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Cowichan Valley Winery produces premium wines

By Jim Gordon and Leeta Liepins

Published 1:59 PDT, Fri May 10, 2024

Our City Tonight (OCT) At this year’s annual Vancouver International Wine Festival, we had the opportunity to sit down with a local winery representative from Vancouver Island. Michael Abbott (MA), the general manager of Blue Grouse Estate Winery located in Duncan, British Columbia, and in the Cowichan Valley. The Cowichan Valley has increasingly been gaining popularity as a premiere wine destination. Blue Grouse Estate Winery has a very interesting history behind its development, and we were excited to learn more.

MA: It is great news to hear that more and more wine people are talking a lot about the Cowichan Valley, and we personally love to hear that. Our winery has been growing grapes in the Cowichan Valley since the late 1980s. The winery and the vineyard itself were actually planted as part of the Duncan Project which started in 1983. 

The Duncan Project was the research development program where they planted varieties of Vitus vinifera (grape vines) to assess the viability of wine production in different regions of the valley. When that was no longer a concern, this area was sold to Dr. Hans Kiltz, the founder of Blue Grouse Estate Winery where he propagated grapevines on the property of 7 acres and started the winery. He then was able to secure the second tasting room license issued on Vancouver Island in 1992.

OCT: That’s a great story. Some people may still think or used to think that Vancouver Island was only good for making fruit wines. Now there are many wines that are amazing and winning all kinds of awards. What are the specific wines that you have chosen to showcase here at Vancouver International Wine Festival?

MA: Blue Grouse Estate Winery has been developing more acreage for the last five years and in six years, we’ve gone from seven to seventy acres of grapes. The main focus of the plantings that we’re going forward with now are our Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes. 

With those grapes we can make a multitude of different varieties and styles of wine. We can make rosé, sparkling both traditional method and Charmat, and of course our still Pinot Noir and our still Chardonnay as well as our still Pinot Gris. All of these are our favourite wines and that is why we are showcasing them here at the 45th annual Vancouver International Wine Festival.

OCT: Please explain to us what makes your wines a little bit different. We can visibly see that the colours are gorgeous.

MA: Island wines have a certain energy and they have a minerality with a backbone of acidity that just lets them cut through a lot of different food pairings. They show up on the table fresh and they are very enjoyable and easy drinking wines.

The Pinot Noir‘s are pushing into that full-fruit, forest floor style of winemaking and we are getting very experimental with the different way that we are making these wines. Pinot Gris, which is our current star of the show, is actually made in 60 per cent concrete fermenters and then an additional 40 per cent done in oak. So, it is a bit of a unique style for a Pinot Noir from Vancouver Island.

OCT: What would you suggest that we pair with the Pinot Gris?

MA: With that Pinot Gris I would pair a cheese plate. Starting the meal with a Pinot Gris, it would definitely go with fish or chicken or even goes well with the pasta side of the menu.

OCT: How about the food pairing with your Chardonnay?

MA: The Chardonnay is new for us and this is only our second vintage of making Chardonnay. It is a beautiful wine and is coming through very clean, very elegant, and very lean. It is something that I would be pairing with a dish that doesn’t carry a lot of fat to it. I would lean towards seafood with this one, for example pair with scallops, clams, muscles, salmon, crab, or anything that comes from the coast. I would be pairing any of these with this Chardonnay.

OCT: So what you’re saying is that this is a perfect Vancouver Island wine. And lastly, please tell us what you would pair with the Pinot Noir.

MA: From a menu perspective with this Pinot Noir, I would be leaning into the heavier set on the menu, so we would be starting to look at perhaps turkey or chicken, lamb or beef. Of course, this red wine is something that we would want to pair with something a little heavier on the menu.

OCT:: How would you further encourage our viewers to come visit you at Blue Grouse Winery in the Cowichan valley?

MA: What’s really unique about the Cowichan Valley and Blue Grouse Estate Winery is that we are a mosaic of activities in the valley. From a destination perspective, you don’t just come to taste wines, you come to go whale watching, you could walk the charming streets, there’s lots of outdoor activities with rivers and lakes. There are also beautiful restaurants to eat at. And then the wineries dot the valley just like a real mosaic of activities. I encourage everyone to come and experience the many facets of the Cowichan Valley.

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