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A Covert BC Wine Tour

SS Vineyards

I wrote this blog a year ago but didn’t post it. As a wine tourist not a connoisseur, I’m happy to tell the backstories of the wineries but hesitant to discuss the quality of the wines. Recently, I learned that four of the  BC wineries whose wine I most enjoyed in this blog turned up in WineAlign’s  2018 list of the Top 25 wineries in Canada. It was now OK to post the blog.

My visit to Vancouver last year was organized around a family reunion and a wedding, so we could only squeeze in one winery visit. My dilemma was how to wine tour when it’s not on the itinerary. so I conducted my own covert wine tour through wine shops,  restaurant wine lists and hostess gifts.

Why is this such a big deal?  It is extremely difficult in Ontario to buy BC wine because of the ludicrous provincial barriers on the importing of Canadian wines across provincial borders and BC wines are booming.

At the 2017 All Canadian Wine Championships ACWC, BC wines took no prisoners.
With a total of  873 BC wines competing they garnered 360 medals, 150 more than all the other provinces combined. They won Best Red, Best White, Best Sparkling, Best Fruit Wine and Best Dessert Wine of the year, the five top awards and they jangled double gold medals in 31 different categories plus bushels of gold, silver and bronze medals.

My covert wine tour started at my brother-in-law’s who introduced us to us to West Kelowna’s Mission Hill wines,  both Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir at dinners in his Vancouver condo.  We had tasted Mission Hill Merlot on our Wine Touring by Westerdam adventure. Their wines are delicious.  Mission Hill placed #19  in the top 25 wineries of 2018

Whistle 1

Iniyaxan: Thunderspirit, the Whistler BC welcome figure created by Ray Natraoro

We took a day trip to Whistler with stops for photo shoots at Horseshoe Bay,  the stunning Shannon Falls and caught glimpses of massive snow-topped mountains, and glacier fields above the treeline at every turn in the road. The town of Whistler is a delight for shoppers and tourists as much as it is for skiers. Lunch came with a glass of Red Rooster  Pinot Gris from Penticton. Red Rooster placed  #20  in the top 25 wineries of 2018

We stayed at the Coast Plaza Hotel in West Vancouver with a spectacular view of English Bay, the Lions Gate Bridge, and the mountains. Every night we walked down to the beach to watch the sunset with hundreds of others from the neighbourhood  stopping in for gelato on our walk back to the hotel.

English Bay 1

The view of English Bay from the Coast Plaza hotel. Sadly this beautiful hotel is being converted into condos

While the menfolk went on a marathon hike sightseeing the waterfront out to Canada Place and beyond, I explored the shops on Denman and Robson Streets looking for wine stores. On the advice of the wine sales expert, I picked up a pale gold, skin-contact Pinot Gris hy Hillside Winery of Penticton and a Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced Inkameep) Merlot from Osoyoos  I’d seen Nk’Mip Cellars mentioned repeatedly in the ACWC awards. It is unique as BC’s first aboriginal-owned winery, Although the lead winemaker is European, the associate winemaker and viticulturist are both First Nations who had taken training in oenology in New Zealand. Mk’Mip winery placed #5  in the top 25 wineries of 2018

My third purchase was an Oldfield Reserve Merlot 2013  from Tinhorn Creek Winery in the Golden Mile Bench of the Okanagan Valley. I’ve been following Sandra Oldfield the winemaker for years on Twitter. She won three double gold medals for her reserve wines at the 2017 CWC. The first two wines were for hostess gifts the Oldfield Reserve was for me. Sadly Tinhorn Creek has since been sold and its iconic winemaker has retired from winemaking.

