Muse Vineyards: Spring Release

As we’ve grown to expect from Vancouver Island, with its temperate Pacific northwest climate, the morning of Saturday May 3rd was a little damp with threatening looking, burgundy clouds looming overhead. However, as we pulled up to Muse Vineyards in North Saanich, the clouds started to part and a few lone rays of sunshine began to force themselves through. This opening of light overhead set the stage for Muse’s annual Spring Release event, which displays new and old vintages and perfectly paired menu items from the soon-to-be reopened bistro. The festivities took place in the Bacchus Room overlooking rows on rows of award winning vines. Relaxed wine-goers soaked up the sun on the expansive patio when weather permitted, sipping chilled whites while the infectiously mesmerizing jazz vocals of Edie DaPonte drifted in the background.

Muse_appyNestled in the heart of the vineyard, the Bistro is open from May until mid-September, and presents the culinary creativity of Douglas Stuart from Stonestreet Cafe and Catering. He is also responsible for all of Muse’s catered events, including weddings and other private functions. The menu is designed to pair and highlight the wines with the spirit of island cuisine, while incorporating local produce and sustainable seafood. Some of the samples at the Spring Release party included spoonfuls of mango salsa with honey-mayo-ginger drizzle and an Oceanwise prawn, and hand-rolled dark chocolate truffles accentuated by a robust, full-bodied and brazen merlot. This year, they are teaming up with local butchers and will continue to use produce from certified organic Kildara farms in North Saanich.

The vineyard, originally known as Chalet Estates and home to some of the oldest vines in Canada, was bought in 2008 by husband and wife duo Jane and Peter Ellmann. Passionate about wine and food, they decided to undertake what many dream of, yet few manage to realize—winemaking. With the founding idea of making high quality wine by hand, while using only 100% British Columbian grapes, Muse has become a leading and innovative vineyard in Western Canada. Well known for their Ortega (a cool weather-brave, flowery white), and their Bacchus (made from grapes grown completely on the estate), they also produce eight reds ranging from full-bodied Syrahs and Cabernet Merlots to near rose-hued Pinot Noirs and Foch Noirs. The variety of wines Muse releases is made all the more exceptional when you learn that Jane and Peter, alongside one other full time employee, are the hands and minds behind each and every bottle. They employ two to three seasonal workers to assist with trimming the vines, but with 3200 plus cases produced annually, it makes for a full year of crushing, de-stemming, and artful blending.


Being adamant in following their business model of making 100% BC wine means that they are usually competing with the weather—a worthy opponent that at times can be unpredictable and unbeatable. Although they have growers in the Okanagan, Gulf Islands, and throughout Vancouver Island, if the grapes are not up to their standard, they forfeit that year’s vintage. Growing wine on the Saanich Peninsula can be fruitful, yet challenging. The location of the vineyard, the temperamental weather patterns of the west coast, and the varied soil compositions can mean that a particular grape is unable to grow with the same success even five kilometres away. This is where a certain joie-de-vivre and collected cool, which both Jane and Peter exude, comes in handy. They are very dedicated and detailed in crafting the best wine they can, yet clearly understand that in the business of winemaking, you get what you can get from the grapes of that season. The 2013 Bacchus, for example, was unable to be produced because of the hot and sudden onset of summer—so instead, they chose to blend whatever yield they had in with the Ortega, rounding out the Ortega’s bold grapefruit palate with crisp apple and mango notes.


The drive out to the vineyards is only a short thirty minutes from downtown Victoria, and just a few from Swartz Bay. With its relaxing, pastoral scenery of vineyards and expansive fields, a visit to Muse for wine tastings or lunch is an absolute must for the summer.

 — Morgan K. Sterns

Hours: Thursday – Sunday 11-4

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