Zanatta's Jim Moody with his island Merlot
The Wine Islands Vintners
Association got this year’s Easter season off to a good start with a Good
Friday wine tasting in Victoria.
The scheduling seemed –
dare I say it? – a bit unorthodox. (For the record, the Orthodox Easter is May
5 this year.) But those who attended the event, held in the venerable Fairmont
Empress, clearly enjoyed the tasting, even on such a solemn day in the
Christian calendar. Since Jesus turned water into wine as his first miracle, he
would hardly have objected.
Indeed, in the difficult
2011 vintage on Vancouver Island, the
winemakers might have used such a miracle after an unusually cold and wet year.
John Kelly, who owns
Glenterra Vineyards at Cobble Hill, did not even harvest his grapes that year.
“I could make wine with 15 Brix grapes but I won’t,” he says. Fortunately, he
had a good stock of his 2009 wines (a superb island vintage) and some from
2010. In 2011, he turned to Okanagan sources for grapes.
John was not among the 19
wineries at The Empress. However, I stopped in for a tasting on the way to Victoria and was amply
rewarded with delicious wines. He has very good Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer
from 2011, along with an acceptable 2011 Pinot Noir still in barrel.
The vintages on offer from
the WIVA wineries ranged from 2006 to 2012. A surprising number of wineries
succeeded with 2011 fruit, as will become clear from the following notes. The
2012 vintage yielded riper grapes; the wines were easier to make and are probably
I ran out of time before I
could taste at all of the tables, but I made a point of visiting with new
producers as well as with veterans, along with some fruit wineries, a meadery
and a distiller. Here are my notes.
Andy Johnston, the owner
of this Cowichan Valley winery, calls it the island’s
largest estate winery. He has 14 hectares (36 acres) of vines and last season,
he produced 3,000 cases of wine.
Averill Creek Foch Eh 2012 ($12). This is the winery’s answer to Beaujolais
Nouveau, except the grapes are Maréchal Foch. As in Beaujolais,
carbonic maceration of whole berries produced a playful and juicy red meant to
be enjoyed chilled in summer and year-round in the hot tub. 88.
Averill Creek Somenos Rosé 2011 ($17). Here is what some vintners did with Pinot
Noir that was not optimally ripe. Andy fermented this rosé in barrel and left
it on the lees for six months. The lees contribution balances the acidity
nicely. The wine has strawberry aromas and flavours and a crisp, dry finish.
Averill Creek Pinot Grigio 2011 ($15.99). Fermented in tank, this wine is crisp and
refreshing, with aromas of green apple and citrus. 89.
Averill Creek Pinot Gris 2009 ($15.99).
Pinot Gris signifies a style that should be quite different from Pinot
Grigio. Andy achieved this by barrel-fermenting the wine and leaving it in oak
for nine months. However, the oak flavours are nicely subdued, leaving the
starring role to the flavours of grapefruit, peach and ripe apples. 90.
Averill Creek Pinot Noir 2009 ($26). This wine shows classic aromas and flavours
of cherry and strawberry and has an appealing texture. 89.
Averill Creek Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 ($60). Andy Johnston’s ambition is to make Canada’s best
Pinot Noir. In last year’s Canadian Wine Awards, this wine was among the top 25
Canadian Pinot Noirs. This is a remarkable wine, deep in colour, with dark
fruit aromas and with flavours of black cherry and mocha chocolate. The texture
is rich and silky at the same time. 91.
Averill Creek Foch Cab 2010 ($18). This is a blend with about 60% Maréchal Foch,
fleshed out with equal parts of Cabernet Libre and Cabernet Foch and a bit of
Merlot. The two Cabernets are red hybrids developed by a Swiss plant breeder;
they are being grown in a number of island vineyards. This medium-bodied wine
is bright with red berry aromas and with flavours of cherry and cranberry. 88.
Beaufort Vineyard & Estate Winery
This winery, located near
Courtenay, was recently listed for sale at $3.1 million by the owners, Susan
and Jeff Vandermolen, who only opened the winery in 2008. “We have one more
adventure in our future,” explains Susan. She is not just referring to
developing the winery. In 2002 the adventurous couple, who had previous careers
in the oil industry, sailed a yacht across the Atlantic.
