Photo: Blue Grouse winery
Wine tourism in the Cowichan Valley
got a serious shot in the arm this summer when Blue Grouse Estate Winery &
Vineyard opened a new showcase winery.
Every wine tourist in the valley will make visiting here a
priority just to admire the soaring architecture. Crucially, they will discover
that the wines are good enough to justify return visits.
This property was a pioneering, if tiny, Cowichan Valley
vineyard, planted in 1977, according to the winery. A German-born veterinarian,
Hans Kiltz, bought the property in 1989 and opened the winery in 1992. The
small size of the vineyard – somewhere between seven and ten acres – limited
his production. Hans was among the band of
winemakers who never bought
He put the winery on the market when he was at retirement
age. It took him five years before he found a buyer interested in Vancouver Island
. Paul Brunner (right), a mining executive who
had developed a passion for wine during an international mining career,
purchased Blue Grouse in 2012.
Paul has had the resources and the ambition to take Blue
Grouse from a niche producer to a much larger destination winery.
Joe Chauncey of
Boxwood Architects in Seattle
was retained to design the new winery. He incorporated features of a grouse in
the design. The roofline resembles the curve of a grouse’s head and neck. The
curves of the tasting room’s soaring ceiling recall a grouse’s belly.
The new building
occupies the footprint of the former winery but is a good deal larger. The
winery is taller, with a mezzanine overlooking the vineyard. In fact, everything has been scaled up,
including a much larger parking lot in anticipation of growth in visitor
numbers. The new owner also has enabled his winemaker, Bailey Williamson, to
increase the portfolio with a second label – called Quill - using fruit
purchased in the Okanagan and from other island vineyards.
This separate label
allows the winery to protect the integrity that Blue Grouse had earned with its
estate-grown wines. The Quill label extends production to varieties not grown
on the island. It also ensures the production volume is large enough to justify
the investment in the new winery.
A 1996 culinary school graduate, Bailey Williamson (left) embraced
wine while working in various professional kitchens, including Sooke Harbour
House. He moved to the Okanagan in 2001, taking Okanagan University
’s wine programs
while working as a cellar hand at the Sumac Ridge, Jackson-Triggs and Township
From 2004 to 2006, he was assistant cider maker at Merridale
Ciderworks on Vancouver Island
. Then he
returned to the Okanagan, where he was assistant winemaker at Road 13 Vineyard
from 2006 to the end of 2011.
Bailey had a hand in developing Road 13’s sparkling Chenin
Blanc. He applied that experience in making Paula, Blue Grouse’s first
Here are notes on current releases.
Blue Grouse Paula
2012 ($28 for 195 cases). This is a complex cuvée: 38% Pinot Gris, 37%
Ortega, 10% Müller-Thurgau and 5% Pinot Blanc. The wine was made traditionally;
the secondary fermentation and time on lees extended for 20 months before the
wine was disgorged for final bottling. It is finished very practically with a
crown cap. The satisfying pop when the cap is removed tells us that the cap imprisoned
the normal pressure found in sparkling wine. The vigorous mousse just confirms
it. The wine has nutty and toasty notes on the nose. This follows through on
the rich and creamy palate, along with flavours of apple and citrus. It is
balanced to finish dry. 90.
Blue Grouse Bacchus
2014 ($20 for 100 cases). The variety’s classic aromas of spicy limes and
herbs leap from the glass. Crisply dry, the wine has intense herbal flavours,
along with lime and gooseberry. The flavours and texture are very focussed,
with a hint of minerality on the palate. 91.
Quill Riesling 2014 ($20
for 200 cases). The wine, made with Okanagan grapes, begins with herbal, lemon
and lime aromas and flavours. On the palate, the wine is crisp, with a dry
finish. The wine has a fine spine of steely minerality. 90.
Quill White 2013
($17 for 389 cases). This is a blend of 36% Ortega, 39% Pinot Gris, 15%
Gewürztraminer and 10% Müller-Thurgau (just over half the grapes are estate
grown and the rest are from the Okanagan). It begins with aromas of lime and
pear. It presents a delightful fruit salad to the palate, with flavours of
apple, pear, peach and lime. Bright acidity gives the wine a tangy and
lingering finish. 89.
Quill Rosé 2014
($17 for 208 cases). This is made 100% with Cowichan Valley Gamay Noir, with 18
hours of skin contact to achieve a vibrant pink hue. It begins with aromas of
raspberry and cranberry. On the palate, the juicy texture supports flavours of
cherry and strawberry. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 89.
Quill Red 2013
for 350 cases). This is a blend of 44% Maréchal Foch (from the Cowichan Valley
) and 28% each of Merlot and
Cabernet Frane (from the Okanagan). The wine was aged 18 months in French oak
(some new, some used) and there is a whiff of oak on the fruity nose, along
with blackberry and raspberry. On the palate, the ripe tannins give the wine a
full texure, with flavours of black cherry, fig and spice. The finish lingers.