Photo: Mark and Linda Holford
Recently, another Vancouver journalist copied me on
correspondence he had had with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
He has gotten into the habit of sending her a birthday card,
having discovered that the Royal Family often responds with a card of thanks.
This year, he included a gift, a copy of my 2011 book, John Schreiner’s BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide.
The Duchess replied that she would study the book (as
unlikely as that seems to me).
A gift with more impact would be been a bottle of blackberry
“port” – considered by many as the iconic wine produced on Vancouver Island. I
believe the Royals have been known to enjoy a drop, although probably not
fortified blackberry wine. So for next year, I would recommend sending a bottle
of Rocky Creek’s Wild Blackberry.
To fill in some background, here is an excerpt on this
Cowichan Valley winery from my Tour Guide.The
olive trees planted here in 2010 are the latest step on Mark and Linda
Holford’s remarkable career path from Sarnia’s refineries to artisanal wine
growers on Vancouver Island.
Mark Holford, who
operates this winery with wife Linda, is the third generation in his family to
make wine at home. In 2005, he realized a long-held dream when he turned
winemaking into his profession.
“Ever since I was in my early teens, I helped
my dad make wine,” Mark recounts. “He did a lot of amateur winemaking and my
grandfather in England did a lot.” That skill made him popular at university
when he agreed to make wine and beer for his friends as well. It dawned on his
that this “could be something I could do as an occupation.”
Born in Deep River,
Ontario, in 1968, Mark is a chemical engineer with a master’s degree in
environmental engineering. He met Linda in Calgary, her hometown, when he was
completing a co-operative studies assignment with an oil company. She is an
engineering technologist with management skills gained in the oil industry. They
spent two and a half years in Sarnia where Mark worked in the Shell
“But we always wanted
to come to Vancouver Island,” says Linda. “When we were in Calgary, we wanted
to get a job [here] and an opportunity happened first in Sarnia.” In the fall
of 2001 Mark and Linda were vacationing in Victoria, where Linda’s retired
parents lived, when he found a position at the pulp mill at Crofton. They bought
a home nearby in Ladysmith. Plans for a winery were put on hold because there
was no room for a vineyard on their suburban street. Then they discovered they
could get a commercial license and make wine with purchased grapes. Rocky Creek
opened in 2005, making 600 cases with grapes from a vineyard at Chemainus and
with purchased wild blackberries. Their first release was a port-style
blackberry wine – which also won the winery its first medal.
Linda and Mark, who
continues to work as an environmental consultant, soon figured out that small
wineries are more profitable with a land-based license (because government
takes much less in taxes and charges). In the winter of 2008 they moved to a
three-hectare (7½-acre) farm in the Cowichan Valley, on a property almost back
to back with Venturi-Schulze Vineyards.
In their own Cowichan
Valley vineyard, they had planted Maréchal Foch, some of Valentin Blattner’s
Swiss hybrids, and almost a hectare (2½ acres) of blackberries. The cultivated
blackberries are required by the regulations for land-based wineries, however
ridiculous it is to plant more blackberries, given the abundance of wild
blackberries on Vancouver Island. Mark has made a trial lot of sparkling
blackberry wine and expects to increase that production.
It will be a few years
before Rocky Creek can make olive oil. Five trees were planted in 2010 (Mark
and Linda already had two). “After we make sure they survive our winters in
Cowichan Bay, we will get more,” Mark says. “We would like a small grove of
30-40 trees. Production is not likely for at least five years.”
Here are notes on current releases.
Rocky Creek Winery
($20). This wine begins aromas of honey, pear and spice. On
the palate, it tastes of lime, grapefruit and lychee with an herbal touch on
the finish. The finish is crisply dry. 88.
Rocky Creek Winery
Pinot Gris 2015
($20). A short amount of skin time has given a pale salmon
hue and accentuated the fruity aromas.
On the nose, there are notes of peach, ripe pear and ripe apple. It has
tangy citrus flavours and a crisp, dry finish. 88.
Rocky Creek Winery Robin's Rosé 2015
($20). Made with Pinot Noir, the wine presents in the glass with
a strawberry pink hue. On the palate, its crisply dry with flavours of
strawberry and cranberry. This is
modelled successfully on the rosés of Provence. 90.
Rocky Creek Winery On
The Mark NV
($20). This is a blend of Cabernet Foch and Maréchal Foch, with
a touch of Tempranillo. The wine has smoky aromas along with black currant and
blackberry; this are echoed on the palate, along with notes of cherry and
Rocky Creek Winery
Wild Blackberry NV
($25 for 500 ml). This Port-style wine (16% alcohol) was
a double gold winner this year at the All Canadian Wine Championships. It has
intense aromas and flavours of blackberries and is rich on the palate. 91.