Beaufort is an 84-acre
property, including eight acres of vineyard and plenty of room for more vines.
Because theirs was the first winery in the Comox Valley,
the Vandermolens cautiously did not rush to plant much vineyard, first figuring
out what works on the site. In the meantime, they have also have purchased
Okanagan grapes and made wines both from these and from their own grapes that
garnered many awards.
Beaufort Beaudacious 2012 ($18). This is an aromatic, off-dry blend of
Schönburger, Ortega and Pinot Gris, all of it grown on the island. It is juicy
and delicious, with flavours of apple, peach and grapefruit. 89.
Beaufort Qandisa 2012 ($19). During a previous adventure in Morocco, the
Vandermolens had heard of a seductive goddess of lust called Qandisa. Somehow,
that seems like an appropriate personality for a seductive dry white from the
Siegerrebe grape. This wine is packed with aromas and flavours of spicy
Beaufort Blanc de Noir 2012 ($17.50). For this rosé, the island-grown Pinot
Noir grapes were pressed just enough to allow for the capture of a delicate
hue. The wine has aromas and flavours of strawberry and cherry. It is
refreshingly delicious. 88.
Beautage 2010 ($20). This is a blend of estate-grown Leon Millot, Maréchal Foch and
Cabernet Foch. It is a firm red, with flavours of cherry, blackberry and
Blue Grouse Estate Winery & Vineyard
Blue Grouse changed
ownership last year when founder Hans Kiltz and his family sold the winery to
Paul and Cristina Brunner. He is a retired mining engineer and businessman who
had developed an interest in wine during an international career that included
some wine-making countries. I posted a complete blog on site last August.
The winery will complete
the transition from Hans when it releases the new Blue Grouse wines this summer.
Blue Grouse came to the Victoria
tasting with library wines, as they should. Hans made excellent wines
throughout his 20 harvests on this Cowichan
Blue Grouse Ortega 2009 ($18). This is made in the classically crisp Hans
Kiltz style with amazing youthful freshness. The aromas and flavours include
citrus, green apple and herbs. 88.
Blue Grouse Pinot Gris 2009 ($17.90). The price here reflects a discount from
the usual retail price of $23; and it applies to releases from the 2010 and
2011 vintages as well, part of closing the door on one chapter before opening
the next. It’s a bargain. This is a cerebral white, crisp with citrus and
herbal aromas but with generous fruit on the palate. 89.
Blue Grouse Vicesimus 2010 ($17.) People who know Latin tell me that
“vicesimus” means “the 20th.” The wine was named in celebration of
Han Kiltz’s 20th harvest. It is an aromatic blend of Bacchus,
Müller-Thurgau, Siegerrebe and Ortega. It is a crisp and refreshing white with
flavours of lime, green apples and herbs. 89.
Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Noir 2007 ($19.90). Perhaps this wine has peaked and is
starting to move on. It is a touch austere and earthy, with flavours of cherry
and hints of chocolate. 87.
Blue Moon is a fruit
winery that George Ehrler and Marla Limousin opened in 2009 on a beautiful
organic farm near Courtenay. Considering that they both had long careers as
consultants in the Canadian Arctic, they have turned out to be superb wine
makers. They make fruit wines that, for the most part, are dry and easily
paired with food.
Blue Moon Sirius 2011 ($16.90). Made with nine varieties of apples, this
crisp and refreshing wine has layers of flavour, giving it a good deal of
Blue Moon Moon Shine 2012 ($19.90). If I had tasted this blind, I would have
sworn I was tasting a good Pinot Gris. It is nine varieties of apples and three
varieties of pears, making a wine that finishes with a refreshing crispness.
Blue Moon Moon Beam 2012 ($19.90). This is a lovely pear wine, with cleanly
focussed flavours and a dry finish. 89.
Blue Moon Soleil 2012 ($16.90). Here is another nine-apple tour de force,
perhaps less dry that Sirius, 89.
