceless.  We tasted his most notable reds, whites, bubbly and sweet wines from Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, along with the vintner/owner from the winery.  Together the group was able to learn the character of each wine, plus the character behind each wine.  John noted that without exception, the winemakers on the Islands have all come from different and wide-ranging backgrounds (though there were a high percentage of ex-doctors in the room today!) – which makes sense when you consider that the industry is in its infancy here.  John also predicted that Islands wines have the potential to be very long lived – due to the retention of their high acidity – a very promising prediction for the future of our wines here.

We started with Salt Spring Island Morning Star 2005 – a crisp bubbly, originally monikered Karma, and undergoing another name change with this fall’s vintage.  New Salt Spring Winery owners the McIntyres were on hand to chat about this traditional champenoise method sparkling wine – crisp, refreshing and tart – grown completely from their estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Watch for a new silk screened bottle with cork and wire closure with their next vintage.

From then it was on to Blue Grouse Pinot Gris 2007 – a benchmark for Island white.  Sandrina Saldanha (winemaker/owner Hans Kiltz’s daughter) grew up tending to the vineyard and working the fields.  She explained how even in a very cool year like 2007, Blue Grouse worked hard to produce this beautiful wine – creamy pear, apple, lemon, mineral with no oak treatment.  A lovely wine – hard to believe they achieved this in such a crappy vintage.

There is no larger character of Island wine than Giordano Venturi, ofVenturi-Schulze.  A very knowledgeable and skilled palate, Venturi presented his remarkable The Bad Boys 2007 – a blanc de noir (white wine of dark grapes) of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt.  Very unique – a meaty, salty nose with toasty spice, tangy lemon and mineral and fresh finish.  He experimented with fermenting in 100% new oak with this wine – and if you can find any of the few bottles left, it’s certainly worth it.  Amazing.

On to the reds – one of my favourite Island reds is definitely Averill Creek’sPinot Noir – and winemaker Andy Johnston was on hand to introduce his 2006 vintage.  A lovely, perfumed black cherry, raspberry and leather spice pinot, which the extremely modest Andy credits to his near perfect Cowichan Valley site – with slope, soil and drainage perfectly suited to the heartbreak grape.  According to Andy, as his vines – and others – continue to mature, Pinot Noir will dominate in this marginal climate area – I can’t wait to see where this grape goes on the Islands!

Progressing in body, we next arrived at Garry Oaks Zeta 2006.  Winemaker Elaine Kozak was there to chat about this very unique wine – made from the Austrian grape Zweigelt.  Elaine admitted that they (her and husband/viticulturalist Marcel) planted this grape without actually ever tasting or talking to anyone who grew it (!), but after copious amounts of research into its suitability for their exact site on Salt Spring Island.  And the gamble absolutely paid off!  A lovely peppery spice nose, cherry and floral flavours and big tannins make this a memorable – and now very Islands tasting – red.  As vintages progress, Elaine is experimenting with more oak treatment with Zeta – so stay tuned.  Very special.

Starling Lane Winery has become Saanich Peninsula’s darling – with 3 local couples each contributing their vineyards – and individual talents – to the winery’s operation.  We tasted their Marechal Foch 2007 along with winemaker John Wrinch.  A lovely dark cherry hue, with cedar, black cherry, spice and toasty vanillan notes.  On the palate were bright bramble/green flavours, balanced with black cherry and dusty cocoa.  A big contender and an example of the delights of Foch – a grape that scares off many.

Next we sampled Roger Dosman’s Alderlea Clarinet 2006 – the biggest red of today’s bunch.  Clarinet is also 100% Marechal Foch, and as with all of Schriener’s other Champions, 100% estate grown.  Roger tents the vines on the slopes above Quamichan Lake in the Cowichan Valley, maximizing the heat, and therefore the ripening.  This unfiltered and unfined full bodied red had a sweet and concentrated dark cherry and blackberry nose that carries through to a spicy palate.  And they say you can’t grow big reds on the Island.  Ha!

We finished on a very sweet note – with what is most likely the most iconic wine from the Islands.  Venturi-Schulze’s 2007 Brandenburg No. 3 is one of those wines that wine lovers covet – and when you spy it on a restaurant’s dessert wine list you know you’re in a good place to be.  This sweet, dark amber wine, named for the No.3 Brandenburg concerto, opens with a rich, almond, orange-oil, earthy caramel nose, and ultra smooth flavours of  honeyed ripe orange, caramel and coffee.  This wine is so smooth, and the finish so bright – absolutely no spitting.  I drained my glass of this pretty quickly.  After harvesting and pressing the grapes (predominantly Madeleine Sylvaner), Giordano Venturi simmered the juice gently over an open fire to concentrate the natural sugar, acid and flavours.  He then fermented the wine with a special yeast isolated from their property. The fermentation lasts a full year before the wine is finished in new French oak. A small amount of the volume is kept as the starter for the next vintage.  This really is a BC masterpiece.

 

Pig & Pinot on the Patio

The F&B folks at the Hotel Grand Pacific are always up to something unexpected – always with delish results.  From their top tier international wine dinners to Asian-inspired high tea to sake pairing dinners to west coast dim sum, I always know to expect the unexpected.  As was the case with Pig & Pinot.  A well-hatched plan by Director of Operations Emory Haines to return to his Appalachian pig farming roots, Executive Chef Rick Choy and Restaurant Chef Michael Minshull roasted up a whole pig, lovingly raised by Sloping Hill.  Pork was featured in many ways – from pulled pork sliders to – everyone’s clear favourite – cracklins!  A gorgeous summer afternoon on the hotel’s tented patio, with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from across BC – and the succulent smell of roasting porcine on the barbie – a great event to add into this summer festival lineup.

 

Sips & Seafood

One of the most elegants events of the festival was held at the Inn at Laurel Point. Set on the broad outdoor patio overlooking the Inner Harbour guests sipped and supped on some of the finest wines and freshest seafood at the festival. Chef Brad Horen, of the Inn’s Aura Restaurant, did a magnificent job in presenting all the seafood – fresh whole crab, mussels, oysters nd more – in simple fashion letting their true flavours come across. Partners in this event were Finest at Sea and Phillips Brewery.

A Taste of Salt Spring Island

Held in the Thrifty Foods Cooking & Lifestyle Centre at Tuscany Village, coordinator Eva Cherneff led guests through a tutored tasting of Salt Spring Island cheeses and lamb. The menu included David Wood cheeses, Salt Spring lamb, Moonstruck cheese, local strawberries, collard greens and baby greens from local farms. Also included were wine pairings from Salt Spring Island Vineyard and Garry Oaks Winery.

 

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade. In addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for WineAlign, ...

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