Vintages and Vineyards: What’s New in British Columbia

Posted Friday, July 17, 2015

Thompson Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Vancouver, Coast & Mountains, Food & Wine

Winemakers revel in the hot summer months — it is, after all, a time to celebrate new reds and whites, all while soaking up the warm summer sun. And in Canada’s westernmost province, premium pours await in bright, airy tasting rooms, some established and some brand new to BC’s ever-burgeoning vintage scene.

Here’s a taste:

Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, north of Victoria, is home to farmers and fishermen, cheesemakers and chefs — a bucolic region that proves a productive place for winemakers, too. Enter Blue Grouse Winery and Vineyard, a family-owned property that, with roots planted firmly in history, is taking a fresh approach to its reds and whites. New owners Paul and Cristina Brunner purchased the well-established winery in 2012 and have since relaunched a new family label — featuring crisp Pinot Gris, aromatic Siegerrebe and cool-climate Pinot Noir — alongside a modern tasting room. Bonus: thanks to the summer sun that warms the three-hectare (seven-acre) vineyard landscape, visitors to Blue Grouse can pack a picnic, spread a blanket and pair their delectable bounty with some premium pours.  

Back on the mainland, east of Vancouver in BC’s Fraser Valley, the Etsell family embraces long-standing tradition, diligently working the fertile land that surrounds Mt. Lehman. Vineyards took root on the family’s Coligny Farm in 2011 and it was in January of this year that a tasting room was opened to the public. On offer? A focused portfolio by second-generation family member and winemaker Andrew Etsell, crafted under the watchful eye of consulting winemaker Matt Dumayne, which includes one hundred per cent estate Pinot Gris, single-varietal Siegerrebe, and a fresh blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, dubbed Farmhand White.  

In the province’s vineyard-rich Okanagan, Liquidity Wines has quietly emerged as a contender during its two short years on the vintage scene. Set between Vaseux and Skaha lakes near Okanagan Falls, Liquidity is a modernist gem that boasts a seasonally inspired bistro alongside an impressive display of ever-rotating artwork, including paintings, sculptures and whimsical indoor and outdoor installations — a prized personal collection curated by the owner himself. And while this visual display is certainly cause for pause, it’s the winery’s reds and whites that truly shine; standouts include a plummy Rosé, a spiced berry Pinot Noir and a peachy, crowd-pleasing bubbly.  

Michael Bartier began honing his craft more than 20 years ago with, among others, winemakers at BC mainstays Road 13 Vineyards and Okanagan Crush Pad — a fruitful endeavour that forged the foundation for the soon-to-open, eponymous Bartier Bros. Teaming with his brother, Don Bartier, the two are set to unveil their namesake Oliver winery this summer, leaning on their Okanagan upbringing and knowledge of the terroir to produce winning vintages. The result? Fragrant Gewurztraminer, barrel-fermented Chardonnay and bold red blends bearing the names Illegal Curve and The Goal, all soon-to-be-classic pours that reflect the fresh, vibrant and even intense nature of this vine-rich land.  

Brothers Sukhwinder and Balwinder Dhaliwal have long believed that destiny has played a role in the family’s fortunes — it was, they feel, the driving force that brought them from India to British Columbia in the 1990s. The Dhaliwals chose the lush Okanagan as their new home and it is here that, for nearly 20 years, this hard-working family has grown grapes for many of the region’s premier wineries. In May 2014, however, fate would forge a new path for the Dhaliwals with the unveiling of Kismet Estate Winery, an understated Oliver establishment that showcases rich reds like their spicy Syrah and fresh and lively whites including their aromatic Viognier — all vintages that, for the Dhaliwals, were written in the stars.  

While BC’s Thompson Valley, east of Kamloops, may not be typical winemaking territory, the folks at Monte Creek Ranch are doing their part to change perceptions, namely about what can be produced within vineyards that are defined by cool-climate viticulture. Straddling the Thompson River and set amid hay fields, cattle and horses, Monte Creek crafts vintages that embrace the distinctive Kamloops microclimate: guests can expect crisp estate white wines, like Gewurztraminer and Riesling, and intriguing blends, including Hands Up White (Frontenac Blanc, Viognier and La Crescent) and Hands Up Red (Frontenac Noir, Marquette and St. Croix, among others), both a nod to notorious “Gentleman Bandit” Bill Miner, who, while on the run from the authorities, was ultimately apprehended at the historic Monte Creek site.  

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