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Column: The wines of Blue Grouse Vineyards

Vancouver Island's Cowichan Valley is an "unsung B.C." wine region, says wine enthusiast.
Blue Grouse Vineyards in the Cowichan Valley is an unheralded yet rising wine producer.

Some people have complained that I don’t focus on B.C. wines.  It is not that I am not a fan of B.C. wines but I find many of them overpriced compared to the actual quality of the wine.  I try to honestly assess these wines compared to other wines of the world. To judge them in a different light because they are locally produced discredits them as B.C. can make some amazing wines.

I have always thought that B.C.’s climate is perfect for the growth of white wines and Pinot Noir. The comparable climate, in my opinion, would be Germany. No microclimate can grow every grape varietal well and BC suffers from a lack of identity in terms of finding definitive grape varietals that are representative of B.C.’s terroir.

An unsung B.C. wine region is Vancouver Island's Cowichan Valley. In the 1980s, the BC Land Commission funded the testing of over 100 grape varietals on Vancouver Island.  One of the sites was purchased by a scientist named Dr. Hans Kiltz in 1989. 

He narrowed down the grape varietals that he thought would successfully grow in the Cowichan Valley and then imported vines from France and Germany. Kiltz created Blue Grouse Winery in 1992. Blue Grouse has continued to expand its land holdings and its experimentation with new plantings. The winery was purchased in 2012 by the Bruner family, who then sold it to Jackson Family Wines, who own many wineries in California like Kendall Jackson, in 2021. They are streamlining the grape varietals they are using in their wines and focusing on Pinot Noir and white wine grapes.

I had the pleasure of tasting a number of their wines. Blue Grouse has a good collection of back vintages of some of their wines, which allows a consumer to see how the winery has progressed in their understanding of certain grape varietals. On their website, you can still purchase their 2016 and 2018 Pinot Gris for $29.99 and their 2020 Pinot Noir for $38.99.

I recently had the chance to taste their 2017, 2019, and 2020 Pinot Noir as well as the first vintage of their 2021 Reserve Pinot Noir Reserve wine. 

Their Pinot Noirs are characteristically floral on the nose with white pepper, clove and red cherry flavours. I thought there was a dramatic increase in quality between the 2017 and the 2019 wines, with the 2019 spending some time aging in amphora vessels. 

Amphora was used by the ancient Romans in the wine-making process and I have found that wine aged in amphora tastes fresher and has amplified aromas and flavours.  The 2019 and 2020 wines are a contract in styles with the 2020 being a more modern style of BC Pinot Noir and the 2019 being more expressive of the terroir of the Cowichan Valley.  The 2021 Reserve is stylistically more sophisticated, and smoother and expresses more dark fruit flavours.

I also had the opportunity to taste their Black Muscat dessert wine.  This fortified wine is not as sweet as port or ice wine and is a perfect way to end a meal

For my reviews of these wines, watch here. Blue Grouse’s Pinot Gris can be found at BC Liquor Stores, priced at $28.99. Their other wines can be purchased at specialty liquor stores or directly from their website.  Until next time, happy drinking!

Tony Kwan is a Richmond News columnist. Lawyer by day, and a food and wine lover by night. Kwan is an epicurean who writes about wine, food and enjoying all that life has to offer. 

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