By guest author Treve Ring.
How’s this for a perfect getaway: a peaceful and pristine Island in the Pacific, with a mild climate year-round, some of the best surfing on the planet, and quiet skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Add in the bounty of local produce and foraged mushrooms, abundance of sustainable seafood and shellfish, a fertile haven for roasters, cheesemakers and bakers, and a vibrant microbrewery, artisan distillery, craft cidery and boutique winery scene. Bonus – friendly locavores who are passionate about showcasing their Island culture with the world. Before you dig out your passport and deep into your pocketbook, just hop in the car (or bike, or bus, or floatplane) and take the quick hop over to Vancouver Island.
Surrounded by the numerous small Gulf Islands, The Wine Islands, as they’re colloquially and collectively known, have become a destination not only to visit for the scenery, but to feast, liberally and plentifully. It would take you at least a couple very full weeks to take in all the Islands have to share, so let’s start with the Southern end of Vancouver Island, where the scene is the densest. Arriving via the B.C. Ferries or Victoria International Airport lands you in the heart of the Saanich Peninsula, and the southern Island’s farm lands. Get acquainted to “Island Time” at DeVine Vineyards and Distillery. This sustainably farmed, family owned winery and distillery is situated hilltop, with a spectacular view of the Pacific and Mt. Baker beyond and the farmlands at your feet. You can continue your spirited tasting at Victoria Spirits nearby (home to Canada’s acclaimed Victoria Gin) as well as at Sea Cider Farm, where heritage, organic, and locally-foraged apples are turned into traditional, English-styled dry cider.
A quick half hour down to Victoria’s city centre, and where you’ll land if you take a Harbour Air or Helijet flight, and you’re within a few kilometers of some of the province’s best craft breweries. Spinnakers Brewpub, Hoyne, Driftwood, Phillip’s, Moon Under Water, Lighthouse Brewing, Canoe Brewpub, Swans Brewpub are all within walking distance (or an easy, flat cycle) of the Inner Harbour. Of course, you could just sit on a bar stool at The Drake off Market Square and taste through a lineup of craft beer from here and elsewhere. Be sure to brunch at Agrius (and pick up a baguette from their on-site Fol Epi Bakery), caffeinate at Habit Coffee and have a dine-around through the new Fort Common, a collective of like-minded local food purveyors flanking the alleyway and blocks around Fort and Blanshard Streets. Highlights include BeLove, FishHook, Chorizo & Co, Discovery Coffee, Farm & Field Butchers, and La Taquisa. Grab dinner and a spritz at Pizzeria Primastrada (go for the traditional Margherita, with Island-raised water buffalo mozzarella) before a nightcap at the excellent cocktail bar, Veneto Lounge.
I highly recommend taking a day to drive 45 minutes out of town to the community of Sooke. It’s a short stint to get completely out of the city and into the wild west coast of the Island, where camping, hiking and surfing rules, and you’ll come across eagles nearly as often as humans. The iconic Sooke Harbour House has undergone a big food and beverage renovation, with the opening of the all-day Copper Room Restaurant. This warm, friendly room has a full cocktail bar, alluring small plates and an addictive weekend brunch (worth the drive). Of course you can, and should, have a multi-course meal at their legendary Sooke Harbour House Restaurant at least once in your life. This is the spot that put slow food and locally-foraged fine cuisine on the scene in Canada, and is still as beautiful as ever. But make a night, or two, out of your Sooke time so you can dine at Wild Mountain Food and Drink, one of BC’s most exciting, unpretentious and unexpected rooms for fresh, seasonable, local (and a killer naturalist wine list to match).
The next morning head north up over the Malahat along Highway #1, and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the Island wine scene: the Cowichan Valley. It would take you more than entire weekend to visit the dozens of tasting rooms in the area (there are more than 35 licenced wineries on the Islands now), all clearly signposted, but be sure you stop at Averill Creek, set on the south slope of Mt. Prevost and known for their Pinot Noir. Have lunch and a tasting (don’t miss the sparkling wines) at nearby Unsworth Vineyards and make time for a visit to Blue Grouse Estate Winery and Vineyards, where vines have been planted since the 1970’s. Be sure to try their Ortega, one of the Wine Island’s top white grape varieties. Venturi-Schulze Vineyards is legendary for their uncompromising, idiosyncratic wines and ancient method balsamic vinegars, and if you’re still hungry, there’s a wood-fired oven and deli at Merridale Cidery and Distillery, along with a colourful portfolio of ciders, spirits and liqueurs to taste through. Book in at Hudson on First, a small and pristine farm-to-table restaurant in Duncan. If you’re really savvy, time your visit around one of Chef Bill Jones cooking classes and dinner events at Deerholme Farm. This acclaimed author and mushroom expert has a series of Forest + Farm to Table classes and dinners that run throughout the year. It will be one of the most memorable dining experiences you’ll have.
This article was originally published in Modern Vintner Issue 01. Request a copy here.