Photo: Enjoying a wine tasting in the Fraser Valley. Source: Robyn Hanson.
The Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival is almost here. Considered one of the largest wine festivals in the world, it’s one of my favourite events in Vancouver as the whole city embraces all things wine and we’re treated to a whole range of tantalizing wine events over the span of ten days.
Kicking off on Monday, February 27, the festival’s being held a month earlier than usual, but I don’t think anyone’s complaining. For many, it can’t come soon enough. Who doesn’t love an opportunity to enjoy wine tastings, wine seminars, and wine pairing dinners? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
But if you want to keep the party going after the festival ends on March 4, I highly recommend exploring the wineries that exist right here in our own back yard. The Vancouver, Coast & Mountains region is home to over 20 wineries offering everything from traditional whites and reds to a plethora of unique fruit wines and even some award-winning icewines. From the bogs of Richmond to the benchlands of Lillooet, here are five wineries to consider if you’re looking to expand your British Columbia wine horizons.
1. Lulu Island Winery – Richmond
Photo: One of Lulu Island Winery’s tasting rooms. Source: Robyn Hanson.
I had the pleasure of visiting Richmond’s Lulu Island Winery last week where I was treated to a VIP tour and tasting. Known for their award-winning Riesling-Chardonnay icewine, all of their wines are made with BC fruit, from Okanagan grapes to Fraser Valley berries, including cranberries sourced right from the bogs of Richmond. The only exception to this is their unique passionfruit wine. The tropical fruit is from Asia, but it produces a wine that surprises with its pleasant lemon-like tartness.
I was really impressed by what I tasted, especially their lush Pinot Gris, the naturally fruity but dry (for a fruit wine) blueberry wine, and the ultra-rare and risky-to-produce red icewine – a dessert wine made with Merlot and Pinot Noir grapes which can only be harvested when the temperature is -14 Celsius. Apparently Canada is the only place in the world that produces red icewine. Who knew?
Photo: Top notch fruit wines. Full of body, no preservatives, and not overtly sweet. Source: Robyn Hanson.
Visitors can drop by Lulu Island Winery daily from 10am until 6:30pm. Free tastings of their red and white wines can be had at any time, but call ahead to book a VIP winery tour; it’s well worth it. For $30 a group of five people can experience the VIP winery tour which takes them behind the scenes, finishing up with a tasting that includes a cheese plate, red and white wines, fruit wines, ice wines, and their delectable iceder – an ice wine blended with apple cider that tastes (to me) like drinking honey and caramelized apples.
2. Fort Berens Estate Winery – Lillooet
Photo: Georgia serving wine at Fort Berens Estate Winery. Source: Tamara Leigh via Flickr.
Looking for a weekend road trip that combines the dramatic scenery of both the Fraser Canyon and the Sea to Sky Highway? If so, a trip to Lillooet is in order, if not long overdue.
Now, you may not immediately think of Lillooet as a wine-producing region, and that’s because up until 2009, it wasn’t. But Lillooet’s Fort Berens Estate Winery is changing that. A pioneer winemaker for the region, Fort Berens has just harvested their first crop of their estate-grown grapes this past September so things are truly getting exciting. All wines made previous used Okanagan grapes; a tactic commonly used for local wineries as they wait for their own grapes to mature. Newly-planted grape vines are left to grow for at least four years before they’re used to make wine.
If you want to drop by and see what will no doubt become a wine-making hotspot, Fort Berens Estate Winery is open Wednesday to Sunday (and holidays) from 10am until 4pm. In May they’ll extend their hours, staying open daily until 6pm. Then you can say you experienced a wine escape to Lillooet back before it became trendy to do so.
3. Domaine de Chaberton – Langley
Photo: Domaine de Chaberton Winery. Source: Tom Magliery via Flickr.
It was Langley’s Domaine de Chaberton who first put the Fraser Valley on the Canadian wine region map, and we’re very grateful for that. I actually have memories of my Dad taking the whole family here on weekend afternoons back in what must be the early 90s – him and my mom would taste wine while my sister and I eyed the merchandise in the wine shop. But I digress.
