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Column: Blue Grouse continues to evolve in the picturesque Cowichan Valley

Part one of Eric Hanson's two-part wine-tasting journey in Cowichan Valley.

Last month, I visited the beautiful Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, about 15 minutes south of Duncan. Our first stop was Blue Grouse Estate Winery and Vineyard. Blue Grouse’s owner Paul Brunner and Tasting Room Manager Pamela Sanderson presented me with an exciting and eclectic cross-section of the wines they produce.

We began with their premium white wine, the 2021 Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Gris ($27.99). Sanderson explained why it is an important wine for the winery: “It’s a really exciting wine because people can follow this through the ages. It’s been produced here at Blue Grouse since the beginning. All grown here on this site from the original vineyards planted by Hans and Evangeline Kiltz,” she said.

“To me, it's a real flagship of the evolution and maturity of Blue Grouse. Last year, in 2021, Bailey’s Pinot Gris won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award. We’re very excited about the potential of this,” exclaimed Sanderson.

“When Kiltz made this wine he wasn’t using any oak. Today they use 40 per cent barrel fermentation and 60 per cent steel fermentation. Winemaker Bailey Williamson has added a lot of complexity and character to this wine." He also put it through malolactic fermentation, she added.

Sanderson described the delicious result: “You get a beautiful creaminess to it, some of that buttery caramel characteristic. There’s a nice brightness. There’s good ripeness there. You get lovely ripe apple, almost a caramel apple and a little bit of toast.” I recently rated it 91 points (Outstanding) as have other wine reviewers. Enjoy it on its own or with jerk chicken.

Next we tasted the rare Amphora Collection 2020 Bacchus ($32.99), Sanderson described how this 100 per cent organically farmed ‘orange wine’ is produced: “We take a white grape and ferment it on the skins and we extract the colour from the skins. We use the Bacchus grape, which has a fair bit of colour in the skins. We put it in a terra cotta clay amphora and ferment the juice on the skins. We also extract tannins and a lot of earthy savoury notes.”

“Bacchus is a very aromatic fruity grape so you’ve got this combination of fruity aromatic and then savoury earthy. So it's a very unusual wine. Very small production, you’d only find it here,” she said.

The winery’s product profile recommends pairing the Amphora Bacchus with roast herb chicken or a charcuterie board with Manchego cheese and almonds.

Changing colours, Sanderson poured us a Quill 2021 Rosé ($24.99) made from Gamay grapes. A Quill line is a reference that the grapes are not grown on the estate. Another vigneron grew the Gamay Noir grapes, just north of Blue Grouse in the Cowichan Valley.

Sanderson explained the process: “The Gamay Noir juice was left on the skins for 24 hours; they have that beautiful nice salmon colour. And they have notes of strawberry rhubarb, almost like a fragrant tart. Some people say ruby red grapefruit but it’s still dry so it’s lovely with food.” Pair it with cedar-planked salmon or a watermelon and goat cheese salad. I recently awarded the rosé 89 points (Very Good).

In addition to her duties in the tasting room, Sanderson does a tour in the morning called ‘Grapes to Glass’ ($50). She explained: “ It’s an overview of the vineyard and winemaking process. It starts in the tasting room and then follows the route the grape would take through the winery from the fruit cellar into the barrel room. You taste five wines, charcuterie and a glass of wine.”

Other tastings include ‘A Guided Tasting with Five Wines’ ($10 per person), ‘Lunch for Two’: five wines and charcuterie ($50 for two), ‘Table & Bottle’: book a table purchase a bottle or glass of wine, bring your own picnic (Prices vary), and ‘Library Tasting’: Thursdays in October to taste a vertical flight of library wines. (Prices vary)”. For further information on Blue Grouse and wine purchases, visit

Next week, more on my tasting at Blue Grouse Estate Winery in the charming Cowichan Valley.