The Cowichan Valley
Quw’utsun’ or “warm land”, is the Cowichan People’s way of describing this generous valley. It’s sheltered by mountains on one side and the Salish Sea on the other, creating a climatic microcosm different from the already temperate zone an hour away in any direction. This natural utopia has always given openly and now it is the heart of the island’s culinary activity.
Vintners, craft brew masters, distillers, cider makers, chefs, cheese makers, bakers, educators, foragers, specialty food producers, and farmers work together to produce some of the most creative food and drink anywhere. Conversation among them however, will always include terroir, the silent and generous partner that deepens their creativity and imaginations.
Second only to the Okanagan as British Columbia’s highest producing wine region, the Cowichan Valley excels in making dry whites. Winemakers have determined the old-world vinifera grapes like Pinot Gris, Ortega, and Gewürztraminer flourish best here. So do the Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Maréchal Foch, reds that prefer the cool growing climate. Though many Cowichan vintages are available outside the region, some are small production and only available for sampling and buying at the wineries. Create a self-guided tour, following the roadside Wine Route markers or take an escorted tour (then no one has to be a designated driver). After a day of getting to know the vintages, give over to a chef specializing in local food and wine. It could be a Gewürztraminer served with seared halibut resting on a roasted beet purée garnished with specs of bright blue borage. The offering will be different tomorrow but the promise is a meal to savour forever.
This little pocket makes cycling blissful. The less travelled back roads and the nearness of stops makes it possible to fill a day sampling goat cheese, cider (the valley is home to Canada’s first estate cidery), afternoon tea at a tea plantation tucked away in a west coast meadow, a glass of pinot gris beside a pasture, or a pint on a sunny deck by the sea. Leave room for dinner.
The highest concentration of restaurants are in Duncan’s old-town, Chemainus (famed for its building-sized outdoor murals) and Cowichan Bay. For those with the ability to cook, shop for fresh produce at the farm stands or the general store at historic Providence Farm. It is not hard to find organic. As for seafood, try the docks or fresh fish mongers. Finally, don’t miss a unique Cowichan treat: port-style blackberry wine. The perfect end to any day.
At Venturi-Schulze Vineyards, you will find purists: a family growing wines, ancient method balsamic vinegar and other culinary products without pesticides or herbicides; products that reflect the purity of their environment and have a story to tell of the soil and the seasons, and of family’s sense of adventure in crafting them.
Their wines include their Brut Naturel bottle-fermented sparkling, bright whites such as the Primavera and Millefiori, deep and complex whites such as the Terracotta and Sassi, luscious reds such as the Pinot Noir and their naturally sweet amber Brandenburg No.3 wine.
Venturi-Schulze was chosen as one of Canada’s top 20 food artisans in 2013 for their ancient method balsamic vinegar by the Ace Bakery Artisan Incubator. In 2014, they will release their first 24+ year old Solera Select Ancient Method Balsamic Vinegar.
Electronic systems designer and teacher Giordano Venturi (born in Modena, Italy) and his microbiologist wife Marilyn (born in Queensland, Australia) left professional lives in 1987 to pursue a dream, starting a new life creating their natural, sustainable vineyard, winery and balsamic vinegary. Marilyn’s daughter Michelle Schulze returned in 1995 to learn the family business from the ground up. They do not use insecticides or herbicides and they don’t irrigate. They do whatever it takes to naturally overcome challenges, such as taking shifts vacuuming up wasps from the grape clusters rather than risk damage to their neighbour’s bees with the use of insecticides. They created a system of physical barriers rather than noise or chemicals to control birds and other wildlife. They installed a system of overhead bird netting over blocks of vineyard, creating a series of “raccoon crossings” between the blocks.
The trio remain stubbornly committed to the concept of “real” food grown with passion and respect for the soil, the environment and their customers. It takes an enormous amount of hand work to grow perfect grapes without the arsenal of chemicals so often used and they are lucky to have found a pristine place and a fine team of seasonal workers to help them achieve it. We invite you to visit and taste for yourselves. Check our website for fine restaurants that carry our wines. You will find a great assortment from fine dining to casual bistros.
Averill Creek Vineyard
Averill Creek is the largest estate winery on Vancouver Island located in the heart of the Cowichan Valley wine region. Established in 2001, our vineyard consists of 30 acres of vines including 7 different varietals; Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, Marechal Foch, Cabernet Foch and Cabernet Libre. We are dedicated to producing premium quality, single vineyard wines expressive of our region’s cool climate terroir. We offer 11 different estate-grown grape wines (sparkling, white & red) and 3 dessert wines produced from locally sourced berries. Our wines have received many accolades over the years, particularly our 2009 Reserve Pinot Noir, which was named one of the top 20 wines in British Columbia in 2012.
What to expect:
Our facility includes a modern tasting room where our friendly, knowledgeable staff can guide you through a complimentary tasting of 5 of our wines. Our onsite wine shop offers wines, gifts, accessories and light snacks for purchase. Our garden patio picnic area provides spectacular ocean and valley views. We do not have a restaurant, however, visitors are welcome to bring along a picnic lunch to enjoy outdoors with their favourite Averill Creek wine. We offer a daily selection of wines by the glass and our complete wine portfolio by the bottle.
