The cellar at Sea Cider
When you have had enough of the quaint
charm of Victoria,
it is time to take a break in wine country.
Yes, wine country. The Saanich Peninsula
currently has eight producers – include a very good maker of gin and an
excellent cider house – that operate tasting rooms. Some are open weekends only
and others are open all week from May to October.
These producers are within half an hour of
Those who prefer not to drive can easily book tours with one of several tour
During the recent Taste festival in Victoria, a food and wine festival dedicated to British Columbia wines, Tourism Victoria
hosted a small Saanich
Peninsula tour to
illustrate the variety of tour options that are available. Only three producers
were included on this leisurely tour. It would have been no trick, moving at a
faster pace, to visit six, but Victoria and fast pace don’t seem to go
together. That’s part of Victoria’s
The first stop was Sea Cider Farm &
Ciderhouse. Now in its fifth year, Sea Cider sells its ciders in private wine
stores all over British Columbia and has
recently broken into markets in Washington and
The idea of making European-style ciders
came to owner Kristen Jordan (below), who was born in Medicine Hat,
when she was studying at a college in Wales in 1985. The pubs all had
local ciders on tap and she developed a palate for them. She already had a
strong interest in apples from a family-owned orchard in the Shuswap.
After immersing herself in a career as an
international consultant on food security issues, she bought a former sheep
farm on the Saanich Peninsula with a view eastward to the Haro Strait.
Here, she planted about 50 varieties of apples on four hectares (10
acres). All 1,200 trees are on dwarf rootstock. It gives the orchard a rather
stunted appearance but it also means that the pickers don’t need ladders to
gather the fruit.
The cidery, which was built in 2006, has a spacious
rustic tasting room – a design probably inspired by those Welsh pubs. And in
the spirit of a good publican’s ploughman’s lunch, Sea Cider also offers simple
but delicious food to go with the ciders.
We have grown up in British Columbia with apple ciders that are
refreshment beverages. Ciders in the European style, while tasty on their own,
have flavours and textures that, much the same as wine, pair well with food. At
Sea Cider, most are dry or only slightly off-dry sparkling ciders, with
moderate alcohols of 6 to 8 percent.
($15) is crisp, light and refreshing, with a green
apple tang on the dry finish. Kings
& Spies ($15) is crisply dry, with a refreshing finish and with good
body. It is named for two heritage apple varieties but it is likely to have
many more in the mix because Sea Cider buys apples through a social program for
local food security, in which pickers harvest the fruit of Victoria area hobby farms.
($17) has always been one of Sea Cider’s most
interesting products, a full-bodied, generously flavoured cider with 12%
alcohol. Production includes aging the cider in barrels which are first
saturated with a Newfoundland
rum called Screech. The result is a cider tasting like baked cinnamon apples,
but not as sweet.
In total, there are usually eight or nine
ciders on offer here, including Pomona ($25
for a 375 ml bottle), a dessert style product made from crabapples and modelled
The second and third stops on the day were
on Old West Saanich Road, a narrow and winding road that – in the classic Victoria pace – cannot
be taken too fast. There are actually four producers on this country
thoroughfare. Starling Lane Winery
is by any measure one of the best wineries on Vancouver
Island. Because production is small, the wine shop generally opens
on weekends only.
Nearby is Dragonfly Hill Winery, another tiny producer open on weekends or by
The two we visited are across the road from
each other. Victoria Spirits also opens its tasting room and retail store on
weekends. If one of the distillers is on hand, they will throw in a small tour
to see the German-made still, a work of art as stills sometimes can be.
This producer opened in 2004 as a winery
called Winchester Cellars. It was then owned by Ken Winchester, who trained as
a distiller in Scotland
and began making Victoria Gin. Winemaking stopped when he left but the new
doctor Bryan Murray, continued making spirits. Peter Hunt (right), his stepson,
harnessed his science degrees to take over as master distiller.
Selling for $50 a bottle, Victoria Gin definitely ranks among the
world’s fine premium gins. It is a complex product with 10 botanicals
flavouring the blend. As good as this gin is when taken straight, I would
suggest taking a bottle of tonic water with you to the tasting room.
Victoria Spirits makes about 1,200 bottles
of gin each month, along with a barrel-aged product called Oaken Gin and
another spirit called left coast hemp vodka. As well, Peter is working on
making a malt whisky.
Vine Vineyards, on the other side of Old West Saanich Road,
occupies a hill top with a dramatic vista over the Strait of Georgia with Mt. Baker
on the horizon on a clear day. This view is one reason why the winery, open Thursday
through Sunday and by appointment, has added a large patio in front of the wine
shop. Here, you can sit with a glass of wine and take in that stunning view.
The winery is a family operation opened two
years ago by John and Catherine Windsor. The owner of a real estate portfolio,
he bought this Saanich property several years ago as a second home. The Windsors planted vines
(Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Grüner Veltliner) to enhance the beauty of the
east-facing slopes on the property. The original idea was to sell the grapes to
Winchester Cellars. When their neighbour decided against making wine, they
retained Ken Winchester as a consultant to launch their own winery. He mentored
their daughter-in-law, Natalie, (right)who has now become a very capable winemaker.
De Vine opened its tasting room last year
with wines made with Okanagan fruit, in part because the organically-grown
vines here are young and in part because it gives the winery more options.
Judging from the taste of the wines, de Vine has found vineyards in the
Okanagan that grow excellent fruit.
2011 ($20) and VRM
2011 - Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne – ($21) are two 90 point white wines
made with Okanagan grapes. Both show rich fruit flavours and aromas, with the
Roussanne showing added complexity from having spent a little time in new
French oak. Gamay Noir Rosé 2011 ($18)
is peppery with cherry flavours and with a dry finish. 89. The winery currently
offers a quaffable, full-bodied red, Dornfelder
2011 (88 points), from a grape rarely seen on its own because it often is
used to darken the colour of red wines.
From its own vineyard, de Vine has released
Pinot Gris 2011 ($15), a light but
crisp white with aromas of citrus and with tangy citrus flavours, making it a
refreshing wine. 88.
Natalie also makes a fortified dessert wine
that changes its constituent fruit every year. Epiphany 2011 ($19) is made with Dornfelder and black currants,
giving it a good dark hue and a lovely cassis aroma. The port-style wine is
deliberately made not to be overly sweet. 88.
Future releases will include Merlot, Syrah
and Pinot Noir, all from Okanagan fruit. This tasting room merits several
visits through the season.