Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Salt Spring Winery Tour

Despite the fact that, once again, I'm falling behind on my postings, it would be rather remiss of me not to post at least a little bit about our tour of the wineries that have set up shop on Salt Spring Island. As temperate as the Gulf Islands may be by Canadian weather standards, they're still trying to find a true footing in the wine world. The islands definitely don't receive the summer's heat that the Okanagan does - after all the Southern Okanagan Valley is actually a desert - however, the more temperate winters generally don't put the vines at risk either and the growing season, albeit short, seems to work nicely with a variety of white grapes and some early ripening reds. A number of island wineries are working with Pinot Noir as it seems adaptable to the island climate and, with a bit of luck in the weather, can ripen well enough to produce some nice wine.

Given our short stay on the Island, it was a bit of a whirlwind wine tour. There are now three wineries on the island and we stopped at two of them after making a pick-up of Dinner Club guests at one of the ferry docks and we fit in a quick visit to the third on our own way back to catch a ferry home.

The two "more established" wineries, Garry Oaks and Salt Spring, are located almost side-by-side in the aptly named Burgoyne Valley. Both wineries have put significant energy into growing Pinot Noir; so, I found it amusing that they're found in a valley named after the most famous Pinot Noir region in the world, Burgundy. It seems that the Valley was named Burgoyne long before anyone had though to set up a vineyard though. Whomever named the valley must have been a bit of a visionary.

We didn't have the time to try and make arrangements for a full on tour of either of the wineries, but we naturally had sufficient opportunity to visit both tasting rooms and give the wines a proper tasting. Since we ended up buying at least a couple of bottles from all of the wineries, I think I'll save any real information on the wineries until we try one of their wines and add it to The List. I'll just have to try and open those bottles sooner than later.

The very short wanders that we managed in the estate vineyards showed that the grapes are definitely being affected by the slow start to our summer this year. The vines are two to three weeks behind where they'd normally be at this point in the growing season. You can barely make out the clusters on the vines - and, remember, the grapes shown in the picture are early ripening varietals.

We did get to take in the beautiful setting of the Burgoyne Valley and one of the shots above shows one of the larger Garry Oaks that still remain in the valley and in the vineyard and that acted as the namesake for the first winery to set up shop on Salt Spring. Even as the elder statesman on the island, Garry Oaks was only founded in 1999 though.

Neighbouring Salt Spring Vineyards started up a few years later in 2003 and has already seen a change in ownership. Boo and I had a marvelous chat and tasting in the Salt Spring tasting room - and, no doubt, that chat was so enjoyable largely becuase we'd lucked out in sharing our time with one of the owners, Joanne McIntyre. She walked us through a larger than usual number of wines and never made us feel that we were taking up too much of her time with all the questions. She was personable enough - and the wines were enjoyable enough - that Boo even loosened the "No Buy Leash" enough to pick up close to a full case of different bottles.

Salt Spring's setting was incredible and I'll definitely look to make our next visit more of an event. The winery is doing some interesting work with experimental varietals and I'd love to learn more about what's involved and what differences in both approach and flavour profile might be expected.

A relaxing picnic in the area around the winery sounds rather appealing as well. We'll just have to see if we can wrangle another visit to Tyrant's when the weather might be reliable enough to cooperate.

None of the three wineries has a big production. Salt Spring is about the largest, but even they only produce around 2500 cases. Garry Oaks puts out about 1700 (but that included some wine made from grapes sourced from the Okanagan and that practice is about to stop apparently) and the newest player on the island block is still under 1500 cases.

That third winery is Mistaken Identity and it's found just North of the town of Ganges. Having opened in 2008, they're starting off with an eye to BC's ever-increasing view to natural foods. The estate vineyards are being operated on an organic basis and, as such, the owners have opted for varietal plantings that are "optimally suited to a west coast temperate climate." Once you finish the Chardonnay, the remaining varietals offer some novel names that will likely raise a few eyebrows with most wine drinkers. When's the last time you knocked back some Madeleine Angevine, Reichensteiner or Agria? I don't think those varietals are even on my application to the Wine Century Club and I'm at #99. Mistaken Identity could come in handy down the road.

For, supposedly, just a quick post, I seem to be a bit long on the length. I'll leave it at this, but I'll look forward to looking a bit deeper into all three wineries as the various wine we picked up get opened.

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