Three wines

Hostess gift wines Hillside Pinot Gris, Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Merlot and Nk’Mip Merlot

We went out for supper after our adventures at The Boathouse Restaurant  on Beach Avenue overlooking English Bay. The food was excellent. Our party was divided between the lobster and crab stuffed ravioli topped with roasted tomato, spinach, and citrus cream and the crab stuffed prawns with wild rice and seasonal veggies. Both paired beautifully with  CederCreek oaked  Chardonnay. from Kelowna.  This winery had won numerous medals at the ACWC  I’d recommend the Boathouse for its food, wine list, ambiance and service to anyone visiting Vancouver. CedarCreek placed  #7  in the top 25 wineries of 2018.

We headed off for Vancouver Island the next day taking the ferry from Horseshoe Bay after a great breakfast at Trolls Restaurant famous for its fish and chips.  When we landed in the northern end of the Island we headed for Coombs Old Country Market which is a shopaholic’s paradise. I should have brought larger suitcases. Lunch was in the garden of The Cuckoo Trattoria. While the men were checking out the craft beers, I ordered a glass of Rosé by 40 Knots Winery from Comox Valley Vancouver Island. It was an off-dry wine which glowed a fluorescent pinky-orange with the aromas of red berries and flowers. Like the Mission Hill, and the Cedar Creek, it had me at the first sip. Sadly it didn’t make the top 25 list. What do these wine experts know any way?

In Coombs

Check out the vibrant colour of the 40 Knots Winery Rosé in my hand.  Photo by Mike Leonard

We stayed with family at their beautiful waterfront home in Ladysmith with a view of the Gulf Islands. and had the Nk’mip  Merlot with our barbecued hamburgers. It was a full-bodied wine with notes of plum, black cherry, and pepper. Their name might be hard to say, but the wine was very easy to drink.

The following day we took the ferry over to Salt  Spring Island.  There are three wineries on Salt Spring Island but we only had time to visit Salt Spring Vineyards. The difference between buying a bottle of wine at the wine store and visiting the winery is that you get to see the location, chat with the staff and catch the pride and excitement they have about their product. The location is very scenic and a favourite for group outings and concerts.

Salt Spring Island is not prime grape growing area and the hardy hybrids do far better than European vinifera. The Pinot Noir deserved medals for courage rather than taste but their Millotage, a blend of Leon Millot and Marechal Foch, was a great gutsy red, lightly oaked, spicy with aromas of plum and black currant, great for summer barbecues. I tried two of their whites both made with hybrids that were new to me: Aromata which was a blend of unnamed coastal BC grapes, and Evolutions an interesting blend of Petit Milo and Epicure,  Both of these wines were a great purchase if you were looking for something a little different.

Salt spring winery.3. jpg

View of Salt Spring Winery from their Gazebo

We spent the afternoon exploring the shops and bistros of Ganges, the Island’s largest community with a scenic harbour and busy marina. We had a pleasant lunch at The Oyster Catcher Seafood Bar & Grill and I managed to try the Salt Spring Pinot Gris which had been sold out at the winery.

Our last day on Vancouver Island was spent exploring Victoria, the bronze statues at the seaman’s memorial of a young girl running into the arms of her father returned from the sea, is a very poignant reminder for me as the daughter of a Canadian naval officer. Lots of interesting shops and markets downtown. We had lunch at Milestones Bar and Grill and I had a Sumac Ridge Pinot Gris from the Southern Okanagan.

Home from the sea 1

My covert wine tour  had given me a suprisingly good overview of the BC wine industry, tasting wines from many of BC’s wine regions including Vancouver Island,  the Gulf Islands,  the Okanagan’s  Golden Mile Bench, Kelowna, Osoyoos,  Penticton,  Summerland,  and West Kelowna.  All of the wines I tasted were from wineries whose names had turned up on wine awards lists, and I’d only just scratched the surface.

15 BC Wineries were in the Wine Align Top 25 Canadian Wineries in Canada list. The remaining 10 were from Ontario. Check this list to see how your favourite wineries fared.

Cheers to the BC Wine industry and the many wonderful BC experiences waiting to be paired with glasses of  their beautiful wine.



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