Vancouver Island wineries enjoy a growing region that keeps expanding thanks in part to global climate change. The warm northern Mediterranean-like climate is well suited to growing a variety of grapes. Vintners are discovering this, and wineries are now located from the Saanich Peninsula all the way to Comox as well as wineries in Port Alberni and the Gulf Islands. Most operations have tasting rooms and tours, and a number have restaurants serving local gourmet fare.
Where to Tour Vancouver Island Wineries & Distilleries
Zoom to the area you are interested in touring and click on the dot for more information, including contact information for each winery or distillery. Please check visiting times for all wineries by calling or visiting their website before you plan your trip.
A few Vancouver Island wineries worth touring are located on the Saanich Peninsula and include Muse Winery, Dragonfly Hill Vineyard, DeVine Vineyards, Church & State Wines and Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse.
Church & State Wines is a larger winery with a sister winery in the Okanagan. A program called The Raptors at Church & State allows you to get close and personal with birds of prey including eagles, hawks, owls, falcons and vultures as they demonstrate their natural flying and hunting abilities. The winery also uses raptors to patrol the vineyards for pest birds in lieu of bird netting or propane cannons. Please check with the winery regarding this program availability for 2013 onwards.
Need something with a bit more punch? Take a visit to Victoria Spirits for premium Victoria gin, vodka and bitters. Hand made in small batches, their spirits are making a splash with critics and tasters in both Canada and south of the border. If you are out towards Sooke, stop by Tugwell Creek Honey Farm & Meadery. Mead or honey wine is the oldest art of fermentation and has been traced back as far as 9000 BCE. Bob Liptrot of Tugwell Creek has been making mead for twenty-five of those years and beekeeping for forty-three years. His award winning meads consist of a blend of varietal honeys and berries from the local region.
The central Island area of Cowichan Valley/Duncan/Mill Bay is home to a number of popular Vancouver Island wineries that deliver the full culinary experience. Several of the more popular include Cherry Point Estate Wines with a distinctive west coast feel, and charming Zanatta Winery with its Italian origins; the first on the Island. Each of these wineries has restaurants serving local gourmet delicacies. Voted ‘Victoria’s Best Local Winery’ for 2013 by readers of EAT Magazine, Averill Creek Vineyard is recommended for their top notch tasting room, wines, and a garden patio seating area from which to enjoy a picnic lunch and the stunning views of the Cowichan Valley.
If cider is more your style visit the Merridale Ciderworks for a sampling of their fabulous ciders. Merridale is located in a perfect microclimate, reminiscent of European cider apple growing areas, and only uses 100% first press juice and a slow fermentation process to produce their magic flavors. Merridale also has a bistro serving lunch and a bakery supplying the restaurant and the farmhouse store.
Vancouver Island wineries are increasingly well know for berry wines, in particular blackberry wine. The Himalayan Blackberry, an invasive species, is easily cultivated and grows wild just about everywhere. This pest species just so happens to produce large, juicy, delicious berries. Some commercial products are standouts such as ‘Cowichan Black’ from Averill Creek Winery. Silverside Farm and Winery specialises in blueberry, blackberry and raspberry fortified wines, proving their mettle with awards from various competitions.
Find more information on Cowichan wineries and tour routes.
Heading north, Nanaimo is home to only one winery — Millstone Estate Winery. The sunny southern exposure creates the heat required to produce some tasty wines such as their Pinot Gris, which pairs very well with a picnic and a sunny day. Millstone has a great patio eating area from which to enjoy the regular weekend art and music events that happen throughout the summer.
Driving west to Tofino or Uclulet presents the opportunity to visit Chase and Warren Estate Winery and Emerald Coast Vineyards. Emerald Coast is just off the highway and has a nice tasting room and gift shop. Chase and Warren is also only a few minutes off the highway but given the option, I would take the steam train to the winery during the summer months and combine that with a visit to historic McLean Mill. Plan to spend some time in Port Alberni. There are gems to uncover there.
North Central Island
The Comox/Campbell River area is not North Island, being central geographically, but for vineyard distribution, it is the end of the road. Heading north from Campbell River the weather patterns influenced by topography and latitude turn noticeably colder and rainier — two factors that make growing grapes a challenge.
However, just to the south lie Vancouver Island wineries creating award winning wines from a number of varietals including cooler loving grapes such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
Although their visiting hours are somewhat limited, I would recommend a visit to Beaufort Vineyard in Comox. The owners purchased the land, completely converted the pasture land to grape growing, and had their first production run within two years, opening the winery in 2008. After their first few years of production they have an awards list as long as your arm from local to international wine competitions. While there is no food service on site, you can enjoy a picnic in their picnic area during tasting hours.
While heading north of Comox, stop at Coastal Black Estate Winery and sample their reasonably priced berry wines and meads produced from their over 80 acres of blackberries and 20 acres of blueberries and raspberries. With the help of their own bees pollinating the entire works and providing honey for the mead, they have a full range of unique products. A bistro is also open for lunch on the patio during tasting hours.
Just up the road from Coastal Black is Shelter Point Distillery, the Island’s only artisan single malt whisky distillery and one of only two in Canada. This gorgeous distillery is well worth a visit, if only to gaze upon the massive, gleaming copper pot stills that dominate the tasting room. The owner, Patrick Evans, is working to create a true agri-tourism business, and grows the barley for the whisky as well as berries for specialty products he produces. About the only things not local to the operation are the Kentucky bourbon barrels and the Scottish stills. The first batch of single malt, while still aging, has been pre-sold to eager connoisseurs from far and wide.
