|Salt Spring Vineyards on Salt Spring Island - Photo: Tourism BC/Andrea Johnson|
Long days, cool nights, summer warmth, southerly sun, spring rains and autumn chill—the factors that add up to ideal wine-grape growing are more complex than most people realize. For instance, it is the cool-down of late summer and fall that heightens sugar formation in most wine grapes, and that’s one of the keys to the sophisticated flavor today’s wine fanciers favor. Here on Vancouver Island, we’re keenly aware of this recipe, because we share our countryside with some of the most distinctive estate vineyards and wineries in North America.
Yes, way up here at 49 degrees north.
Even farther, in fact—the latitude at the Comox Valley, one of our newest wine districts, is closer to 50 degrees than to 49, making it one of the northernmost vineyard regions in the world. By comparison, the famous wine regions of France and Germany mostly lie below the 47th parallel.
It’s our unique landscape and environment that make this distinctive local agricultural industry possible. The Pacific Ocean rules Island weather, sending us copious winter rain and snow, as well as moderate air whose temperature doesn’t dip much below zero in the winter. Meanwhile, our central mountain range, threading the Island’s spine, fends off clouds and rain in the summer so that sunshine is a fairly reliable daily event. Mount Golden Hinde, highest point on the Island at 2,196 meters (7,207 feet) and perpetually snowclad, looks down on the warm slopes of Comox and Courtenay where new vineyards are thriving. In the summer a common sight is clouds at the back of Golden Hinde and the other central mountains—and sun splashed across the lovely slopes southeastward. Add in blessedly clear air and ample good growing ground, and temperate-climate agriculture has long been a mainstay of Island life.
Estate vineyards are now found in the Comox Valley; on Quadra and Hornby islands; the Cowichan Valley around Duncan; the Alberni Valley near Port Alberni; the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria; and on Salt Spring, Saturna and Pender islands east of Sidney. In other words, everywhere farms have been thriving since the second half of the 19th century. Because of transport costs, island wineries rarely ship in juice from the B.C. interior, as is more often the case with some mainland wine-makers. In addition, the Island’s sensational fruit-growing climate has spurred the creation of a number of wineries and cideries making beverages from apples, plums, raspberries and blackberries.
And while other parts of British Columbia may be better-known and “bigger” as far as wine production goes, we claim some notable superlatives here. Merridale Cidery, west of Duncan, was one of the pioneers of the now-booming hard apple cider industry in North America, and remains one of the major producers, with brandy a new venture to add to its established scrumpies and summersets. Saturna Winery, on its namesake island east of Victoria, has a 60-acre vineyard that’s one of the largest in Western Canada, and surely one of the largest seaside vineyards anywhere. Vignetti Zanatta is one of the oldest estate vineyards in Western Canada, dating back to the mid-20th century, and operates on a heritage farm that includes a bistro in a 1903 farmhouse.
Wine production is one of the newer facets of our local commerce, and responds to a growing desire worldwide for distinctive vintages to savor and destination tasting rooms to visit. We can certainly offer that. Most Island vineyards specialize in cool-climate wines rarely found in the bigger, better-known viniferous regions.
Marechal Foch, for instance—this early 20th century hardy cool-climate grape originated in France’s Alsace, but is rarely grown in Europe now. Vintners produce lighter red wines, claret-style, from Marechal Foch (named after the marshal who helped negotiate the end of the First World War). Look for this grape’s wines in the Comox Valley, Cowichan Valley and on Salt Spring Island.
Gewurztraminer is a grape of German origin used to produce light, refreshing white wines perfect for those who don’t care for the sharp tang and oaky must of warm-climate whites such as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. “Gewurz,” as it is known colloquially, is a highly aromatic vintage that sometimes produces a light freshet of bubbles in the bottle and is usually described in fruity terms such as apricot and pear. Look for gewurztraminer wines at many Island vintners; it’s especially popular here because it goes well with seafood and Asian foods, two of our other Island specialties.
The list of uncommon cool-climate varietals grown at Island vineyards is long and diverse—Ortega, siegerrebe, Bacchus, castel, gruner veltliner, gamay, Auxerrois, Blattner, even a muscat. In addition, visitors can find the better known pinot gris, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay and sparklers made from several varieties. Island fruits are crafted into ciders, sweet wines—notably from our ubiquitous blackberries—and port-style after-dinner cordials.
In other words, there is something here for everyone.
Best of all, touring our wine regions is a matter of driving along peaceful country roads in a beautiful landscape where deep fir, hemlock and cedar forests give way to green hay meadows and grazing dairy cows, heritage farmsteads mark serene vales and small hills, and tumbling streams bring down snowmelt from distant snowy ranges. Riding BC Ferries to one of the smaller neighbour islands such as Hornby, Salt Spring or Saturna lends a different facet to our wine country travel, one available virtually nowhere else. Wine tasting preceded by whale watching, followed a dinner of roast island lamb and a night in a small country inn? Many places may offer a couple of those ingredients, but very few could present all the options we have.
You’ll want to be sure you have maps to guide you to our three dozen or so wineries—Island back roads don’t follow the north-south grid system, instead detouring around this mountain-born river and that glacial-till knoll. Virtually all our wineries welcome visitors to their tasting rooms, but some ask for a phone call ahead of time. After all, we don’t have big corporate wine-makers here; these are all individual artisans practicing a unique craft in one of the most unique areas for it. Salut!
For more information about Wineries on Vancouver Island, please visit http://www.wineislands.ca.
