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Column: Blue Grouse and the Cowichan Valley are tasty wine destinations

Part two of columnist Eric Hanson's two-part wine-tasting adventure in Cowichan Valley.

This week I conclude my tour and tasting of the diverse and exciting wines of Blue Grouse in in the Cowichan Valley of Vancouver Island. The winery’s philosophy is ‘”Stewardship.” 

“Our aim is to make everything we touch better than what we found it," explained proprietor Paul Brunner.

"We apply this to training our team on the environment that hosts our vineyard and home, the vines we grow, the wines we make, the infrastructure that supports the winery and vineyard, and the economics of our business model…everything!”

And it’s revealed in the high quality of the wines!

The 2021 Quill Off Dry White ($19.99) is a patio sipper, which is really popular with Blue Grouse’s wine club members. Tasting room manager Pamela Sanderson commented, “It’s a blend of all grapes from Vancouver Island. Schonberger grown in the Comox Valley, Gewurztraminer grown in the Cowichan Valley, and Ortega from our property.”

“It’s got a little honey note in the finish, beautiful aromatics, and just a little hint of sweetness. I think it’s really well balanced and it’s delicious with spicy foods. If you’re having a curry or hot chili sauce, that's my favourite pairing," Sanderson confessed.

Next was the 2020 Quill Q Red ($28.99), a very popular wine with a beautiful full-bodied blend of Cab Franc and Merlot, from the Okanagan and Marechal Foch from the Cowichan.

Sanderson discussed winemaker Bailey Williamson’s vinification of the Q Red, “He vinified each grape variety separately and it probably sees the most oak out of all the wines we produce. He’s not using a lot of new oak, he’s usually using one or three-year-old barrels. But you’ll notice it in the nose which to me is the perfect pairing with a grilled protein; it could be a grilled Portobello or a grilled strip loin.”

Brunner then opened an amazing red, a Blue Grouse 2006 Pinot Noir. “All of the fruit is off the estate. But it’s not made by us, it’s made by Hans Kiltz, (the original owner). It doesn’t taste that old," said Brunner.

"It’s to show what Pinot Noir in the valley ages like. You can age a Pinot Noir here and it's pretty good.” he exclaimed.

Sanderson added, “I think it speaks to the cool climate and the viticulture with the acidity we get. It really does make these wines age-worthy.”

Next was the unreleased Pinot Noir, produced from a majority of Pinot Noir grown in the Cowichan valley and Oliver in the Okanagan and some Gamay Noir from 30-year-old vines on the Blue Grouse Estate.

Brunner compared the latest Pinot Noir with the 2006, “There’s a huge difference in the age but also a big difference in the winemaking. Bailey has incorporated new tools in the wine cellar (American oak barrels, plus concrete and clay amphoras).”

 “Any winery that can keep a winemaker for a decade, he knows the vineyard site and the fruit. You can see the progression of the winemaking in the ten years he’s been here. It shows in this wine. It will be 6 months in the bottle. It’s got the right stuff,” Brunner said confidently.

As for future plans, Brunner said, “We’ve planted all the traditional grapes for ‘champagne’. We have Pinot Noir; we have on the property eight different clones of Pinot Noir. And we will learn from that as to what works and what doesn't’. We have Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.”

"I’m guessing we’ll do a Blanc de Blancs, a Blanc de Noir, a Rosé, and a traditional with the three grapes,” revealed Brunner.

And they’ve recently produced a Chardonnay. Sanderson said, “It’s a first for us, made from fruit from the Cowichan Valley from a vineyard not far from us. It’ll be released in a month or two. It’s a really nice Chard. The idea is to make a fresh Burgundian style of Chardonnay.”

And to end on another high note, Brunner and Williamson gave me a taste of their Fortified Black Muscat ($59.99). This traditional "Port" began in 2012 with a single barrel and the addition of another barrel with each harvest. This “Solera” style is a blend of six years from 2012 through 2019. It allows for the integration of older vintages with fresher younger vintages.

Expect aromas of boysenberry, plums and hazelnuts. There are flavours of vanilla, caramel and sweet smokiness from the American oak barriques. And the long luscious finish will linger on your tongue long after the last drop finishes.

Pair this dessert in a glass with soft ripe cheese, smoked or salted nuts and dark chocolate.  But you’ll have to wait until the next vintage as currently, the Fortified Black Muscat is out of stock.

Blue Grouse is located 8 km south of Duncan or 50 km north of Victoria at 2182 Lakeside Road. Open Wednesday through Sunday 11 am – 5 pm. Reservations required.