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Column: Discovering Vancouver Island’s Charming Blue Grouse Wines

It’s called the “Tuscany of Canada” because of its beautiful countryside that has boutique wineries, cider houses, cheese ‘factories,’ family farms, restaurants, and a quaint fishing village.
Cowichan Valley Blue Grouse wines
Enjoy the fresh taste of the Cowichan Valley with Blue Grouse wines.

It’s called the “Tuscany of Canada” because of its beautiful countryside that has boutique wineries, cider houses, cheese ‘factories,’ family farms, restaurants, and a quaint fishing village. Yes, the Cowichan Valley is an ideal destination if you love food, wine, and cider as well as bucolic scenery. And one destination that is worth the trip over to Vancouver Island is Blue Grouse Estate Winery just south of Duncan.

Blue Grouse is a sustainable, family-owned winery with a philosophy of “stewardship.” Owner Paul Brunner reveals that the aim “is to make everything we touch better when we leave it, than it was when we found it. We apply this to training our team of employees, the environment that hosts our vineyard and home, the vines we grow, the wines we make, the infrastructure which supports the winery and vineyard, and the economics of our business model – everything!”

Winemaker Bailey Williamson is a firm believer in making the wine reflect the terroir of its vineyards, “It is important that we take what our terroir gives us rather than trying to force the terroir to give us what we want.”  

Williams has two lines of wines. The Estate wines come entirely from their own 8.5 acres of vineyards where they have the most control over the quality of their grapes. Some of the vines are among the oldest on the island, going back to 1983.

The Blue Grouse Estate 2019 Ortega ($23.99) is Vancouver Island’s signature grape and this white wine is its perfect ambassador. It reflects the best that the Cowichan Valley’s warm summers can deliver. Ortega is a cross between Siegerrebe and Muller-Thurgau.

The wine is colourless in the glass but it is definitely not a bland wine. I enjoyed its stone fruit bouquet and peach and apricot flavour in a medium-light body with a lengthy dry citrus finish. Williamson, a former chef, recommends serving his Ortega with oysters on the half shell. Any seafood would be a good match, including seared scallops in garlic butter deglazed with a splash of Ortega.

Quill is the other Blue Grouse line that allows Williamson to express his talents. Sourcing some of the best grapes grown in British Columbia and blending them meticulously, Bailey’s mandate is make single varietal wines or blends that are distinctive. His goal is to strike a balance between the high acid grapes from Vancouver Island and the more fruit-forward grapes from the Okanagan.

Williamson describes The 2019 Quill Q White ($19.99) as “unpretentious.” But I find it an exciting and lively blend of Pinot Gris, Schonburger, Gewurztraminer, and Siegerrebe from other Vancouver Island grape growers.  

There’s abundant floral and fruity aromas  with ripe flavours of lychee, grapefruit, rose, peach, and lemon verbeena backed by a crisp acidity. If this is unpretentious, I love it! It’s great for sipping out in the afternoon sun after the fog burns off. Or pair with prawns in a curry sauce with coconut milk.

My favourite of this trio is the 2018 Quill Q Red ($23.99). It’s a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc from Oliver and Marechal Foch from a grower in the Cowichan Valley. Dark red in the glass, it has a generous bouquet of red fruit, herbs and a whiff of toasted oak. I really enjoyed the smooth rich flavour of plums, thyme, tea leaves and cocoa. Wonderful with a rib roast and a jigger of the wine in the gravy! This would also be a good choice to serve with Thanksgiving turkey or ham.

Blue Grouse Estate and Quill wines are available in Richmond at Tugboat Annie’s Liquor Store and Wine Boutique and Ironwood Save-on VQA. In Vancouver it’s on the shelves at Broadway Liquor Store. You can order online and there’s free shipping if you buy six bottles or more.

The winery is open Wednesday to Sunday 11 am – 5 pm, February through December. Tasting Reservations should be made online.