Archive for August, 2019

What’s up with Fraser Valley Wine in the Summer of 2019 – Part 1

August 29, 2019

What a treat to get a day to tour Fraser Valley wineries a week or so ago! Got a chance to see the old – and the new – and, similar to Vancouver Island wine, there was a nice mix of old guard and new.

There were also some similar trends at play…which is what this first blog focuses on.

On the downside? First and foremost, was price – at least at some of the wineries. Many, many wines in the $30++ category, and I’m not sure they were worth that, to be honest.

Second, a trend to making wines from grapes from outside of the Fraser Valley. Now, perhaps this isn’t a downside – after all, there are lots of negotiants in France that buy grapes from all over and make fabulous wines.

But sometimes it seems a bit ingenuous to buy a wine from a Fraser Valley winery that came from grapes far away.

On the plus side, there are some ridiculous bargains from a price perspective, particularly in two of the Abbotsford wineries! One of the proprietors told me they just couldn’t sell their wine or more than $20 – $30…there was no market. If that is true, I hope they are still making money on it, because some of it was amazing! And other wineries in the Valley (and across BC) should maybe take notice?

Also on the plus side was quality, particularly with some of the white wines. Pinot Gris, white blends with Ortega, even Chardonnay and Viognier…some were quite stunning. Reds were less successful from the area, which is more a reflection of climate, I think, than wine making.

Final plus…hospitality…and how busy many of the wineries were! There were bus tours at a number of them when I went through, and the tasting rooms were full, loud and happy sounding. What a great thing for Fraser Valley wine!

As for the wines themselves? Well, stay tuned…Part two is next week!





Vancouver Island Blog Part 3 – The New Guard!

August 22, 2019

Last – but not least – on my trip to Vancouver Island were two new wineries. Well, one with new owners…and one that is only a couple of years old!

I started at Alderlea Vineyards (on the other side of the Island Highway from where you turn to go to Averill Creek). I have tried to find this winery a couple of times before but either couldn’t find it or it was closed. Well, this time I found it…it was open…and boy, was I impressed!

New owners is the reason, I think…Zac and Julie bought the winery a couple of years ago and were pouring the results of there efforts, both white and red.

For the whites, my favourite was one called 2018 Valerie, co-owner Julie’s wine made from a blend of Ortega and Viognier. It won a Gold medal at the recent Canadian Wine Championships and I can see why…explosively fruity but bone dry, just lovely!

But, as a “reds guy”, it was the Reserve Pinot Noir (2016) that really turned my head! Burgundian in style, but with very ripe fruit and tannins (most Burgundies would die for this level of fruit concentration). It also has tremendous potential (although beautiful to drink now as well). And at about $32 it represents amazing value!

Oh, and that Merlot I mentioned in Blog Part 1…Zac got this smile on his face as we were talking about fruit-forward wines…then he looked sideways and with a finger beckoned me back into the cellar…where he got me a sample of something from a barrel. “Merlot” he said…and when I stuck my nose in it…wow! Pure plums and blueberries…super ripe, no oak presence at all…if the wine stays that way when bottled, I will buy…a lot of it!

The other winery I “found” is called Emandare. It is the same side of the Island Highway as Alderlea, although a bit closer. I got to meet Mike, the co-owner/winemaker…he bought the site with vines a few years ago. Major emphasis on quality fruit, and it showed in the wines!

The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was my favourite white…crisp, clean, no oak, lots of citrus…too bad it is already sold out! But, once again, it was a Pinot Noir that stole the show!

At first, when I saw the price – $45 – I paused…a lot for a BC wine…and not a reserve either. But when I stuck my nose in the glass…wow…it was pure berry Pinot Noir, very rich and ripe without being jammy and candied. It was even better in the mouth, with firm but ripe tannins wrapped around the cherry fruit. It is a few years away from being at its best…and I decided to buy a couple to see how it turns out!

That was all the time I had for the day, but if the future of Vancouver Island is represented by these two wineries, it is in very good hands indeed!


Vancouver Island Wine Blog Part 2 – The Old Guard is in Good Shape!

August 13, 2019

This is part two of the wine blog based on my recent visit to Vancouver Island wine country. And it focuses on three of the “old guard” – those wineries that have been there for a while. Some of them are my favourites and still making great wine!

Continuing to lead the pack is Averill Creek, just outside of Duncan near Mt. Prevost. Their wines were the first ones I ever tasted from Vancouver Island that were truly great – in fact, the 2006 Pinot Noir and 2007 Pinot Gris completely changed my mind about Vancouver Island wine!

Andy Johnson and his team continue to go from strength to strength, and I was pleased to see that they give people the chance to experience that in the tasting room. In addition to the “regular” tasting they offer a reserve tasting (for a slightly higher fee) and it is well worth the expense.

There were four wines, and all showed why Averill Creek continues to be the leader on Vancouver Island. First off, their 2010 Brut Reserve Sparkling Wine would give many Champagnes a run for their money. Still young at nine years old, it has just a tinge of yellow to it, and is filled with that classic toasty/yeasty/crisp flavour profile! Next up, their 2015 Reserve Pinot Gris. They oak this wine – something which can be controversial to some – but I loved it. It was light gold, with just the right amount of vanilla and butter to go with the citrus fruit. The final dry wine was the 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir. Just a baby, it was super tight, with tannin covering the cherry fruit, but you could sense the potential beneath it. I would give it at least 3 – 5 years before drinking. Last but not least was a Tawny Port style wine made from blackberries…and it was a dead ringer for Port!

