Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tasting the Saanich Peninsula

One of our hopes for this little vacation was to visit at least a couple of wineries and see what's happening on de Island mon. Luckily for us, it didn't take any arm-twisting to coax Bella Jianna and the Flyboy to make an afternoon of it. Living in Sidney, they're not far at all from the wineries that have set up shop on the Saanich Peninsula.

I was particularly looking forward to re-visiting Marley Farms as we'd throughly enjoyed a previous tasting with them when last we stayed with our hosts. I remember being pleasantly surprised trying Marley's Kiwi wine and hearing about the family ties to dat odder Island mon, Jamaica.

Marley is still producing their Kiwi and fruit wines but they have a lot more of the traditional grape varietals now that their vines have had a chance to establish themselves in the bucolic setting. The winery hasn't lost its sense of fun though. One of the remaining fruit wines is named, Rastaberry. I'm assuming that you can guess what the base fruit is.

Our next stop actually wasn't a winery. Being a small church cemetery looking over the valley hills, it might have been an interesting location to pop a cork and add another bottle to The List. However, it was an impromptu spot to take in the view and we didn't think to bring along any glasses. We could have opened a bottle that we picked up at Marley Farms but drinking straight from the bottle in a cemetery might have raised a few eyebrows from passersby.

Our next stop was the Island's biggest winery Church & State. Until the current ownership took over the failing winery that was Victoria Estate, the location and impressive building was the most consistent thing working for the old winery. Nowadays, most of Church & State - from land to grapes and production - is based in the Okanagan.

They enticed the winemaker that helped put Burrowing Owl on the BC wine map, Bill Dyer, back from California and they now win medals, awards and journalistic praise all the time. The Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes that are grown on the Saanich site are now used for a sparkling wine, but the tasting room and dining facilities are still top notch.

Following our tasting at Church & State, we thought it might be a good idea to grab a bit to eat and actually get down to some real drinking. The sun was cooperating; so, it was deck-time to a little hole-in-the-wall (hardly) that Bella Jianna knew.

226. 2007 Larch Hills Ortega (Okanagan)

Just like yesterday's Bacchus wine, Ortega is another grape that you don't see a lot as a varietal wine. It is another of the hybrid vines that remains after most others had been ripped out in BC to make room for the Merlots, Chardonnays, Pinot Gris and Shiraz that dominate our vineyards now. It made sense to me that Ortega would be a grape that we'd see grown on Vancouver Island with its cooler climate. The waiter told us that this was another Island winery and that we could add to our vacation list of local wines.

Turned out that, once we'd ordered, opened and tasted the wine, we took a look at the label and found out that it wasn't an Island winery at all but was from the northern end of the Okanagan Valley. A mistaken source was hardly a reason for sending back a bottle of wine though.

Ortga is a cross between two other Germanic varietals, Muller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe, that can also still be seen sometimes in the province. The wine resulting from this grape is known as being crisp, fruity and aromatic and often on the off-dry side of the spectrum.

I've since discovered that Larch Hills is found around Salmon Arm, north of almost all other BC wineries. In fact when the lands, now forming the winery's vineyards, were purchased in 1987, the land was total bush and no one had ever tried growing European varietals that far north in BC before. Ortega was one of the grapes that was seen as having a fighting chance. When the winery released its first wines in 1997, it was an Ortega wine that was offered up. It has since become a signature wine for Larch Hills.

One of the joys about these Germanic varietals and their abundant fruit is that they can match nicely with a wide array of food. Hence it was welcome addition to salad, fish and chips, an oyster burger and pizza that arrived at our table.

We made one last stop after lunch, but I'll save that for the next posting since we actually opened a bottle the winery's offerings for dinner.

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