by Tania Tomaszewska –
For many, January is hibernation and recovery. For me, it’s recharging the batteries and new learnings. Visiting a winery to experience its story and terroir ticks those boxes; I highly recommend it.
As a few stops in Cowichan Valley keep their doors open during this quiet month, why not explore what’s becoming a distinct appellation in our Wine Islands region? Ultimately, wine is about geography. Latitude, geological history and human geography (who’s making this drop and why?) matter and Cowichan Valley has its own combination of these factors.
First Nation Coast Salish for “Warm Land,” Cowichan is “cool-climate Mediterranean.” This maritime region benefits from the warmest year-round average temperature in Canada, long dry summers and frost-free periods, mild winters, the rainshadow of nearby mountains and moderating local lakes and Salish Sea. Its unique stratified soils come from millions of years in the making: volcanic rock migrating from southern tropics, marine deposits, local tectonics and glacial moves. This is “Baja BC” and a completely different wine region from, say, the Okanagan Valley.
The styles of wines you’ll find here reflect this: light and crisp, bright and lively, with fresh coastal acidity (and often salinity). Sparkling, whites and rosés do particularly well, but reds are increasingly on my radar (especially pinot noir). Changing weather and climatic conditions are assisting with that trend.
You don’t have to trek far to taste local. Tie in a coffee and pretzel stop at True Grain Bakery in Cowichan Bay and your day is sorted.
Averill Creek Vineyard
Founded in 2001, Averill Creek is built into the side of Mount Prevost and has modern “gravity flow” winemaking facilities. I like its airy Tasting Room with floor to ceiling windows which showcases its range of wines and vineyard views.
Book a guided winery tour to get a “behind the scenes” look at the crush pad and see where it all happens (and hopefully meet winemaker Brent Rowland). Burgundian in ethos, he’s also producing low intervention “field blends” under their Joue label and plans to deepen the pinot noir program. Watch this space.
Some recent favourites: Prosecco-style Charme de L’ile, 2018 Pinot Grigio, Joue Blanc Field Blend, 2014 Somenos Series Pinot Noir.
6552 North Road, Duncan. www.averillcreek.ca; 250-709-9986.
Unsworth Vineyards (pictured above) has been a leader in showing what this region can produce in terms of high quality coastal wines. I like how both “mainstream” grapes and lesser-known hardy, hybrid varieties which thrive on the Island have been strongly introduced through the portfolio.
Inspired by the potential, Tim Turyk (with wife Colleen) bought the winery in 2009 and named it after his late mum Marjorie Unsworth (a long-time Shawnigan Lake summer local). Sustainable farming practices and artisanal winemaking are at the heart of this family business.
In addition to the cozy Tasting Room, Unsworth Restaurant (located in a restored 1900’s farmhouse) welcomes you to taste their drops with a “farm to table” menu packed with local ingredients. I can’t think of a better way to embrace a sense of place than to eat it and sip it, while looking out across it.
Some recent favourites: 2018 Sauvignette, 2018 Rosé, 2017 Pinot Noir.
2915 Cameron Taggart Road #1, Mill Bay. www.unsworthvineyards.com; 250-929-2292.
Note: As early winter months see reduced hours, it’s a good idea to call wineries ahead and confirm opening times.
For more info: www.ttwineexplorer or on Instagram @ttwineexplorer.
Photo courtesy of Wines of British Columbia.