Explore Vancouver Island’s Wine and Culinary Culture
When you mention Vancouver Island, people first think of Butchart gardens, Parliament buildings, rugged ocean views and maybe Orcas. Would you be surprised to find out that Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands support a vibrant wine industry with more than three dozen wineries? Additionally the vineyards complement Vancouver Island’s thriving farms, breweries, cideries, dining and British pub scene. Let us share some highlights with you.
Church & State Wines is Vancouver Island’s largest and most prolific winery. When doing a tasting here you get a bonus, being able to taste wines from both their Vancouver Island Estate and their Okanagan Estate vineyards. Being just 15 minutes from downtown makes it a must see for any visitors to Victoria who enjoy good wine in a scenic setting.
Enjoy lunch in their bistro, featuring a fresh menu made from the finest local ingredients. Executive Chef Desiree Perrin creates unique dishes with the best ingredients of Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands, each perfectly paired with Church & State’s award winning wines.
Then carry on for something very unique; Damali Lavender Winery, where you can stroll around the lavender gardens, labyrinth and vineyard, before a wine tasting.
The Damali vineyard originally planted castel grapes, a North American French hybrid suited to the coastal climate and terrain. They have since added other varietals for blending the estate grown ‘Maillette’ red wine; however their signature wines are fruit and lavender blends. They are truly delicious and have proved to be very popular. They are now also growing blackberries, raspberries, rhubarb and black currants for wine making. So bring a baguette and some cheese and have a glass of lavender wine in the picnic area before you go.
Visit Merridale for a different experience. For over 25 years Merridale has understood the importance of agritourism. You can enjoy an incredible meal at their bistro, stroll through the orchards, check out the farmhouse and distillery, sip at the tasting bar or lounge, and visit their farmhouse store stocked with locally sourced, seasonal boutique goods. Merridale is the first Certified Craft Distillery in British Columbia. You can sample not only their craft ciders but also some of their oldest spirits, including a 7-year-old Cowichan Calvados Brandy, an 8-year-old Whisky Jack’s, and a 10-year-old Cowichan Cognac-Style Grape Brandy. If you are fortunate you’ll hit it right and be here for Sunday Pizza night.
For something more traditional, you could visit 40 knots Vineyard and Estate Winery. The current 40 Knots portfolio includes a Chardonnay, a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Noir, a rosé and an aromatic blend of Pinot Gris and Schönburger called Whitecaps. As well, the winery has a 2010 sparkling wine, Spindrift Brut, made with a classic cuvée of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This wine won a gold medal in a 2013 competition.
Stroll through their Vineyard Interpretive trail and then select some delicious cheeses, baguette, smoked salmon, pickled grapes, chutneys and chocolate, and they will put it in a picnic basket that you can enjoy out on the Vineyard Terrace. For something a little extra special, they even have their own skin care line called Vino.
Chateau Wolff is a boutique style winery producing Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, a White Blend and a fortified red called Rouge. Their approach to wine is focused on growing high quality grapes that speak for themselves which is evident when you speak to the owners about how they grow their grapes organically on their 5 acres vineyard.
In Parksville you will be Moo-ved by Morning Star Farms. Home to Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and Mooberry Winery, Morningstar Farm serves locals and visitors alike, promoting LOCAL, ETHICAL, SUSTAINABLE practices. See a real dairy farm up close and personal, watch the cheesemakers at work through the window, and taste the end result. Yum!
Nothing pairs better with cheese than wine! Mooberry winery, produces a wide range of delicious fruit wines using the freshest, finest fruits that British Columbia is famous for. This fruit winery uses local fruits like apple, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry and the elusive gooseberry, to create that perfect pairing.
Wine is by no means all there is however. Make sure you visit the Empress hotel for Death by Chocolate or High tea.
Also outstanding is the great British pub culture in Victoria. You can almost imagine you are in the UK when you are eating at places called the Penny Farthing, Garrick’s Head Pub, The Bard & Banker (try their hot apple cider), Irish Times Pub (with daily live music) or Bartholomew’s English-Style Pub (Bart’s, as it is known to locals).
For an adventure in mixology visit Clive’s Classic Lounge where you will find house-made liqueurs, bitters, syrups and shrubs that make handcrafted cocktails into a unique and remarkable experience.
