It may be a cliché, but the term ‘match made in heaven’ was what came to mind when I was doing my ‘strenuous’ research for this week’s edition of Island Artisans. I discovered a place I'm actually a little reluctant to share, since that may mean less room for me the next time I visit. But I am going to spill the beans, right now!
I finally made a few visits to a place I had been hearing about for the past year. It’s called Saison Market Vineyard, and it’s just north of Duncan, just off the Transcanada Highway on Mays Road. The proprietors are Ingrid Lehwald and Frederic Desbiens. I first met them a couple of years ago, Ingrid was an assistant cheesemaker at Hilary’s Cheese and I met Frederic, a French Canadian chef from Quebec, at the Duncan Farmers market when he and Ingrid started a booth there to sell their goods. The match made in heaven began a few years ago when Ingrid was running the very successful Fieldstone Bakery in White Rock and Frederic became her first wholesale customer via his restaurant there. Romance and partnership have led them to the Cowichan Valley, where Ingrid grew up.
So you put together a chef and a baker and something good has to happen. Together they have created Saison, which is only open on the weekends. It’s a very comfy cafe and bakery with a wonderful view of their property and where you can buy Ingrid’s excellent breads, and Frederic’s sweet and savoury specialties. I've sampled a few things, but my favourites are Frederic's cherry frangipane tarts, or a slice of Ingrid’s bread slathered with their rhubarb and vanilla preserve. This is why people are flocking there every Saturday and Sunday.
They are only open on the weekends because the main business of their property is going to become grape growing. Frederic also has a background in vineyard management. The piece of property they purchased north of Duncan is about to become a supply of grapes for local wineries. This is the real reason they bought the property, and according to his studies of their property, the climate and what other vineyards are doing, they are growing varietals of pinot gris, gewürztraminer and pinot noir….and crossing their fingers, this will be the first year they hope to harvest a small crop from the vines they planted a few years ago.
But while the grape production is ramping up, there is lots to keep them busy at the cafe, where they try to use the best of local and seasonal ingredients available. I visited them on a Friday morning, their second day of preparation for what are becoming increasingly busy weekends. Ingrid was preparing the bread dough while Frederic had soups and tarts on the go, and they are a well-oiled machine, I got tired just listening to the list of products they prepare fresh every weekend…including a levain-style bread dough. Ingrid says she knows when it has been properly mixed because of the way the dough sounds in the mixer, and the appearance of what she call 'Dairy Queen' peaks, which you can see in the last photo.
So they work Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the bakery and cafe, then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in the vineyard. They do have some employees helping out, but they are definitely doing the majority of the work…and Frederic says it’s a work he loves. "There's a quality to it, and yes, we have to rush around and work hard to get ready for the weekend, but then early in the week when you are out in the vineyard with the fresh air and a different pace, you slow down and make sure you have your lunch, and you love it even though it is a lot of work."