I have since revisited Domaine de Chaberton numerous times, the most recent in the spring of 2009 where I not only got to taste their wine, but I enjoyed a three course gourmet lunch at their Bacchus Bistro. Situated in the winery, the bistro overlooks their 55 acres of vineyard and makes for a very pleasant outing rain or shine.
Of course, you can simply come by for a tour or a tasting. Winery tours are available daily at 2pm and 4pm, but the tasting room stays open all day from 10am until 6pm Monday to Saturday, opening at 11am on Sundays.
4. Vista D’Oro Winery – Langley
Photo: The vineyards at Vista D’Oro Winery in the summer of 2011. Source: Raul Pacheco via Flickr.
Sometimes wineries are simply wineries, and other times the winery is one part of a bigger picture. In the case of this winery, it’s the latter, and to borrow from Martha Stewart, it’s a good thing. If you’re seeking the ultimate Fraser Valley agritourism experience where small batches of wine are produced with passion alongside artisan culinary delights, you need to get yourself out to Langley’s Vista D’Oro Farms & Winery.
Although I haven’t personally visited, I’ve only heard amazing things about Vista D’Oro. Michelle Gourley of Edible Vancouver raves about them, claiming Vista D’Oro’s Lee and Patrick Murphy as the relatives in the country you wish you had. “As in brag-worthy preserves that momma never made (hello pear and cocoa nib!), a charming farmgate shop, cooking studio, and stellar hand-crafted wines. It’s enough to send a covetous foodie sobbing into her Gewurztraminer.”
But the one item at Vista D’Oro that has people talking the most is their Pinot Noix. No, that’s not a typo. Vista D’Oro has become rather famous for their walnut-infused Pinot. At 18% alcohol, it’s described as “a Sherry-like wine made from Pinot Noir that has aged for a year with Brandy-macerated walnuts. The Pinot Noix provokes a great deal of musing as it tickles noses and palates: the nutty Brandy walnut flavours, quite a roller-coaster experience and altogether delicious.”
Vista D’Oro is open Thursday through Sunday from 11am until 5pm.
5. Kermode Wild Berry Wines – Dewdney
Photo: Fritz Sprieszl of Kermode Wild Berry Wines. Source: Slow Food Vancouver via Flickr.
Now here’s a hidden gem of a winery, especially for the lovers of fine fruit wines. Tucked away on a dirt road in Dewdney (a community east of Mission) is Kermode Wild Berry Wines. Although their website is lacking in detail, just a tiny bit of research reveals that they make wines, ports, and liqueurs made from 100% wild handpicked BC berries.
While many local wineries use their own cultivated berries, this is the first winery I’ve heard of that actually forages for them in the wild. As highlighted on Fraser Valley Pulse, Kermode harvests these wild berries within a large geographical region of BC, from the Sunshine Coast all the way to Blue River and everywhere in between.
They’re also winning awards for their efforts. Writes Fraser Valley Pulse, “Their great wine flavours are winning awards worldwide. From Ontario to Oregon to Japan, folks are loving unique tastes such as Himalayan Blackberry Port, Alpine Blueberry Liqueur, Glacier Bear Apple Sweet wine and even Blue Elderberry wine. Stop by and taste the unique flavours at Kermode Wild Berry Winery, open daily between 12pm and 6pm. The exclusive Orange Salmonberry wine and the Himalayan Blackberry Port were our favourites!”
Others have also started to discover the secret of Kermode Wild Berry Wines. Vancouverite Cyndi H. discovered the winery by chance while on a road trip to Harrison Hot Springs. She writes in her Yelp review, “We sampled various wines (they specialize in blackberry) but the standout was the Himalayan Blackberry. Lovestruck, we bought a few bottles for $12 each and then went on our way. Since then we’ve kicked ourselves because the wine is only sold in select stores and costs upwards of $20! Seriously great wine and a fun little hole in the wall spot to check out.”
In any case, the next time you find yourself driving to Harrison Hot Springs, you know where to detour. Perhaps a road trip through the Fraser Valley is order this weekend?
Note: These five wineries have been selected to showcase the diversity of the many excellent wineries in the Vancouver, Coast & Mountains region. This blog post is not meant to be a comprehensive list of wineries, but to simply give you a taste of what type of wineries can be experienced within a short drive from Vancouver. There will certainly be more winery features in the future.