Victoria and Vancouver Island Feature

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Wineries Around Vancouver

Thanks to a Mediterranean climate, rich soil, and loads of sunshine—not to mention dedicated winemakers and appreciative consumers—southern Vancouver Island is blossoming into one of North America's fastest-growing, if least known, wine regions. Cool-climate varietals—such as Pinot Noir, Ortega, and Pinot Gris—do well here, at a latitude equivalent to northern France, but it's not all about grapes: English-style craft cider, berry wines, and traditionally made balsamic vinegar are also among the local specialties.

The region centers around the Cowichan Valley, a bucolic area about a 45-minute drive north of Victoria. Dubbed "The New Provence" for its proliferation of organic farms, wineries, restaurants, and specialist food producers, the valley is home to more than a dozen wineries. More are on the Saanich Peninsula, about 20 minutes north of Victoria and, increasingly, dotted across the offshore Gulf Islands.

Touring is easy and wonderfully low-key: burgundy-and-white Wine Route signs, as well as maps available in local tourist offices, show the way. BC Ferries' Mill Bay Ferry links the Cowichan Valley to the Saanich Peninsula.

Most of Vancouver Island's wineries are small, family-run, labor-of-love operations. Finding the wineries, hidden down winding country lanes, tucked between farm stands and artist studios, is part of the fun. Not all the wineries have enough staff to offer tours, but most offer tastings—it's always a good idea to call ahead. Some of the area's best lunches are served on winery patios.

COWICHAN VALLEY WINERIES

For a Cowichan Valley wine touring guide and map, go to www.wines.cowichan.net.

Cherry Point Estate Wines. An outdoor bistro on a shady patio, serving lunch May to September, is a draw at this Cowichan Valley winery that produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Ortega, and a popular blackberry dessert wine. Free tours and tastings run daily in summer (call for hours in winter). 840 Cherry Point Rd., Cobble Hill, BC, VOR 1L3. 250/743–1272. www.cherrypointvineyards.com.

Merridale Ciderworks. Cider is made in the traditional English way at this cidery and distillery; in addition to several varieties of cider and fortified wines, it also makes spirits, like a fizzy fruity vodka and an apple eau de vie. Visitors can tour the cidery, taste the wares, and linger over lunches of local fare served on the orchard-view patio. There's also a shop selling ciders, juices, baked goods, and jams, as well as a day spa with massages and pedicures given in an orchard-view yurt or a meadow-view gazebo. 1230 Merridale Rd., Cobble Hill, BC, V0R 1L0. 250/743–4293 or 800/998–9908. www.merridalecider.com.

Unsworth Vineyards. A relative newcomer among Cowichan Valley wineries, this small producer makes a Pinot Gris, a Merlot and Cabernet-Libre blend, and a port-style dessert wine. In addition to a tasting room, the property is home to Amusé at the Vineyard, a contemporary bistro set in a restored 1907 farmhouse. 2915 Cameron-Taggart Rd., Mill Bay, BC, V0R 2P2. 250/929–2292. www.unsworthvineyards.com. Fri.–Sun. 11–5.

Zanatta Winery. A local favorite is Zanatta Winery, which produces lovely Ortega, Pinot Grigio, and Damasco entirely from grapes grown on its own 30 acres. If you can, time a visit for an Italian-style lunch on the veranda of the winery's 1903 farmhouse. 5039 Marshall Rd., Duncan, BC, V9L 6S3. 250/748–2338. www.zanatta.ca. Fri.–Sun. noon–4.

SAANICH PENINSULA WINERIES

Muse Winery. At the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula, Muse Winery specializes in estate-grown Ortega and Pinot Gris varieties; a patio bistro serves lunch on summer weekends. 11195 Chalet Rd., North Saanich, BC, V8L 5M1. 250/656–2552. www.musewinery.ca. Thurs.–Sun. noon–5.

Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse. Traditional ciders, made with apples grown nearby, are paired with local cheeses, preserves and other delectables at this Saanich Peninsula ciderhouse. It's open year-round for tours and tastings. 2487 Mt. Saint Michael Rd., off Central Saanich Rd., Saanichton, BC, V8M 1T7. 250/544–4824. www.seacider.ca. June–Sept., daily 11–4; Oct.–May, Wed.–Sun. 11–4.

Victoria Spirits. Canada's first premium gin is made in a wood-fired still at this Saanich Peninsula distillery, which also makes hemp vodka and bitters. You can tour the distillery and sample the wares on weekends from spring through fall. 6170 Old West Saanich Rd., Victoria, BC, V9E 2G8. 250/544–8217. www.victoriaspirits.com. Apr.–Oct., weekends 10–5.

FOOD AND WINE FESTIVALS

Festivals are a great way to explore the region's food and wine scene.

Art of the Cocktail Festival. It's not only wine drinkers who can enjoy festival fun. Victoria's annual cocktail party includes tastings, workshops, and other sipping and supping events every October. Victoria, BC. 250/389–0444. www.artofthecocktail.ca.

Cowichan Wine and Culinary Festival. Cowichan Valley wineries and restaurants celebrate the region's bounty with a week of wine and culinary events every September. BC. wines.cowichan.net.

Taste: Victoria's Festival of Food and Wine. Victoria's annual food and wine fest brings a wealth of local food and wine producers, tastings, and events to town every July. Victoria, BC. www.victoriataste.com.

Vancouver Island Feast of Fields. This lavish celebration of local food is held on an area farm, generally in September. BC. www.ffcfprojects.ca/feast.

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