Blue Moon Orion 2011 ($17.90). This is blackberry and blueberry with a
touch of black currant that gives the wine a rustic austerity. Disclaimer: I am
not a fan of black currant wine … but the winery has won a gold medal in
competition with this, so what do I know? 87.
Blue Moon Singularity 2011 ($17.90). Making good dry blackberry table wine often eludes amateurs. George, who can now be
considered a pro, nails it, with authentic berry flavours but without the
bitterness sometimes found in dry blackberry wine. 88.
Blue Moon Stardust 2011 ($N.A.). This is a dry raspberry wine with an
intriguing dusty and smoky aroma and a clean, tangy finish. 88
Blue Moon Lunacy 2011 ($21.90). An intense and concentrated blueberry and
blackberry blend made by the solera method. There is residual sweetness on the
Blue Moon Dark Side 2012 ($21.90 for 375 ml). This is a medium-bodied
blackberry port, packed with fruit flavours and happily not overly sweet. 88.
Damali Lavender Farm & Winery
This winery opened in 2010
on a lavender farm near the Arbutus Ridge Golf Club in the Cowichan Valley.
The owners of this bucolic property, which includes an excellent bed and
breakfast, are Marsha and Dave Stanley and their friend, Alison Philp. The
wines are both grape and fruit wines, typically with a lavender grace note. The
lavender was perhaps too strong in some of the debut vintages but the owners
have tamed those flavours by using carefully modulated dashes of lavender syrup
rather that lavender tea.
Damali Arba 2011 ($21). There is no lavender in this crisp and delicately fruity Pinot
Grigio but the owners are so dedicated to the concept that they named the wine
for a variety of white lavender. 88.
Damali Rhubé Lavande 2012 ($22). This is a blend of 80% rhubarb, 20% Pinot
Gris, with just a touch of lavender. It is crisp and tangy with flavours, of
course, of rhubarb. The winery recommends it for spicy foods, such as Thai
curries, and I would second that idea.
Damali Muré Lavande 2012 ($22). This is a medium-bodied dry blackberry table
wine. The dash of lavender complements the berry flavours. 88.
Damali Mystique 2012 ($22). Named for another lavender variety, this is
a blend of fruit and grape wines; the backbone is the Castel grape grown on the
property. It has appealing flavours of cherry and raspberry and the finish is
This Saanich winery opened in 2010 on a lovely
country property with views of Mount Baker
from the wine shop. While the winery buys grapes from the Okanagan and the
Similkameen, it has its own vines as well – Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Grüner Veltliner. The winery had its debut Grüner
Veltliner at the afternoon trade tasting but not in the evening, which is when
I visited the table. And I missed a few of the other estate-grown wines,
distracted by answering wine questions posed by a pretty fellow attendee.
Gamay Rosé 2011 ($18). Made from
Similkameen grapes, this is a light-bodied summer sipper with aromas and
flavours of raspberry and cranberry. 87.
Viognier Roussanne Marsanne 2011 ($20).
Here is a crisp white from Okanagan fruit that over-delivers, with flavours of
apple, pineapple and apricot and with a spine of minerals that add to its
laser-like focus. 90.
Syrah 2011 ($20). Made with Black
Sage Bench fruit, this has the variety’s classic earthy and plum/prune flavours
with a touch of pepper on the finish. 88.
This Saanich winery released its first table wines
in 2010 but was licensed in 2006 so that it could produce wine jelly from its
grapes and wine. It is part of Sylvie Rochette’s Epicure Selections food
products business. One presumes it began releasing wines when it had far more
wine that it needed for wine jelly. The winery’s tasting room is open
afternoons from Thursday through Sunday.
Rochette King Lear Blanc de Noir Rosé 2011 ($18). Crisp, light and pleasant as a summer season wine, this has
notes of raspberry. 87.
Rochette Taming of the Shrew 2011
($20). This is a blend of the two most promising of the Blattner (or Swiss)
white hybrids now growing on Vancouver Island
– Epicure and Petite Milo. The wine is crisp and refreshing, with notes of
citrus and green apple. 89.
