Vancouver Island Wineries

Thanks to a Mediterranean-like 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, mead, 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.

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