We welcome groups. Guided tours of the winery facility can be arranged for groups of 10 or more at a cost of $8 per person plus GST. Reserved picnic space is also available for groups on request. Tours must be prearranged by contacting the winery at email@example.com, or 250-709-9986.
Driving Directions from Highway 1 (Main Island Highway):
From the Island Highway #1, turn WEST onto Highway 18 (north of Duncan), and follow the highway for 3 km. As you drive past the golf course to the left of the highway, keep an eye out for North Road on your right. Turn right onto North Road, keep left, and the Averill Creek signs will guide you to the winery.
Please enter the code listed at the pin pad to open the gate.
Tasting room open daily, 11am to 5pm
Please call for winter hours.
Nestled in the foothills of Mill Bay, surrounded by pasture and minutes away from the Pacific Ocean, lies Unsworth Vineyards. The winery’s pristine Cowichan Valley setting provides the perfect coastal climate for growing some of the world’s finest and most unique wine grapes. Panoramic views, a relaxed ambiance and seasonal entertainment combine to make Unsworth Vineyards an essential stop on any wine tour.
Next to the winery’s tasting bar, a 119-year old farm house has been beautifully renovated to accommodate an award-winning restaurant, a casual and elegant bistro serving natural local foods. Visitors and locals alike are invited to experience the terroir cuisine of the Cowichan Valley through cooking classes, chef’s discussions overlooking the vineyard, and garden tours among the heritage apple and walnut trees in the winery’s orchard.
Unsworth Vineyards; Come Celebrate the Best of Local Food & Wine!
Damali Lavender & Winery
Experience the beautiful vision that is Damali, our family-owned craft winery and lavender farm. From the Tasting Room, sip award-winning wines while overlooking the lavender and vineyard. Wander the lavender fields and gardens, walk the labyrinth, or have a picnic basking in our oasis of tranquility and abundance. Sustainable farming practices produce top quality fruit that when combined with a hint of lavender, form the basis of our signature wines. Visit the Lavender Shoppe, where the scent of lavender surrounds you and culinary and body products Indulge your Senses… Savour the Lifestyle!
Merridale Cider, Bistro, Orchard Spa, & Distillery
Merridale is a delicious destination in the Cowichan Valley—an apple orchard, craft cider house, small batch distillery, and wedding and event venue.
Learn about the production of cider and spirits through a tour. Stroll the orchard while the kids search for faeries living amongst the cider apple trees, and then step up to the tasting bar for a guided tasting of our cider, spirits, or fortified ciders. Shop for local artisan items in the farmhouse store. Celebrate a special occasion with family and friends at a unique and beautiful venue. Experience glamping on Vancouver Island with a stay in one of our yurts. Check our website for upcoming special events, like our Sunday Pizza Nights. Pets are welcome!
In our bistro, enjoy local cuisine, a large patio overlooking our orchard, and, of course, apple cider hand-crafted just steps from the bistro’s kitchen. This authentic Vancouver Island restaurant combines cider pairings and seasonal menu items inspired by nearby Cowichan Valley farmers, vintners, and cheese-makers. Bring home delicious baked goods made fresh that morning in our brick oven.
Merridale is located in Cobble Hill, in the Cowichan Valley, on the southeast coast of Vancouver Island, about 40 minutes north of Victoria and 1 hour and 20 minutes south of Nanaimo. Open daily.
Vancouver Island Expeditions Ltd.
A visit to Vancouver Island isn’t complete without going on one of our many year-round local food, craft beverage & estate winery tours!
Vancouver Island is rich with fertile land and a mild climate perfect for producing wine, cheese, fruits, vegetables, and much more. Sip by sip & nibble by nibble, we will explore the family owned vineyards, breweries, distilleries and local food producers that make our island such a wonderful place to live.
Let us show you our backyard and help you discover the places that will inspire stories that last a lifetime!
Luxury Wine Tours by L.A. Limousines
Relax and enjoy the beautiful countryside of the Saanich Peninsula or Cowichan Valley as we whisk you and your guests away in luxury. You will travel some of the best picturesque scenes of the South Island as we take you to the finest wineries, distillery and Cider Houses that the Island has to offer. Included in your tour is a picnic lunch or dinning at a local bistro.
Blue Grouse Estate Winery
Come now and enjoy Blue Grouse’s classic wines, overlooking one of the Island’s oldest vineyards. And visit us again when our brand new tasting room opens in Spring of 2015.
Once the preferred habitat of Blue Grouse, the 45 acres of Blue Grouse Estate are tucked away on a sunny slope of Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, which is believed to take its name from a First Nation’s word meaning “the warm land”. A fitting name, as the valley enjoys Canada’s warmest mean temperature. The terroir encompasses wind protection by evergreen trees, an all-Southern exposure, a combination of clay and gravelly soil, and the nurturing of pure air and spring water.
As one of Vancouver Island’s oldest estate vineyards and a long time family-owned winery, Blue Grouse produces exceptional Cowichan Valley wines which express their place of origin – and a lot of personality, to boot! Elegant, fresh, cool-climate style, rich in balanced acidity, and intense in flavor, Blue Grouse wines are meant to be enjoyed and sure to be remembered.