South-facing slopes, soft sea breezes and ancient glacial soils have made Central Vancouver Island a must-taste destination for the world’s wine lovers.
From the Cowichan Valley in the south to the Comox Valley in the north, you will find grape growers and wine makers large and small building a well-earned reputation as the Wine Island.
The Cowichan Valley is called The Warm Land, with rushing rivers and rich farmland nestled amongst rounded mountains known in native lore as The Sleeping Frogs. Decades ago much of this farmland was underused. Then one day an adventurous soul decided to try grapes and started a gold rush of investors and producers from the world over. Today the Cowichan Valley is at the heart of a renaissance of fine wine and gourmet dining.
Alderlea Vineyards — Winemakers Zachary Brown and Julie Powell travelled the world before deciding on Alderlea, the old name for the City of Duncan from more than a century ago. On the slopes above Quamichan Lake,they create sustainably produced Bacchus, Sauvingnon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Clarinet and Matrix.
Averill Creek Vineyard — With vineyard experience in Tuscany, France, Australia and New Zealand, Andy and Wendy Johnston knew the Cowichan Valley’s Mediterranean climate was right for them. Their 40-acre estate is perfect for planting and producing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Maréchal Foch, Foch Cabernet, Cabernet Libre, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
Blue Grouse Estate Winery and Vineyard — Paul and Cristina Brunner emphasize stewardship of their 65 acres of wind-protected southern exposure. They produce a range of estate whites and reds including Ortega, Bacchus, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Muscat. Spend an exquisite ‘bed and bottle’ night in The Grouse House!
Cherry Point Estate Wines — On a 34-acre farm just south of Cowichan Bay, this 24-acre vineyard — the second=largest on Vancouver Island — is surrounded by green fertile hills and majestic rainforests. Eighteen varieties include Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Zweigelt, Cabernet Libre, Pinot Noir, Agria, Ortega, Seigerrebe and Castel.
Damali Lavender & Winery — Experience grape and fruit wines that incorporate this beautiful farm’s acres of lavender: Pinot Gris with lavender and raspberries, oaked Cowichan blackberries with lavender syrup and much more.
Deol Family Estate Winery — More than 30 years of grape-growing experience have gone into this 18-acre vineyard, featuring eight varieties including Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Marechal Foch and Gamay Noir.
Divino Estate Winery — Chardonnay, Trebbiano, Castel, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio are at the heart of the varietals on the Busnardo Vineyard in sunny Cobble Hill. Wth more than 40 years in the business, they’re branching out into late harvest wines, sparkling wines and more.
Emandare Vineyard — Mike and Robin Nierychlo’s naturally produced wines are estate-grown, dry-farmed and organically farmed on 8.5 acres in North Cowichan: Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Foch.
Enrico Winery — Stroll through the vineyard on this award-winning picturesque 50-acre estate. A unique micro-climate produces Ortega, Petit Milo, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Foch, Syrah, Pinot Noir and much more.
Glenterra Vineyards — This five-acre, dry-farmed vineyard emphasizes the minimal and the natural. Look for estate grown Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir Rosé, as well as unique blends.
Rocky Creek Winery — Mark and Linda Holford and family produce Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir but you’ll want to try the port-style wild blackberry wine. Many national and international awards.
Unsworth Vineyards — Daniel Cosman and his team are farming 12 picturesque acres with Marechal Foch, Blattner, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Look for their award-winning Ovation and much more. Plan on pairing a glass or two with a meal in Chef Maartyn Hoogeveen’s renowned Unsworth Restaurant.
Venturi Schulze Vineyards — Giordano and Marilyn Venturi and Michelle Willcock Schulze offer natural estate-grown wines in a sustainable fashion at their vineyard and tasting room in Cobble Hill. Look for a variety of unique reds, whites, rosés and sparkling wines, as well as their own balsamic vinegar, jams and jellies.
Vigneti Zanatta — Dionisio Zanatta was a pioneer in transforming Vancouver Island into the Wine Island. Today the Zanatta family’s farmgate winery remains a trendsetter, now boasting a tasting room, wine store, wine bar and the superb Vinoteca Restaurant. Specializing in the méthode champanoise, they offer Allegria Brut Rosé, Glenora Fantasia Brut, Ortega, Taglio Rosso (Brut) and more.
Drive inland to the outskirts of the Central Island’s largest city and you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by lush farmland perfectly suited to growing grapes and producing wine.
Chateau Wolff Estates — Owners of a bistro-pub in Ontario, Matt and Natalie Riga dreamed of one day owning their own winery. Their organic vineyard and boutique-style winery produce Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, a White Blend and a fortified red called Rouge.
Millstone Estate Winery — This six-acre, family-run vineyard by the Millstone River claims to be Nanaimo’s Best Kept Secret, with handcrafted wines focusing on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Ortega and Gewürztraminer.
The Alberni Valley is known for its lush, productive farmland, with glacial gravel, clay and sand perfectly suited for grape-growing and wine production.
Emerald Coast Vineyards — Sixteen planted acres surrounded by trees produce a variety of grapes, including Schonberger, Madeline Angevine, Pinot Gris, Reichensteiner, Pinot Noir, Dornfelder, Marechal Foch, Siegerrebe and Gamay. The onsite wine shop also boasts fruit wines.
The Parksville-Qualicum Beach area isn’t yet known for its wine production, even though it has rich farmland and lots of people who grow grapes and make wine for their own consumption. All the same, a must-visit is the unique MooBerry Winery on 90-acre Morningstar Farm. Clarke and Nancy Gourlay were making artisanal cheeses on the farm and a good fit seemed to be vintner Phil Charlebois’ award-winning fruit wines: raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, gooseberry, cranberry, pear and more. Tour the farm and sample the fare in the Farmgate Store.
Surrounded by towering peaks, cut by glacier-fed rivers, the Comox Valley offers rich glacial farmland perfect for growing grapes and producing fine wine.
Beaufort Vineyard and Estate Winery — James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron are passionate about quality and sustainable organic farming. They produce a range of unique, handcrafted reds and whites with names like Beaudacious, Ortega, Petite Milo and a shiraz-Cab called Big Nose Red.
40 Knots Vineyard & Estate Winery — On 24 sunny, windswept, seaside acres, Layne Robert Craig’s and Brenda Hetman-Craig’s 40 Knots is one of the largest grape wineries on Vancouver Island. Look for 40 Knots L’Orange, Stall Speed Meritage, Ziggy Siegerrebe, Spindrift Brut Ltd Release and much, much more.
Raven’s Moon Craft Cider — George and Quinn produce a range of handcrafted ciders and fruit wines: blueberry, apple, blackberry, raspberry, plum, pear, cherry and more.
Coastal Black Estate Winery — This 600-acre family farm at the base of Mt. Washington produces a range of fruit wines and ciders, including strawberry and blackberry sparkling wines and a blueberry mead.
Stones Throw Vineyard & Estate Winery — This 10-acre farm, with four acres of Marechal Foch vines, produces handcrafted, small-batch vintages. Look for the deep inky red 2015 Foch.