Off the Vine – Hands-On Harvest: A Saanich Peninsula Experience

by Tilar J. Mazzeo | photos courtesy SeaCider Farm and Ciderhouse – 

When the pandemic started, wine lovers were grateful for those new online tasting experiences that kept us all connected. But are you starting to feel a hankering for something a bit more, well, hands on? Looking for a fun way to get out and enjoy the beautiful Saanich Peninsula and our agricultural heritage? Here are a couple of upcoming, mostly-outdoors wine events that might help you ease back into some harvest-time fun this autumn.

The grape harvest here on Vancouver Island is always a race against the winter rains. As a former winemaker and as a current grape grower on the Peninsula, I can tell you that it’s a nail-biting season. Winemakers and winegrowers want their grapes to “hang” on the vines as long as possible, to concentrate all that lovely sunshine into sugars. When the grapes are shrivelled by our dry late summers, though, once the rains come the grapes take up the water too quickly and burst their skins. It’s a recipe for mildew and wasp attacks. So by mid-September the winemakers are anxiously watching the weather. The goal is to “pull the fruit” in those last days before the winter rains set in, which as we all know here on southern Vancouver Island can come anywhere from mid-September to early October.

Does this sound like just the kind of thing you would like to learn a bit more about? The best way to learn about wine is in the vineyard. In fact, fancy trying your hand at making your own wine from some local fruit – maybe with a bit of expert assistance?

Anne and Christian Friedinger farm one of the oldest local Peninsula vineyards, on Mount Newton Cross Road, formerly the site of Marley Farm Winery, and they have several acres planted to two white-wine varietals – Ortega and Pinot Gris. They are one of several local vineyards offering a “U-Pick” harvest opportunity (for other vendors, check out the farm listings on Used Victoria, where many local growers post their listings). Round up some friends and the family, and head off for an afternoon of picking your own grapes and learning about vineyards first hand. The grapes can be pressed to make a great fresh, preservative-free grape juice that you can freeze to enjoy all winter (instructions on my wine blog for the uninitiated: or you can try making your own wine. U-pick is by reservation, with emails to:

If you haven’t made wine before – and if you are wondering where to press those grapes, too – just down the way the folks at Flying Fish Winery (6782 Veyaness Road, Saanichton) are happy to help out and teach you the ropes. This “U-Brew” winery has the press up and running throughout the harvest season for anyone looking to “crush” grapes, apples or other garden fruits, for a modest fee. If you want to try making those summer treasures into a wine, owners Derek and Melanie Winnicki will help you through the process, from winemaking and bottling to the best part, of course: designing
your own personal wine label. Pressing by appointment:

Or maybe local cider is your thing for a different kind of hands-on harvest? Here’s another option: if you have apples in your backyard, SeaCider Farm and Ciderhouse (2487 Mt. St. Michael Road, Saanichton) has a community vintage. If you have at least a milk crate of unsprayed apples (or more), you can bring them in to get made into cider – and receive in exchange a gift card or a bottle of cider from their tasting room. Check out their website ( for details on how to get in on the fun and be part of crowd-sourcing something special.

Then, of course, in September the Victoria International Wine Festival ( returns, and this year’s lineup includes a special seminar on “Indigenous Grapes,” with University of Victoria professor Dr. John Volpe. Register online for this ticketed event. It’s a chance to learn about 10 different wines and local grape varietals; you know, in case you’re thinking of the most hands-on harvest ever: planting your own backyard vineyard.

For more information, email

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