Rochette Othello 2011 ($17). This
bright, juicy red, tasting of strawberry and cherry, is a blend of Pinot Noir
and Foch. 88.
Rochette A Midsummer Night 2009 ($21).
This is a Pinot Noir, still firm in texture, with flavours of cherry and cranberry.
This is Vancouver’s
pioneer producer of European-style apple cider. However, the current excitement
is all about the distilled products that co-owner Rick Pipes makes with a
handsome still that was built in Germany. He has been at it for five
or six years, all the while lobbying the province (along with the other craft
distillers) to give them a mark-up policy that makes craft distilling
Last month, that change came through, allowing
distillers to keep the margins from direct sales. He is getting ready to
release inventory on which he would have lost money before when the Liquor
Distribution Branch grabbed a huge mark-up.
Cowichan Cider Brandy. Rick will
be releasing this excellent Calvados-style brandy in late spring. He could not
afford to release it before because of the punitive mark-up on distilled
spirits sold through the Liquor Distribution Branch. As a result, Rick is
releasing a six-year-old brandy with appealing notes of apple and caramel. The
price will be around $35 for 350 ml. 90.
Pat George and Lamont Brooks
opened this Saanich boutique last June. The attention to detail in the grape
growing and winemaking will remind many of nearby Starling Lane Winery.
Regrettably, the Starling Lane
partners are closing the winery at the end of the season; but some of their
vineyards will be selling grapes to Symphony. It is a happy transition.
Pinot Gris 2012 ($17.90). This is
an appealing and refreshing white with aromas of lime and grapefruit that carry
through to the palate, along with notes of green apples. The finish is
Gewürztraminer 2012 ($18.90). This
is a charmer. The spicy aroma notes are delicate, with peach and pink
grapefruit on the palate. There is a long, tangy finish. 90.
Pinot Noir Rosé 2011 ($17.90). This
wine displays a lovely rose petal hue, with aromas and flavours of
strawberries. It has a dry finish but with just a trace of residual sugar to
give it a juicy texture. 90.
Millot 2012 ($20.90).
Made from the Leon Millot grape, this wine, which was aged in American
oak, has a generous texture with a delicious core of plum and cherry flavours.
Tugwell Creek Honey Farm & Meadery
Based in Sooke, this was British Columbia’s pioneer producer of honey
wines. It opened in 2003. The wines are made by master beekeeper Robert
Liptrot. He has not only developed his own recipes; he also uses some venerable
family recipes. The tasting room also sells other honey products.
Creek Harvest Melomel 2011 ($19). This
is a slightly off-dry wine, light and fruity from the berries that are
fermented with the honey. There is just a hint of honey. 88
Creek Wassail Blush 2011 ($26.95).
This is also made with honey and berries but was aged eight months in French
oak and has just over 14% alcohol. It is balanced toward dry but with a
lingering sweetness on the finish. 89.
Mira Tusz, assistant winemaker at Unsworth
This Cobble Hill winery was opened in 2011 by Tim
and Colleen Turyk. Both have had successful careers in the fishing business and
are now exchanging one lifestyle for another.
Allegro 2011 ($19.90). This tasty
white is a blend of Pinot Gris, Petite Milo and Pinot Noir. It offers appealing
flavours of grapefruit and apples, with a crisp finish. 89.
Pinot Gris 2011 ($19.90). By aging
this three months on the lees, the winemaking team here have softened the
acidity of the vintage and given this wine nice texture. It tastes of pears,
apples and grapefruit. 90.
Rosé 2011 ($17.90). Made with
Pinot Noir, this is again a light summer wine, tasting of raspberry and
Marilyn Schulze and Giordano Venturi opened this
Cobble Hill winery in 1993, six years after establishing one of earliest Cowichan Valley vineyards. The couple, now joined
in the venture by her daughter, Michelle, are incredible detail-oriented in the
vineyard and in the winery. Many of the wines have Italian names, a reflection
of Giordano’s heritage.
Brut Naturel 2009 ($32). This is
made with Auxerrois, Kerner and other non-traditional grapes for sparkling
wine. But the wine still shares with Champagne
a toasty aroma, fruit and a creamy texture on the mid-palate, lively fine
bubbles and a crisp finish. 90.
