Blue Grouse winemaker Bailey Williamson
Now under new ownership, the Cowichan Valley
21-year-old Blue Grouse Estate Winery is expanding with the construction of a
The added capacity will enable this winery to increase its
production above the boutique volumes made by founder Hans Kiltz.
On retiring in 2012, Hans sold the winery to Paul Brunner (right), a
Canadian mining executive who still splits his time between the winery and an
office in Lima
(his wife has family in Peru
He was drawn to buy a winery on Vancouver Island in part because he has a
brother in Nanaimo
“We had been looking for a vineyard or a “lifestyle” type of
thing for a long time, six or seven years any way,” Paul told me in 2012. “My
wife actually found this winery.”
This is a property with a colourful history. The first vines
were planted here in 1983 by John Harper (left), a legend in British Columbia
viticulture who died in
2001. He had selected arguably one of the best sites in the Cowichan Valley
His work was derailed by a group of promoters whose proposal for a winery and
an associated research program flopped.
The property was acquired in 1990 by Hans Kiltz (right), a
German-born veterinarian. He had spent many years working in Africa
He moved to Vancouver Island
to give his
children access to good schools. He intended to transfer his skills to fishing
farming but, when that industry went into recession, he switched to winemaking.
He extended the Harper vineyard ultimately to eight and a
half acres. “I knew about the vineyard,” says Bailey who once worked in Victoria restaurants. “I
always thought that the varieties that Hans was growing were inspired. He
wasn’t trying to push the rock up hill.”
Hans produced only estate-grown wines. The first vintage was
1989 and the winery opened in 1993. Blue Grouse is well-regarded for its wines,
especially Pinot Gris, Ortega and Pinot Gris. The wines were sold almost
entirely on Vancouver Island
Paul Brunner and Bailey Williamson, his winemaker, are
setting out to expand production and raise the profile of Blue Grouse.
In June, the winery announced: “Construction is now underway on a new modernized winery and tasting room,
with architectural design inspired by the winery’s namesake bird. The roofline echoes the curve of a grouse’s
head and neck, and finishing touches reflect the palette of the bird’s
feathers.” The architect is Joe Chauncey of Boxwood Architects in Seattle
Meanwhile, the winery
has begun assessing the potential for expanding its vineyard. “Once it
is all down, we should have roughly 20 acres under vine here,” Bailey says. “We
will maintain that for the estate label.”
Bailey also has developed a second label, Quill, for wines
that will use purchased grapes. “We need to have a saleable production of
around 5,000 cases before it becomes a real business,” Bailey says. “It is a
whole different model.”
The winery’s 2013 production was 2,700 cases. The rate at
which that expands to the target will be governed by sales. That’s why a new
label has been created and why Blue Grouses’ modest winery is being transformed
into a destination winery. There will be a large new tasting room as well as an
industrial kitchen for catering special events.
“The phone rings off the hook about having weddings here,”
The son of an accountant, Bailey grew up in a family that
often had wine on the table. His interest in wine was confirmed in his previous
food industry career. “I worked as a chef for 20 years before I got into this
line,” he says.
“I landed on the island in 1993 and worked around the
kitchens in Victoria
In 2000, I was looking for a change.” He went to the Okanagan, working several
vintages at Sumac Ridge and taking winemaking course at Okanagan College
“Then I went down to McLaren Vale and did a six-month stint
there with Hardy’s,” he says. “I had a great time in Australia
and was profoundly
changed by the experience. “I came back to the Okanagan and worked around at a
number of places. Then I was back here on the island for two years and got a
job at Merridale making cider, which I found very fascinating and interesting.
I left Merridale and was toying with the idea of going to learn to make
Then he met Michael Bartier, who has just become the
winemaker at Road 13 Vineyards. Bailey confided he would like to keep making
wine, but in a stable job, not just working vintages. He was offered a job at
Road 13, returned to the Okanagan, and settled down under Michael’s
tutelage. “That was a seminal
opportunity for me, to spend enough time in the cellar to learn and understand
what was going on,” Bailey says.
That wealth of experience stands him in good stead at Blue
Grouse, which he joined in 2012. As well, his Okanagan contacts have been
useful in contracting the premium Okanagan grapes he needs to expand the Quill
Here are notes on the current wines at Blue Grouse.
Siegerrebe 2012 ($18 for 120 cases). This is a refreshing, juicy white with
aromas and flavours of grapefruit and lime. An herbal note and spice on the
nose and on the finish add to the wine’s easy appeal. 88.
Blue Grouse Ortega
2012 ($19 for 250 cases). This fruity wine has tropical aromas and
flavours, including lychee and ripe peach. 88.
Blue Grouse Pinot
Gris 2013 ($18.50). Bailey fermented a small portion in barrel while giving
lees contact to the tank-fermented portion. The object was to give the wine a
fleshier texture and he succeeded. The wine has citrus aromas and flavours of
citrus, pear and herbs. 90.
Blue Grouse Pinot
Noir 2009 ($23 for 253 cases). Five years maturity has given this softened
the wine’s robust tannins. Bottle aging has developed a good Burgundian
complexity, with an earthy note to the cherry aromas. It has flavours of black
cherry, with a spicy finish. This was a gold medal winner at the All Canadian
Wine Awards this spring. 90.
Quill White Wine 2012
(17.00 for 650 cases). This is 52% Pinot Blanc, 34% Ortega, 14% Riesling.
There are aromas and flavours of apple, pear and lime. The wine has a dry
finish, with flavours that linger. 88.
Quill Rosé 2012 ($16
for 150 cases). This is 47% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Noir, 12% Gamay Noir, 1%
Black Muscat. An appealing dry rosé, it aromas of cranberry and cherry, leading
to flavours of strawberry, raspberry and cherry. 89.
Quill Red Wine 2012 ($19
for 205 cases). This is 47% Cabernet Foch, 21% Maréchal Foch, 21% Merlot and
11% Cabernet Libre. This wine won gold at the All Canadians this spring in the
red hybrids class. The two Cabernet varieties are Blattner hybrids and they
contribute smoky notes to the aroma. On the palate, there are flavours of
cherry, currant and blackberry. There are cedar notes on the dry finish. 88.