Monday, September 7, 2009

Cowichan Valley - Part 1

Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum

Cowichan Valley

Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, is home to a number of wine sub-appellations. Cowichan Valley is the most widely planted and was the focus of a recent trip to the Island in September, 2009 to visit family. Access to the Island is limited to flying (expensive) or via the provincial-run ferry system from the mainland where you can either take your car or purchase a walk-on fare. Transit options to the wine regions are limited if you don’t have your own car or a tall uncle waiting for you on the other side as I did.

Knowing that we would have only a few hours free for wine tasting (this was primarily a family trip and not a business trip) I took full advantage of the two-hour crossing time on the ferry to research the wineries I wanted to visit. The list contained the largest, the newest, the oldest and the most “granola” of the Vancouver Island wineries.

Averill Creek Vineyard

The first stop of our short tour was Averill Creek Vineyard, home to the Island’s largest estate planting of vinifera. Positioned on south-facing slopes at the base of Mt Prevost, the winery boasts 30+ acres of vines: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, Marechal Foch, and an early ripening Foch-Cabernet hybrid.

Proprietor Andy Johnston, a former private-practice MD from Edmonton, was on hand to conduct the pour in their modern tasting room with stunning views to Saanich Inlet. Based on his sincerity, professionalism and friendly demeanor, he was likely an MD with a long waiting list. Meeting him I was reminded of the Richard Attenborough character from Jurassic Park with his white hair and beard, who “spared no expense” to bring his dream to fruition. Of course, Andy is neither delusional, nor fictional but his dream of operating a world-class winery has benefited from a similar do-it-right attitude.

At Averill Creek we tasted:

2008 Somenos Rose - $17
A blend of Marechal Foch, Pinot Noir and Merlot, cold fermented. This wine has a nice balance of acidity to fruit flavours that would make for a lovely summer patio sipper. I wish I had discovered this Rosé earlier in the year. 87pts

2008 Pinot Grigio - $18
Fermented in stainless steel, this wine, along with its Pinot Gris cousin, shows the skills of the Averill Creek team in handling the white varieties. This is a gold-medal winner that showcases the fruit and mineral flavours a quality Pinot Gris can offer. 90pts.

2007 Pinot Gris - $23
This is a barrel-fermented cousin of the Grigio (from the same grapes) that has gone through a full maloactic fermentation which infuses butter and cream fruit flavours. Despite this calming of the acid application, the wine possesses enough residual acidity to balance the oak and fruit flavours, resulting in a special wine. A future gold-medal winner. 91pts.

2007 Pinot Noir - $28
Johnston next poured his 2007 Pinot Noir, taking out proper Burgundy glasses for the tasting. I could tell this varietal was a labour of love for him and the Averill Creek product does show great promise. The winery uses the Stelvin enclosures on all its wines which ensures freshness and limits post-production flaws. It also slows the aging of a wine to a crawl and you can taste that with this Pinot Noir - it is very young. Given time this Pinot will open up and deliver. 87pts.

2007 Prevost - $22
This is Averill Creek’s sly take on a Bordeaux-style blend using Marechal Foch, Merlot and a Foch-Cabernet Sauvignon hybrid. The Prevost has many of the characteristics of a new-world Meritage blend: dark-ruby colour, big berry and oak flavours. 85pts

2008 Cowichan Black - $18
The tasting was capped with a quality fruit desert wine made of 100% Vancouver Island-grown blackberries. Semi-sweet with a slight acidic finish and only 16% alcohol makes this a great pairing for vanilla ice-cream or enjoy on its own. 86pts

Averill Creek Vineyard is a winery to watch. They have all the right ingredients to produce quality wines: a modern gravity-flow winery, up to date techniques and a superior terroir. They also have something less tangible – a desire to be a world-class outfit. That’s nice to see. Look for Averill Creek in the coming vintages, you won’t be disappointed. -LC

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