The Gulf Islands
Born of wind, salt and sun, there is no shortage of Gulf Island wines for your sipping pleasure. The maritime climate of warm summers and mild winters is comparable to northern Mediterranean climes, and varieties such as Pinot noir, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and the occasional Cabernet are common.
Just across the Canada/US border, Saturna Island is home to Saturna Island Family Estate Winery. Accessible by land, air and water, either drive from the ferry or take a 15-minute walk from their dock to the winery. The largest of the Gulf Island’s vineyards, Saturna Island Family Estate has 60 acres under production with the main varietals consisting of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir. Perched high on the cliffs, the views across the channel to North Pender and South Pender Island from the winery are spectacular. The on-site bistro and sunny patio eating area is the perfect spot to spend a lazy afternoon.
Known for its fusion of wine and local organic food in mouthwatering combinations, Saltspring Island is the largest of the Gulf Islands. Historically a farming settlement, Saltspring Island, despite its relatively recent popularity with the well-heeled crowd, retains many small farms selling produce and handmade goods via roadside stands and local markets. Three Vancouver Island wineries provide excellent wine to complement your food pairings. Salt Spring Vineyards creates wines from a combination of Island and estate grown grapes, which you can sample in their tasting room. They sell picnic fixings in the tasting room to enjoy on the patio, or bring your own delicacies to enjoy. A highly rated B&B is available with several rooms above the winery, rating 3 1/2 kisses in The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest guide.
The Garry Oaks Winery — named for the Garry Oak tree, not the man — has seven cultivated acres of white and red varietals. The south facing well-drained vineyard overlooks the Burgoyne Valley on Saltspring, creating a terroir for luscious wines. The tasting room is small, and the wines command a premium but worth a visit if you are on tour. The final stop on the Saltspring Island wine tour is Mistaken Identity Vineyards, named for the fact that early tasters all thought the wine came from Italy, or France, or Australia — huge wine producing nations with the name and bragging rights. With only 7.5 acres under cultivation, the vineyard is producing regular medal winners in both reds and whites. One building houses both the winery and tasting room, and an outside patio lets you enjoy your wine along with a picnic of local offerings.
Not only are the beaches fantastic, Hornby produces delicious local wines at three wineries plus the folks at Island Spirits Distillery, who create their signature and critically acclaimed spirit, ‘Phrog Premium Gin’. The distillery was founded and is run by a former ice breaker captain and professor of organic chemistry. They have obviously nailed the chemistry side of the operation as they are ramping up production yet still unable to meet the local and international demand for their product. The lovely Cabrea Vineyard is worth a visit for their combination of wines made from both estate grown and Okanagan grapes. They sell the fixings for a bite to eat on the patio, and if you fall in love with the place, they have a quaint little cottage for rental at very reasonable prices.
Further north and the most northerly of all, South End Farm and Vineyards lies on the southern end of Quadra Island. 2011 marked the first estate harvest of this small operation and the 2012 run comprised over 500 cases. Check them out for wine and other Quadra Island handmade goodies.
Did You Know… The VQA label you see on the bottle of many B.C. and Ontario wines referes to the Vintners Quality Alliance. VQA is a regulatory system governing wine production and area of origin designed to ensure you get a high quality Canadian wine meeting a set production standard.
Vancouver Island Wineries: Wine Festivals
What better way to enjoy friendship, music, and the heavenly tastes of quality local wines than to experience one of the Island wine festivals. The Cowichan Wine and Culinary Festival runs each September and includes a full slate of entertainment, wine tasting, and culinary treats at the regions wineries. Check out the fun in 2013 from Sept 7-15. http://wines.cowichan.net/
Cowichan Wine Festival
Events to look forward to in 2013 – Start planning your week! Saturday, September 7, 2013 – Grape Stomp! At the Cowichan Exhibition Saturday, September 7, 2013 – Damali Sangria Party Friday, September 13, 2013 – ‘Savour!’ (location TBA) – tickets go on sale July 1, 2013
Cowichan Valley Grape Escape
What could be better than riding your bike through the beautiful Cowichan countryside and sampling fine wines as you go, all the while raising funds for multiple sclerosis research? This two-day ride dubbed the ‘Cowichan Valley Grape Escape’ is part of the National MS Bike Tour, the largest cycling event in Canada. The ride is open to riders of all abilities and visits most of the vineyards in the Cowichan Valley plus other attractions such as organic farms, the Kinsoll Trestle and a glass blowing studio. Get all the details at the Cowichan Valley Grape Escape.
Nanaimo Wine Festival
Enjoy an evening of music and food along with a selection of over 200 wines from around the word plus a showcase of Island Wines. In its 21st year, the Nanaimo Wine festival is held near the end of October and is the perfect way to sample Island wineries all at once. http://nanaimowinefestival.com
Vancouver Island Wineries: Tour Companies
Victoria based wine tour companies include Vancouver Island Wine Tours, Executive Wine Tours, Verjus Wine Tours, ITT tours and Luxury Wine Tours. Winery tours by bicycle are available from Cycle Treks and Switch Bridge Tours. Tour operators will either pick you up from your hotel or from central downtown Victoria locations. Tour operators in the Cowichan and Nanaimo include Tracks Outdoor Adventures and Encore Limousine Service.