Wines of Worth – The Wine Islands




Thanks to the collective efforts of a passionate group of wine lovers and grape growers, the Wine Islands has become a recognized, if not sanctioned, term for the wineries, cideries, meaderies and distilleries on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Last week saw the Wine Islands Vintners Association (WIVA) hold their 5th annual Wine Islands Spring Tasting in Victoria. The evening public ticketed tasting at the Fairmont Empress was preceded by an industry-only trade event in the afternoon – both tastings an opportunity for producers to directly share the fruits of their labour. This year there were over 30 participating producers pouring their newest releases and chatting up an oeno-enthusiastic crowd.

Drinking up the Islands on a lovely sunny spring day can’t be beat. However, this year the timing was particularly apt as the newly updated and expanded Island Wineries of British Columbia is just hitting store shelves. A collaboration of a small but mighty group of EAT contributors (of which I am proud to be one of), the first edition was named winner of the Gourmand International Wine Books Award 2011 for Canada and a finalist for the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award, 2012 BC Book Prizes. Lovely accolades, sure, but the biggest thrill was to share the story of our local vintners with a worldwide audience. Now two years later, the newest edition includes seven new wineries and many updates to reflect the growing and innovative local industry. It’s rewarding to hear that the colourful and informative read of the history, grapes, and characters making up this unique Island terroir has had an impact.

And I could certainly feel the impact at the tasting. Even though the last two vintages on the Wine Islands have been challenging, the vintners I spoke with were overwhelmingly positive with the sort of ‘when life hands you lemons, make lemonade’ attitude that pioneering folk seem imbued with. Some of that lemonade will translate as 2011 and 2012’s rosés, creative blends and experimental dessert wines. Which leads to another trait that all these vintners seem to possess: tenacity. Grape growing is tricky in our marginal, coastal climate. In cooler, wetter years, it becomes nearly impossible. Don’t tell that to passionate wine growers however. Over the past decade growers have been honing in on which grapes work on what sites with which type of rootstock and kind of trellising system. What to spray (or not), how to crush berries (or not), what filters to use (or not)… From hybrid grapes to fruit wines, these original producers are studying and experimenting with it all. And that’s not even getting into packaging, marketing and SELLING (including website!)  – also highly important and often overlooked. There are literally thousands of choices to make in winemaking, and unlike historically established wine regions with centuries of trial and error, we have a couple of decades. We are new, but all signs indicate that we are here to stay.

I’m very fortunate in my career to taste regularly wines from all around the world, affording me a valuable and apparently rare vantage point. I see many similarities to other cool climate regions, to other coastal areas and to other young production locations, but nowhere shares the exact terroir that we have – that’s what makes the Wine Islands so unique. My only advice to those thinking to plant here, or new to the game is to taste outside of our shores, province and region. Taste what is coming out of other new and established wine regions. Taste, taste, taste and don’t compare your wines to what your neighbour is doing, but what your equal in Germany, the Loire, New Zealand and elsewhere is doing. Express here, but learn from elsewhere.

I sadly didn’t make it around to every table during the 2 hour trade event, but here are some of my highlights from the wineries I tasted with:

40 Knots Estate & Winery
2011 Whitecaps
Comox Valley
It’s not just the Okanagan that can pull off the popular off-dry white blend. A brand new wine for 40 Knots, Pinot Gris and Schoenberger come together in this highly perfumed, peach blossom and Asian pear kissed white.

Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery
2012 Blanc de Noir
Comox Valley
From Vancouver Island grapes (and a very forward-thinking couple), this off dry Pinot Noir rosé is lovely spiced strawberry and perfumed peach stone.

Cherry Point Estate Wines
2010 Classico
Cowichan Valley
Love the rebranding of Cherry Point – the striking and memorable labels are fantastic. Only 100 cases of this traditional method sparkling were made, so pick up a bottle if you see it. Estate Pinot Gris is crafted into a lovely dry and crisp sparkler, with bright green apple acidity, scented lemon and stony minerality.

Damali Lavender Farm & Winery
2011 Rosea
Cowichan Valley
Located on a sustainable and picturesque lavender farm, it made sense to hearken the fragrant plants on the labels. However, this unique wine takes it beyond, using lavender syrup as the dosage for this traditional method bubble. Estate Castell and Cowichan Pinot Gris grapes make up the blend – finished off with the aforementioned floral syrup. The result is a spicy and peppery scented, light raspberry sparkling rose, with a herbal, oily note and distinct floral finish.

Enrico Winery
2011 Ortega
Cowichan Valley
This fragrant wine was released at $17, but recently reduced to make way for the 2012 vintage. Soft shell spice, anise seed and ample lemon, this perfumed white finishes crisp and fresh.

Starling Lane Winery
2012 Sauvignon Blanc
Saanich Peninsula
Though this popular winery will cease operation after this summer (and a remarkable 10 years in the business), they are still coming out with new surprises. If there’s another Sauv Blanc from the Islands, I haven’t seen it. This, the inaugural release of a Sauvignon Blanc is from a small plot of 5 year old vines they were experimenting with. Only 50 cases were made of this uber-herbal white, grassy-green and crisp, with some bright apple and lemon pith on the finish.



Written By:

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

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