One quick trip across the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia and you have landed in a wine region like no other.
Nestled in a charming countryside with rolling hills, bordered by the Pacific Ocean, the Cowichan Valley region boasts Canada’s only maritime Mediterranean climatic zone. Home to the hottest year-round temperatures and the longest growing season in the country, the name Cowichan comes from the Salish word Khowutzun meaning ‘warm land.’
Often referred to as Napa North and Canada’s Provence this region is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Minutes from quaint seaside communities and less than an hour drive north of Victoria, the local island wine experience has never been better.
Perhaps the biggest draw of all in the Cowichan Valley is one of the oldest Estate wineries in British Columbia, Blue Grouse Estate Winery. After a change in ownership in 2012, the Brunner family built an inspired new winery facility with many sustainable elements including locally-sourced construction materials, the use of geothermal energy, an onsite water collection and treatment that only allows clean water to be returned to the soil after use. Other features that reduce mechanical heating and cooling have also been added. This all coincides with the ‘live and let grow’ mentality of organically producing wine.
This desire to be green took many forms when the renovations were in planning stages. Not only did the building need to be aesthetically attractive, but it also needed to be efficient and as green as possible.
The ultra-modern, two-story winery is also considered the nicest in the region, as is the winemaking equipment.
A playground for Bailey Williamson, who has taken a unique path to becoming winemaker at Blue Grouse Estate Winery. A Vancouver native, he graduated from culinary school many years ago and moved to Vancouver Island where he has embraced the ‘farm to table’ movement.
Drawing on his culinary experience, Williamson’s approach to winemaking is more artistic than scientific. He adopts a critically-minded, organic approach to create wines that are true to the climate and soils of the Cowichan Valley. Williamson relies on flavor, his sense of- and knowledge of- in development, that he gained working as a chef to help form his wines.
Because food is an integral part of the wine experience for Williamson, he has made it his job to create wines that are versatile with dishes of all sorts, including those that are made solely with vegetables.
Let us start with the well-loved and celebrated, gold medal winner at the All Canadian Wine Championships, 2014 Blue Grouse Estate Winery Quill Red. The varietals in the Quill Red include 54.5% Merlot, 39.5% Cabernet Franc and 6% Marechal Foch, which, for those that are unfamiliar, is a hybrid French red grape variety.
Try this beautifully balanced red on tap at the Royal Dinette, a farm to table restaurant located in Vancouver’s downtown financial district that prides itself on serving ‘honest food.’ Owned by David Gunawan, the driving force behind both Farmer’s Apprentice and Grapes and Soda, this menu is filled with fresh, locally sourced fare that is dug from the dirt on the daily.
Grab yourself a seat on one of the retro, quilted-back swivel stools facing the open kitchen and order executive chef Alden Ong’s roasted cabbage and crispy lentil dish tossed in charred leek oil, house ponsu and a sake kasu. Chances are, you will see it whipped up right in front of you.
The result of this pairing is a truly delicious combination, proving that even the most unsuspecting ingredients, like roasted cabbage, can stand up to a red wine blend. The earthy flavour from the lentils and their slightly grainy taste marries beautifully with the notes of dark, stewed fruit coming from the Quill Red. Pleasantly surprised when the Japanese flavours of ponzu and sake kasu come into play, that is when the true potential of the Quill Red and its versatility is unveiled.
Next up, try the 2016 Blue Grouse Estate Winery Ortega. An unfamiliar name to some, this is one of the most planted grapes on Vancouver Island. The Ortega plants are all self-rooted and generally around 20 years old, fully-mature, and at the peak of their production.
The vintage is classic Ortega; clear and bright with medium acidity. On the nose, you will find a bouquet of lily of the valley and sweet sea breeze. This is a light-to-medium-bodied wine, with a nice balance.
A rare and wonderful occurrence to stumble across on a wine list, this unique bottle is offered at Edible Canada at the Market on Granville Island.
At this all Canadian eatery, the team is dedicated to sourcing the highest quality culinary products from coast to coast. They offer a vibrant menu, with a selection of plantbased dishes, a fan favourite being the falafel plate.
Enjoy the flavoursome falafel plate complete with charred broccoli, roasted cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and fresh tomato tossed in tahini dressing and lemon juice. Pair this dish with the 2016 Blue Grouse Estate Winery Ortega and you will be delighted by how well the flavors and textures complement one another.
Feel like sipping on a lighter bodied red, that pairs equally as well? The Blue Grouse Estate Winery Pinot Noir is also offered by the bottle and makes for an elegant choice. You will get aromas of cherry, nutmeg, and allspice on the nose. This complex wine shows elements of minerality and fine tannins and firm acidity will round out the finish.
As more restaurants expand their organic offerings, there is no reason you cannot create a healthy food and wine experience of your own each time you dine out. Look at it as an opportunity to recalibrate your thinking when it comes to matching wine with your favourite plantbased food.