West Coast Wine Cruises: Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Wine tourists appreciate Vancouver Island for its slow pace and bucolic scenery. The island doesn't get the Okanagan's crowds but has all the amenities anyone desires. Most of the 30 or so wineries are clustered either in the Cowichan Valley, around Duncan, or on the Saanich Peninsula, north of Victoria. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of Wine Access magazine.
Wine tourists appreciate Vancouver Island for its slow pace and bucolic scenery. The island doesn't get the Okanagan's crowds but has all the amenities anyone desires. Most of the 30 or so wineries are clustered either in the Cowichan Valley, around Duncan, or on the Saanich Peninsula, north of Victoria.
PRODUCERS TO LOOK FOR
The best vineyard views are from the tasting room at newly opened Averill Creek Winery, north of Duncan. Other notable tasting rooms are at Cherry Point Vineyards, Blue Grouse Vineyards, Merridale Ciderworks, Church & State, Chalet Estate Winery, Morning Bay Farm (North Pender Island) and Garry Oaks (Salt Spring Island). Appointments are recommended for Alderlea Vineyards and Venturi-Schulze. Tiny Starling Lane's winery in Saanich is on a lovely farm, once owned by B.C.'s "hanging judge," Matthew Baillie Begbie.
BOTTLES TO PICK UP
Unheralded Glenterra Vineyards offers superbly crafted pinot noir, as does Venturi-Schulze, Alderlea, Church & State and Winchester Cellars. Other top reds include Labyrinth and Fetish from Garry Oaks, Clarinet (a serious Maréchal Foch) from Alderlea and merlot from Church & State. The choice whites are Ortega from Cherry Point and Chalet Estate, pinot gris from Cherry Point, Blue Grouse, Alderlea and Garry Oaks, as well as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc from Church & State. Vigneti Zanatta specializes in sparkling wines. Among dessert wines, try Blue Grouse's Black Muscat, Alderlea's port and the port-style blackberry wines from Cherry Point and Rocky Creek - the new Ladysmith winery.
WHERE TO STAY
Your best bets are the abundant bed and breakfasts, offering comfort, good food and personal contact with the people who make the Island so special. The two-unit B&B at Salt Spring Vineyards (www.saltspringvineyards.com) is essential to the winery experience. Wessex Inn by the Sea (250-748-4214) in Cowichan Bay is quiet, affordable and close to good dining. Miraloma on the Cove Inn (www.miraloma.ca) in Sidney is luxury lodging near the ferry on the Saanich Peninsula. The Island's most lavish overnights include Sooke Harbour House (which boasts a stunning 15,000-bottle cellar) and The Aerie Resort on the Malahat Drive (www.sookeharbourhouse.com; www.aerie.bc.ca).
WHERE TO EAT
Vinoteca restaurant at the Vigneti Zanatta (www.zanatta.ca) winery's heritage house is charming. La Pommeraie Bistro at Merridale Cidery (www.merridalecider.com) has racked up acclaim for elegant regional fare. Classic French cuisine is offered by Chef Pierre Koffel's Deep Cove Chalet (250-656-3541), paired with an 18,000-bottle wine cellar, across the road from Chalet Estate Winery. The Islanders Restaurant (250-629-3929) on North Pender Island complements a visit to Morning Bay Farm winery.
HOW TO GET THERE
Most do the 90-minute crossing from the mainland on BC Ferries, either from Tsawwassen (if starting the tour in the Saanich Peninsula) or from West Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay (easiest access to Cowichan Valley). For schedules, visit www.bcferries.com.