Millefiori 2011 ($23). This is a
blend of Siegerrebe and Ortega; it was fermented slowly and very cool for
preserve the floral and spicy aromas. There are tastes of lime and apple on the
palate. The bright acidity of the vintage gives this wine an angular edge … but
it would be a great oyster wine. 88.
Sassi 2009 ($26). This is a dry
barrel-fermented Ortega/Pinot Gris blend that, according to the winery, thinks
it is a Scotch. I didn’t see that but it certainly has its own personality, with
a rich texture gained from aging on the lees until it was bottled. 87.
Schönburger 2008 ($18.60). Hardly
anyone ages Schönburger; maybe they should. This wine has become rich and
complex, with hints of honey, tangerine and hazelnuts. The finish is dry and
Primavera 2011 ($20). This is an
off-dry (but nicely balanced) Schönburger/Ortega blend, light-bodied and
fruity, with flavours suggesting peach and grapefruit. 88.
Maranell0 2011 ($26). This racy
Pinot Noir rosé is named, quite suitably, after the Italian home of Ferrari.
The wine has a lovely dark hue and good weight on the palate. It has spicy and
herbal cherry flavours and a pleasantly dry finish. 89.
Pinot Noir Reserve 2006 ($60). In
the hot vintage of 2006, the winery fermented grapes from its oldest vines to
make 75 cases of what is probably the biggest Pinot Noir made in the island
(14.8% alcohol). This is a hand-crafted wine, right down to being bottled by
hand, without filtering. There are flavours of plums, prunes and chocolate with
the elusive aroma sometimes called forest floor. 91
Pinot Noir 2008 ($45). In contrast
to the brooding personality of the 2006 Reserve, this wine, from a cooler vintage,
is bright and lively, with notes of strawberry and cherry. The silky texture
lends a fullness on the palate. 90.
Pinot Noir 2009 ($45). Here is
another Pinot Noir from a warmer vintage. The fruit flavours are more
concentrated (black cherry, chocolate). The texture is still firm but with a
polished elegance. The wine has good length and good aging potential. 90.
Zanatta Winery & Vineyards
In 1992, Zanatta was the first winery to open on Vancouver Island in the modern era. Fruit wineries that
opened in Victoria
in the 1920s and the last survivor of that group, Jordan & Ste. Michelle,
moved to the lower mainland in 1978 and closed a few years later.
Zanatta today has a 30-acre vineyard, one of the
largest on the island, which began as a one-acre test block in 1981. Growing
trials there helped guide subsequent planting decisions elsewhere on the
island. The specialty here is sparkling wine but co-owner Jim Moody also had a
surprise under the table.
Damasco NV ($N/A). This is a
fruity blend of four white varieties, with Bacchus jumping out in the spicy
aroma and the flavours of lime and green apple. 88.
Glenora Fantasia NV ($N/A).
This is the winery’s flagship sparkling wine, made from the only block of
Cayuga grapes in British Columbia.
This wine led to Zanatta taking itself out of the VQA program in the early
1990s. Cayuga, a New York
hybrid, was not on the list of approved grapes for VQA wines. I believe it
eventually was accepted but by that time, the winery discovered it could make a
living without VQA. The varietal has fairly bold grapey flavours which make
their way into this crisp, leesy bubbly. 88.
Brut Traditional NV ($N/A). This
is made entirely with Pinot Noir. It is crisp, with fine bubbles, flavours of
apples and bready lees. 89.
Pinot Nero 2009 ($N/A). This
medium-bodied Pinot Noir is still firm but evolving toward the classic texture
of the varietal. The wine has flavours of raspberry and black pepper. 88.
Merlot 2009 ($22.95). Vancouver
Island Merlots are few and far between because the variety needs more heat
units that the island gets in most years; 2009 was an exception. “We’ve been
growing it for 15 years,” Jim Moody says. It was ripe enough in 2009 that he
made 150 cases to release as a named varietal. It is a bit leaner than most
Okanagan Merlots but still has appealing flavours of black currant and