Salt Spring Island
|Ruckle Provinical Park - Salt Spring Island - Photo: Julia Rothkirc of Ladysmith, BC|
It’s possible to momentarily think you are in the Caribbean. Turquoise waters reflect the sun high in the sky. Palm tree fronds flutter in an onshore breeze. Latin music wends its way out over the waterfront from a café serving fish tacos. Flowers spill out from baskets and beds everywhere. The atmosphere is amiably unhurried.
Salt Spring Island, just 25 minutes by ferry from Victoria, 1½ hours from Vancouver, is a world apart from those bustling urban centers. While it’s the biggest and most populous of the Gulf Islands, that’s like saying one rose in a garden bed is most conspicuous—all these islands are quiet pastoral retreats on which life slows down beautifully, and Salt Spring simply happens to have enough development to offer a full range of visitor amenities.
The biggest town, Ganges, faces south into the sun at the upper end of a long harbour. A compact town center has tidy galleries, cafes and stores, while several small inns perch on the slopes above the town. The sparkling bay bustles with private boats sailing in and out, while floatplanes from Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle coast in to a dock beside the town center. Several famed restaurants offer everything from 5-star gourmet island food—including the famous Salt Spring Island lamb—to tacos featuring handmade tortillas and local halibut. Local theatre troupes present summertime plays in a gazebo in a bayfront park, and the work of local artists includes kinetic sculptures that rotate in the island breeze. Excellent kayak adventures depart from Ganges to small islets with unspoiled beaches.
The rest of Salt Spring is almost completely rural, with rolling hills of farm, field and forest set beneath two large mountains. Narrow country lanes wind among the woods and hills, with a quintessential Salt Spring feature awaiting passersby at the side of many island driveways—self-service, honor-system food or flower stands. Visitors can acquire everything from bread to beets, zucchini to zinnias. Campers can set up their tents on a headland just above the water in Ruckle Provincial Park, one of the jewels of the BC parks system.
Yes, there really is a salt spring, at the north end of the island; the mineral waters are utilized by a small spa resort. Two lakes draw families to idyllic summer vacations of water play at cottage resorts; and the island’s three vineyards offer visitors a taste of distinctive cool-climate wines. Salt Spring, in other words, can only be described as the opposite of its name—an undeniably sweet place.
To learn more about Salt Spring Island, visit the island’s tourism site, www.saltspringtourism.com.
Hiking on Vancouver Island
|Hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island|
In a place thoroughly dedicated to outdoor pursuits, it’s no surprise that hiking on Vancouver Island is popular, widely available and incredibly diverse. Here you can walk through misty old-growth forests, pass along sand and gravel beaches, marvel at flower-strewn alpine meadows, loop your way around small islands. One could literally take a different hike every day for years, though the temptation to return to favorite spots is strong.
With two national parks, more than 100 provincial parks, and millions of acres of woodland, mountain and shore, we have enough territory for hikers ranging from special needs visitors to veteran hard-core wilderness trekkers. Here are some favorites:
- Ruckle Provincial Park: Most Ruckle visitors head to the south side, past the campground, of this Salt Spring Island gem; we like the loop trail that heads north along a small emerald cove, through warm arbutus-fir woods and back beside a serene sheep paddock.
- Juan de Fuca Provincial Park: The trail down to Sombrio Beach, two hours west of Victoria, descends a kilometer through lovely old-growth spruce woods, bringing you to a long gravel beach washed by the sound of Pacific swells and fresh marine air.
- Big Trees Trail: This short boardwalk path on Meares Island, a 10-minute water taxi ride from Tofino, leads past venerable spruces, hemlocks and cedars, winding up at the famous Hanging Garden Tree, an ancient cedar with a colony of huckleberries, younger trees and ferns growing on it.
- West Coast Trail: The most famous wilderness trail in Western Canada threads the coast from Port Renfrew to Bamfield. It takes up to a week for the 75km trek, which climbs up and down steep headlands and passes along broad stretches of sand. It’s for wilderness experts only; a kinder, gentler version, the 47km Juan de Fuca Trail, traverses the same coast farther south in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.
- Helliwell Bluffs Trail: Circumscribing the headland at Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby Island, this 5km trail starts out in a unique dryland old-growth fir forest, whose trees are centuries old, gnarled and fire-scarred; then traverses the bluffs overlooking the Strait of Georgia and a haulout for boisterous Steller sea lions.
- Paradise Meadows Loop: This easy 4km trail in Strathcona Provincial Park’s Forbidden Plateau is one of the best ways to experience our mountain landscape. It passes through subalpine meadows, flower-strewn in July, past forests of yellow cedar, amabilis fir and hemlock.
These are just a few of thousands. As John Muir said, “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” You can sure get there quickly here.
For more information about Hiking in the Vancouver Island Region, please visit http://www.hellobc.com/vi
Kid Friendly Activities in the Vancouver Island Region.
For this edition of islandMOMENTS, we asked our Facebook Fans what their FAVORITE Kid Friendly Activities are in the Vancouver Island Region.
Here are their Top Ten...
- Tiger Lily Farm - Errington
- Ucluelet Aquarium - Ucluelet
- McLean Mill Steam Train - Port Alberni
- Parksville Beach - Parksville
- Western Speedway - Langford
- Beacon Hill Park - Victoria
- Courtenay Museum & Paleontology Centre - Courtenay
- The Bug Zoo - Victoria
- North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre - Errington
- Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre - Sidney
|Tiger Lily Farm - Errington|
To check out photos of some of the Kid Friendly things to do in The Vancouver Island Region, visit www.facebook.com/vancouverisland.travel
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