Combining travel and wine is a no-brainer, so last week I packed up the car and headed out to join my family in Tofino, then skipped over to check out Salt Spring Island and the coastal wine scene. Nothing like a summer road trip.
Within the town, I was drawn to the Mediterranean-blue-painted House Piccolo Restaurant — it was a great introduction to the Island’s charm. Salt Spring Island wines are poured by-the-glass (although there could be more on the list) with locally-sourced menu items, including the daily catch. Tables are topped with crisp white tablecloths and mini floral sprays. The scallops paired perfectly with the Salt Spring Vineyards aromatic white wine called Aromata, reminding me of Joie’s Noble Blend from Naramata.
Dinner inspired me to head south to visit the Salt Spring Vineyards and tasting room. Here you can put together a picnic basket of local artisan products (including cheese and bread) to enjoy in an English garden setting, complete with resident Indian Runner ducks (Huey and Louie) and live music.
Established in 1998, Salt Spring Vineyards is the second oldest winery in the Gulf Islands and the oldest on the Island. Husband-and-wife team Delvin and Joanne McIntyre took over the winery in 2008, leaving careers as a surgeon and a general practitioner for what was a five-year retirement plan that has turned into ten.
There are several varietals produced at the winery, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and an interesting hybrid red grape called Leon Millot. Eye-catching whimsical labels were designed by the same artist as the Blasted Church wine labels. Total production is only 1,800 cases per year, and the wines are available direct from the winery (saltspringvineyards.com) and at select shops and restaurants on both Salt Spring Island and Vancouver Island.
Just a short distance south is Garry Oaks Estate Winery, where the lovely Nalini Samuel is the proud proprietor. She has had a passion for this industry since she was 13 years old, and knew that one day she would fulfill that dream of owning her own winery. Having the certified sommelier designation under her belt, she purchased this 10-acre terrace estate in 2016 from the Lee family (as a matter of fact, Evelyn Lee had just stopped by before I arrived!) and she has created a booming success, selling out every year.
Geoff Jejna is the winemaker — and his sidekick, the playful Willa, a one-year-old border collie/blue-heeler cross — working with varietals suited to this coastal micro-climate such as Gewurztraminer (ge-VOORTZ-tra-meener), Zweigelt (TSVYE-gelt) and Blaufrankisch (blouw-FRANN-keesh). You will find the Garry Oaks wines at select shops and restaurants on Salt Spring Island, Vancouver Island, and in Vancouver as well as at the winery gate (garryoakswinery.com).
The Saturday market was one of the best I’ve been to — oceanside, in a park by the docks, and worthy of Vancouverites flying in for the day just to come to it. Travelling along Highway 1 on the return trip, I recognized the Recline Ridge winery’s name on a roadside shingle, just east of Salmon Arm. I pulled up to a beautiful cedar A-framed building that was originally custom-designed for a Japanese family, but during transport the logs became wet and it was refused on delivery, shipped back to Canada, and reassembled at the winery around 1999.
Graydon Ratzlaff (originally from Mannville, located east of Vegreville) and his wife Maureen purchased the winery back in 2008, leaving behind busier corporate lives for a much shorter commute to work each day (they live two doors over). Graydon says his passion for wine began when helping his mother make wine from grapes at their home in Summerland at the age of 12. Here you will find many varietals suited to the cooler climate of the Shuswaps that are best known in Germany and Austria, such as Ortega (ort-TAY-guh), Siegerrebe (see-geh-RAY-buh), Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt
One more stop that I always enjoy is at Field, B.C., where there is a gem of an inn, bar and restaurant called Truffle Pigs Bistro & Lounge, with a decent wine and beer list and a solid menu. According to Steve, a local resident of 35 years, the restaurant was the dream of a fellow from Eastern Canada who wanted to build in the sleepy mountain town. The locals thought he was mad. However, it’s a success story now, run by a local resident and well worth stopping at.
While each winery is unique, they have the common thread of being family-owned and operated, both labours of love and passion projects. I hope you will have the opportunity to visit Salt Spring Island to experience their warm hospitality and delicious wines. Wines from the Island are not available in Alberta, but Recline Ridge wines are available at select wine shops. Prices are from the winery tasting rooms.
SALT SPRING ISLAND VINEYARDS KARMA $35
My picnic wine was a brilliant bottle of their Flagship sparkling wine called Karma that I’d put up against Canada’s best… only two cases left. This is a classic blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that’s made using the same method as Champagne, with a Canadian coastal twist. A winner for certain, with almond biscuits, tropical fruit, crisp apple, fine bubbles, and a wonderfully dry and fresh palate.
SALT SPRING ISLAND VINEYARDS AROMATA $19
A blend of aromatic coastal grapes — think of a stainless-steel bowl filled with crisp McIntosh apples, peaches, fresh honeycomb, spattered with lemon rind curls and flower blossoms and a pinch of sea salt — with a hint of residual sugar on the palate.
SALT SPRING ISLAND WINERY MILLOTAGE $21
Calling all Quail’s Gate Foch lovers, this one’s for you. A blend of Leon Millot and Pinot Noir that’s ready to pair with barbecued anything. Bold and concentrated flavours of cassis, blackberry, plum and spice. It’s a definite crowd-pleaser.
GARRY OAKS ESTATE LABYRINTH THESEUS $22
An aromatic blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris that’s dry and crisp with pear, pineapple and spice, with a slightly bitter finish.
GARRY OAKS ESTATE ZWIEGELT $35
This grape is growing in popularity and best-known in Austria. A wonderful, medium-weight red wine that’s fresh and fruity with blackberry, red berries, rhubarb and spice on a softly textured palate.
RECLINE RIDGE WINERY ORTEGA $15
A top seller at the winery. This white grape offers early ripening with high sugar levels, producing an aromatic, juicy wine with apricot, peach, pear and tropical fruits — not completely dry.
RECLINE RIDGE WINERY JUST BEING FRANK $21
The newest addition at the winery is this 100 per cent Blaufrankisch. A wonderful varietal that ripens late, producing wines that are structured (tannins) with a medium-full body expressing blackberries (maybe because they are prolific there), cranberries and cherry. Perfect grilled meat wine.
Wine selections are available at select Alberta shops. Log onto liquorconnect.com to check availability and give them a call to verify.
Juanita Roos opened Color de Vino, a fine wine and spirits store, with her family in 2014. She has travelled to wine regions around the world and completed the prestigious WSET Diploma from London, England, the prerequisite for the Master of Wine program. Send your questions about wine to [email protected]