The delicious charm of the islands F A M I LY- R U N , H Y P E R - L O C A L A N D U T T E R LY B E A U T I F U L , T H E P R O V I N C E ’ S I S L A N D W I N E R I E S A R E WA I T I N G T O B E E X P L O R E D
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Unsworth Vineyards pioneered the Charme De L’Ile bubble; now the winery helps others produce their own sparklers. Sean Fenzl photo
f the Okanagan Valley is Canada’s Napa North, Vancouver Island’s wine region is our little slice of Sonoma. Like that rural corner of California wine country, the Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands wine regions invite exploration, weekend drives down pretty back roads to small, family-run wineries, their vineyards nestled amidst bucolic farmland and carved into forested slopes with ocean views. Summers are short and dry, with hot days tempered by cooling breezes off the surrounding sea. Wedged between the central highlands and the protected waters of the Strait of Georgia, the Cowichan Valley has the hottest microclimate on Vancouver Island
and is home to more than a dozen wineries. Just across the Saanich Inlet, more small vineyards are popping up among the corn and blueberry farms, while enterprising vintners tend grapes in the Gulf Islands, from Pender and Salt Spring to Mayne. This tiny wine region—with only about five per cent of the total B.C. acreage—began with early experimental plots of German varietals, plantings of unusual vinifera and hybrid grapes such as Ortega, Bacchus, Léon Millot, Petit Milo and Marechal Foch. Today, there’s a second wave of growth, as new investors rebuild wineries and replant vineyards, and creative young winemakers push limits with organic viticulture and wild fermentation.