Although not a pub you still feel the British influence visiting Murchie’s Tea & Coffee. Established in 1864, Murchie’s Tea & Coffee has been importing specialty teas and coffees from around the world for over 100 years. Rest your feet and experience the nostalgia with a hot pot of tea and a too-tempting slice of cake.
For breakfast, start your day perfectly at John’s Place, with a cup of hot coffee and a hearty brunch. At John’s Place you’ll be charmed by the vintage décor and pleased with the extensive classic brunch menu.
In Tofino who can’t resist the urge to go into a restaurant call the Wolf in the Fog. What is happening there? If you like the relaxed ambience of the area, listening to Motown, being comfy like in your own living room but eating seriously unique, gourmet food fresh from land and sea, then this is your place. Enjoy dishes like potato crusted oysters with apple & truffle; spruce cured tuna with radish, spruce mayo, cucumber, lemon olive oil or spiced octopus & pork jowl with beluga lentils, burnt eggplant, almonds & za’atar. Prices are very reasonable and portions are the perfect size. Wherever you decide to eat in Tofino, though, make sure you take advantage of the fresher-than-fresh seafood, as it is spectacular.
Also in tune with the laid back, yet culinarily obsessed community is the Picnic Charcuterie. Owner Tina learned grass-based livestock husbandry by working on ranches and farms across the US and Canada, and later completed a cheese-making internship. Tina sources all her meat locally and works mainly from classical French and Italian techniques but adds a twist to better represent the west coast. Pepperoni, jerky and innovative products like kelp stout ham made with stout from Tofino Brewing; basturma, a cured eye of round with fenugreek; spuma di gota, made from cured and smoked pork jowl whipped with ricotta and chanterelle liver pate, made with mushrooms she forages herself. Are you hungry yet? Tina will put together a picnic kit for you so you can just head to the beach or go for a hike.
If you have a sweet tooth make sure you visit Chocolate Tofino. They incorporate organic and local flavors into their artisan chocolates. Some of their local specialties are Organic Lavender Truffle, the Wildflower Honey Ganache and their Wild Blackberry Buttercream. If that’s not enough, they also make their own Gelato. Enroute to Tofino is also the Coombs Country Candy. Coombs is a little slice of heaven with a selection of handmade confections and candy including caramel corn, peanut brittle, fudge, chocolates, caramel apples, ice cream, and more. All their candy is handmade on site in a displayed cooking area where you can watch the candy man and his staff make your favourites.
Tour the Tofino Brew Company for a change of pace. They brew small batch, handcrafted beer using high quality malted barley and Pacific Northwest hops. Their tasting room is open 7 days a week from 11am-10pm. Try a flight of their staples, as well as seasonals like coffee porter, spruce tree ale, kelp stout.
There are also too many farmers markets to mention, that showcase the culinary artisans of Vancouver Island. Here are a few we suggest, depending on what days you are there:
The Great Little Market in Metchosin, Sundays May 14 – Oct 29 11am – 2pm. Buy your fresh vegetables, breads, jams, salsa, baked goods and gifts (or crafts) for your loved ones.
The Breakwater Market, Sundays June 25th until August 13th in Victoria. Enjoy artisan food, local produce, one-of-a-kind crafts…and great live music!
Cobble Hill Farmers Market, Sundays June through September, in Cowachan, with locally grown fresh produce, meats, eggs, flowers, honey, crafts, herbs, body care products, music, food and fun!
Pine Ridge Farmers Market, Open 7 Days a Week, May – Sept in Qualicum Beach, near Parksville. Pine Ridge Farm Market provides the local region with a variety of sumptuous food choices!
Tofino Public Market, Saturdays May 20th – October 7th. “Make it, Bake it, Grow it, Gather it” is the market’s principle.
Parksville Museum Farmer’s Market, Fridays May 26th – September 15th. A beautiful farmer’s market in a unique heritage park setting.
Ucluelet Sunday Market, Sundays June 4th – September 10th. Join them in the Ucluelet Village Green for all things fresh and local.
We hope this list of places close to our hearts (and stomachs) is helpful to you. When taking our Vancouver Island Explorer trip you have access to all of these places as well as the usual iconic things to do, like Butchart Gardens, hiking the coast and whale watching. As BC is our home, we hope to welcome you one day