Averill Creek is a Pinot Noir specialist, and while I didn’t taste their “regular” wine on the trip, I can highly recommend it (I have already bought four bottles). It is a great cross between Burgundy and California, with earthy, dark cherry fruit that is super ripe (but not candied). Year in, year out, it matches up with the best Pinots in BC.

The second of the old guard that is doing fine – thank you very much! – is Vigneti Zanatta, which is located west of Duncan. For years this winery has specialized in sparkling wines, sometimes from non-traditional grapes, and sold at very reasonable prices…and that continues to be the case.

I tasted three, all technically non-vintage, and can heartily recommend them all. The Brut Tradizionale is made in the Champagne style from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is crisp, clean, dry and relatively full-bodied with a touch of green apples – kind of like Spanish Cava crossed with Champagne. It would be great for any occasion.

Next, the Allegria Rose Brut is really something to look at – one of the darkest sparkling Roses I have ever seen! It is made from 100% Pinot Noir, and explodes with berry flavours. Again, bone dry…this one would be great really cold on a hot day.

Finally, my favourite of the trio is the Glenora Fantasia Brut. This used to be vintage designated…not sure why it isn’t any more…but I was told it is from the 2013 vintage…so almost 6 years old! This is definitely a Champagne style wine, loaded with aged flavours of yeasty and toasty bread. Made from the obscure Cayuga grape and aged on its lees for two years…wow!

Zanatta also makes still white and red wines, which are nice, but a surprise was one called Castel Nero, made from a clone of Cinsault and some grape I can’t remember. It would easily fit in at a Provence tasting…no oak, peppery dried berries and earth…I had a full glass at lunch, I loved it so much!

Speaking of lunch, if you are going to be a Zanatta around lunch, book a table – in advance – at their little restaurant. It has a beautiful patio, almost all the wines are available by the glass and the food is amazing (and well priced).

Final of the old guard I visited – the “newest old one” for me – is Rocky Creek. I had a great chat with the Assistant Winemaker (daughter of the owner/winemaker), who also took me through what continues to be a very solid lineup of white and red wines, as well as a sparkler. My favourites? The 2017 Pinot Gris has won all kinds of awards and is almost sold out. It is a fruity, dry, medium bodied beauty for drinking while it is fresh. For the reds, I will stick with the Pinot Noir – the wine that attracted me to Rocky Creek in the first place! It continues to be made in a California style, with lots of ripe cherries and just the right amount of vanilla, spice and cedar. It drinks well right now, but will keep for a few years if you want (although why wait?).

That’s it for the old guard I visited…stay tuned next week for the new kids on the block!



August 7, 2019

I managed to get a day to do some wine tasting on Vancouver Island this past weekend, first time in a few years (since I updated the last issue of my BC Wine Guide). It was a great day – beautiful weather, lovely drive up, down and back on the Malahat, and some pleasant surprises on the wine side of things as well!

I titled this piece “The Old and New” for two sets of reasons. This first is related to the wine region itself. The other has to do with the wineries…stay tuned for more on that next week.

On the “old” side of things, I encountered some of the same old issues that I see elsewhere in BC. The biggest is price – none of the wines I tasted were under $15, and most were in the $25 – $30 range (after tax). Now, some of that has to do with taxation…which wineries have no control over. And some is just overhead – land, equipment, salaries, etc. Again, not much you can do about that. And it didn’t look like people were making millions (just a living).

But the end result is that most of these wines have to compete in price with well established and – often – better wines from places like the south of France and Italy (as well as cheaper ones from South America and Spain). And that is a tough sell!

On the positive side of the price issue, thought, I didn’t see any trophy wines i.e. $60+ a bottle (except for library releases). Now, don’t get me wrong – I support the free market, and if you can get that for your wine, then go for it. But from a comparative quality point of view – not just on Vancouver Island but across BC – there is just no way that we can compete with similarly priced wines from areas like the Cotes du Rhone, Tuscany, and Piedmont.

Overall quality was up as well, and it was also nice to see  that the grapes which have historically done well on the Island – Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, in particular – continue to be the focus for most wineries, and still produce the best wines. I saw no Cabs or Chardonnays…probably because they just won’t get ripe enough there. There was also a nice mix of Marechal Foch and some Cabernet hybrids – on the red side – and various white wine grapes being used to make fruity, easy to drink whites. Oh, there was one Merlot…but more on that in a future blog…

Finally, perhaps the best of the “good” things was that sales of many of these wines on Vancouver Island are very good – many of the best were actually sold out! The purchasers are a mix of locals and tourists, with the former actually being a bigger market! That is great, as “buy local” should also include wine, and people are obviously willing to pay a bit of a premium to do that.

Overall, then, I was very impressed with the wine situation on Vancouver Island! As for the individual wineries – and their wines – stay tuned for next week!