Posted On August 25, 2020 By In Regulars, Top Stories With 285 Views

OFF THE VINE – Local Juice: Sipping in Saanich & North Pender Island

by Tania Tomaszewska –

Whether it’s from our patio chairs, going to neighbourhood markets or hitting the roads, we’re blessed with being able to support local farming. We can meet producers and experience their land. We can bite into apples or sip grapes which have been cultivated in our beautiful and bountiful backyard.

Great artisanal wines and ciders are being made in our neck of the woods. Here are just a few of my local favourites!

Rathjen Cellars, Saanich

Winegrower and owner Mike Rathjen has repurposed the former Babe’s Honey warehouse for his production facility and really cool little tasting room. You can smell that history when you stop by to taste and have a chat with him.

Before moving things to Oldfield Valley, Mike started vinifying in his Fernwood basement in Victoria (hence his Wine Bunker reds and whites). I first heard about Rathjen when my family gave me a bottle of one of the early Pinot Noir vintages which they picked up at nearby Moss Street Farmer’s Market. Hard to get more local than that.

Rathjen Cellars is a farm-based winery focusing on low-intervention wines made using Vancouver Island grapes and sustainable farming practices. I’ve really enjoyed the wild ferment dry rosé made from gamay noir and pinot noir (a nod to Burgundy), the whites involving auxerrois and the Imperative dry vermouth (a collaboration with local Ampersand Distilling Co). Fresh coastal wines with high acidity and low alcohol, they’re perfect with our Island fare.

Rathjen Cellars is currently open Friday and Saturday afternoons (reservations suggested). You can find their drops at various B.C. restaurants and shops and online at the Rathjen website. • 334 Walton Place, Saanich

Twin Island Cider – North Pender Island

Using native yeast fermentation, Twin Island Cider makes artisanal cider and perry from heirloom apples and pears harvested on Pender, Saturna and Mayne Islands. I love their bottles and mission.

Just down the road from Sea Star Winery, it’s got one of the loveliest little tasting rooms I’ve seen anywhere. They’re currently open for sales on Saturdays and Sundays. You can also book to join a 30 minute tasting with cidermaker Matthew on Thursdays and Sundays. See their website for details and other places to pick up their juice. • 5601 Lupin Road, Pender Island

Sea Star Vineyards – North Pender Island

With its Pender and Saturna Island sites surrounded by the Salish Sea, Sea Star has some of the few vineyards in Canada which reach the shoreline. Bonus: their vines meet the local sea star population. Pick up any bottle of Sea Star and you’ll see a depiction of one of those lovely creatures.

Sea Star is a West Coast gem and proprietor David Gouge has built something magical here. Nestled in the North Pender Island woods, its modern airy tasting room is perched above organically farmed, rocky terraced vineyards which run down to the ocean and provide distant views across to Saturna Island vineyards. Grapes in these South Gulf Island pockets love the Mediterranean-like climate here.

Sea Star sells out every vintage. The wines are bright, fresh and coastal and I especially like the aromatic Ortega, Salish Sea and Blanc de Noirs Rosé. It’s bitter-sweet for many wine lovers of this vintage as Sea Star is for sale, but I’m hopeful that the next stewards of this special place will bring similar passion.

Sea Star is not hosting tastings right now but is open for sales on Saturdays and Sundays (or you can call the winery to purchase). Their stars are also found at various B.C. shops and select restaurants. • 6621 Harbour Hill Drive, Pender Island

Queries or comments? Tania would love to hear from you!
Email tania@ttwineexplorer or message on Instagram: @ttwineexplorer.
Photos courtesy Rathjen Cellars, Twin Island Cider and Sea Star Vineyards



Your West Coast Culture. A magazine about the people and places that make the Saanich Peninsula the little piece of paradise we call home.

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