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Column: Blue Grouse Wines are full of surprises

It’s not often that a wine tasting is a surprise birthday party. But that’s what happened recently for Blue Grouse’s Winemaker Bailey Williamson’s 50th birthday.
Bailey Williamson wine
Winemaker Bailey Williamson (on left) celebrates his Sparkling Paula and his 50th.

It’s not often that a wine tasting is a surprise birthday party. But that’s what happened recently for Blue Grouse’s Winemaker Bailey Williamson’s 50th birthday.

While Bailey was surprised with the media turnout and the birthday cupcakes, I was also surprised. Williamson may be 50 but he has the energy of a person half his age. He’s charming, funny, and passionate about his calling, and a character you’d love to hang out with, especially over a glass of wine!

Williamson was once a chef but crossed over to the wine world working at Road 13 as assistant winemaker in the Okanagan. Then he headed west to Vancouver Island’s bit of Tuscany, the Cowichan Valley. As winemaker at Blue Grouse Estate Winery, he produces wines that are as exciting as his personality.

To celebrate his 50th, Willamson opened his 2014 sparkling Paula, named after the daughter of Blue Grouse’s owner, Paul Brunner.

Willamson described the bubbly’s blend as “a bit of a random selection.”

“Pinot Gris because it lends itself to sparkling. Picking it early can maintain the acidity. Muller-Thurgau was a natural. It maintains its acidity quite well. And Ortega…it kind of fleshes itself out with floral and fruit characteristics.”

All of the grapes are from the Blue Grouse’s vineyards in the Cowichan Valley and the cuvéeis made in the traditional méthode champenoise. The result is a dry, elegant sparkling wine with a bouquet revealing citrus and brioche and flavours of apples and lemon-lime with bright acidity.

Blue Grouse’s winemaker also revealed what his plans are for the next decade.

“As we move forward with new plantings, the focus is on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and sparkling. All of those plantings lend themselves to sparkling. In a cool year, it’s going to be all sparkling. In a moderate year I can make a roséout of it. In a warm year I can make a still white. So it’s kind of hedging our bets.”

And Williamson plans to branch out with another type of bubbly. “As we move forward there will probably be another line of sparkling from the estate, a more classic varietal focus wine of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier,” the traditional blend for French Champagne.

In addition to Blue Grouse’s Estate label, there is the Quill label. Williamson explained, “That label is basically purchased grapes. If I can purchase them on the island, I will but that isn’t always easy or appropriate.”

The Quill 2015 Red is a good example. It’s mainly Cabernet Franc and Merlot with nine per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, grapes that need a lot sun and warm temperatures to ripen.

“Nobody is going to grow that with any success on the Island, so I take advantage of the contacts I have in the Okanagan,” where they can ripen.

I was impressed with the result. It’s a smooth and rich red blend, with a bouquet of black cherry, vanilla and cedar with flavours of blueberry, plum and tobacco. Try it with barbecued lamb and cupcakes!

If you want to enjoy these, the Paula ($34.99) and the Quill Red ($23.99) are available at Broadway Wine Shop in Vancouver. Everything Wine’s south Vancouver store has the largest Blue Grouse selection, including the Quill Rosé ($20.95), Quill White ($20.99), Quill Red ($22.99), Estate Siegerrebe ($24.99) and the Estate Pinot Noir ($29.49).

Eric Hanson is a Richmond wine educator.

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