Food Matters – Historic Cowichan Valley Winery and TASTE preview

It looks as though summer weather is finally arriving on Vancouver Island, enticing more of us to get out and about this part of the province, so why not explore the world of food and win? I got a head start with a visit to a history-making vineyard last weekend.

BCCoastalcoverlrIf you go way back, and you can by checking into John Schreiner’s excellent BC Coastal Wine Tours book, the first wines commercially produced on Vancouver Island were in 1923 by a company called Grower’s Wines on Quadra Street in Victoria. For years, all of the commercially made wines here were made from berries, loganberries and blueberries. Luckily we weren’t around then to taste them. Grape wines didn’t really get under way here until the early 1990’s including those made at Cherry Point Estate Winery, where I met up last weekend with the original owners of the Cherry Point winery, Wayne and Helena Ulrich.

1(old and new owners at Cherry Point Estates – l to r: Helena and Wayne Ulrich, winemaker Dean Canadzich, Xavier and Maria-Clara Bonilla)

What did they know about winemaking when they got started? Not a lot. Wayne was an Agriculture Canada lending officer, attracted to the winemaking business by some of the clients he dealt with who were starting wineries. The land they purchased in Cobble Hill had been a mink ranch, but in 1990 they planted some of the 34 acres of land they bought with whatever kinds of grapevines they could get their hands on that they thought would do well on that piece of land with its particular climate.  Right now they grow only a few are the varieties most consumers are familiar with, such as Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir, but they have a total of 18 varieties in production now, including some lesser-known names like Agria, Ortega, Seigerrebe and Castel. And that brings me to the Ortega…


Ortega is a German varietal made in 1948 from a cross between Muller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe. It’s named in honour of the Spanish poet and philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. Wayne always enjoyed working with it because it was early ripening and a real pleasure to work with when it came to getting good flavour from it.


Now fast-forward from 1990 to 2012...the latest owners of the winery are Xavier and Maria-Clara Bonilla, and along with their winemaker Dean Canadzich, they have come up with a double-gold award winning Ortega in the All Canadian Wine Awards. It is incredibly aromatic, fruity and flowery, but with a nice hit of crisp acidity on the palate. Dean notes that this harvest from 2011 had to be handled very carefully, it came from a good crop of three different blocks of Ortega on the property, he says you can get peach and grapefruit from the soil and apricot in the finish.

If you want to enjoy wine tasting like this you can certainly get out to the wineries and cideries and meaderies of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, taste their products, eat at their bistros, or if you’re short of time, you can also taste of lot of wines from the Island and the rest of BC at Taste: Victoria’s Festival of Food and Wine, coming up July 19th to the 22nd. I was talking to founder Kathy McAree today about a few of the highlights, and she puts forth an interesting concept. At the Main Event on Thursday the 19th at the Crystal Garden, there will be 38 different wine and beverage producers pouring. While you can’t possible taste everything they’ll have on offer, you will be able to sample a few, and when you hit a winery you like, add it to your list to visit during your travels this summer when you can have a much more leisurely time in the tasting rooms…so it’s like a travel planner.

4Kathy McAree

Some of the separate food and wine events over the weekend sound really great. You can learn about sustainable seafood from Finest at Sea owner Bob Fraumeni along with some BC beverages at the Sips and Seafood event on Friday night and Saturday afternoon you can watch, and then eat, as a whole pig is roasted on the patio of the Hotel Grand Pacific.

If you want to listen to my chat with Jo-Ann Roberts about this topic, click here.

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1 Response to Food Matters – Historic Cowichan Valley Winery and TASTE preview

  1. Cherie says:

    I lived on my favourite farm when I was a kid. We didn’t think of it as a farm–it was just where we lived. But since it was a couple of acres, and had a big barn and cows, chickens, a huge vegetable garden, berries, grape vines, fruit and nut trees and a hay field, I think it would qualify as a farm. My parents were both pretty poor when they were growing up so they had learned how to grow and preserve their food. My Mum loved gardening and handling animals and anything that would keep her outside and away from housework. My Dad told me he didn’t like farming but it was the way he knew how to improve our standard of living with fresh vegetables, eggs, milk and meat. So he milked cows every morning and evening, dug over the garden every Spring, adding the cured cow manure to the soil as he went, brought in hay every summer and butchered the 2 year old bull calves. My Mum planted and harvested a quarter acre of garden every year, canned and pickled all of the produce, made butter and cheese and prepared the milk for sale every morning. They worked awfully hard to provide us with the best food we could possibly have. We helped too–I remember helping my brother watch cows as they ate grass around the neighbourhood, jumping in the hay to pack it into the barn, taking a turn at the butter churn and a whole bunch of picking and chopping to get vegetables to the jars. Growing up, as I did on our farm has made it pretty important for me to have the same quality of food that my parents made for us and I can`t live without those pickles. I didn`t inherit my Mum`s love of gardening but luckily I have a husband who does and we continue the tradition of producing our own food for our family.

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