Goodbye BC: Chamberton Winery, Fraser Valley, Canada

Wayward Wine ends eleven days in Canada, with British Columbia’s oldest winery: Chamberton Estate.  Now oldest around here is 1991. But that gets near to 24 years old.  Claude and Inge Violet left their vineyards in France to plant in BC. Only recently did they hand the winery to Eugene Kwan and Anthony Cheng, who are thoroughly involved. Let’s see how they fair.

Since this is off season we tour the vineyard. The Bacchus vines date back thirty years, and it shows:


Chambouton Vine

Chilly we head into their tank room:

Chambouton TanksThey have their own bottling line and my first sight of a box wine filling station:

Chambourton Box wineI am excited. Their box white blend is very popular. We head on to the barrel room, which smells like an alcoholic sauna.

Chambourton Barrel Room

But how do their wines taste?


Highlights certainly included Chamberton’s 2013 Dry Bacchus (a cross between Riesling, Silvaner, and Müller Thurgau).  It glows pale lemon, delicate, but upfront white peach, lemongrass, lime blossom. It feels soft yet sprightly, finishing with a knife sharp mineral finish (4 of 5). On sale for under $16 we grab one.

Their sweeter Bacchus loses that cut but fits a niche (3 of 5). As does their Valley White Blend (Madeline, Silvaner, and Sauv Blanc) even though it blends in Okanagan fruit.

Their 2013 Gamay (that grape that ends up in Beaujolais) shows fine balance, taught acid, clove, tomato, wild strawberry, and light tobacco from deftly employed French barrels (4 of 5). We buy one on sale for under 16.95.

We also purchase a bottle of Siegerrebe, even though we never tried it, because it was grown here.

As we drive between America and Canada on Avenue 0, we start to worry about our two cases of Canadian beer and wine.

Canada BoarderBorder fees or taxes do not scare us. But did we over-calibrate our palates over the last eleven days? Will all these bottles taste horrid once we acclimate stateside?

The guard passes us through. A week back, we retry the Dry Bacchus. It still smells delicate and brilliant. We almost rate it higher (nostalgic maybe).  However, its acidity now slices at us and slightly odder flavors peak about. It is still very good (4 of 5), but speaks with a BC accent that now sounds foreign. Curious stuff.


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Township 7: Fraser Valley and Okanagan Wines in Canada

We leave Backyard Vineyards, and grab lunch at a deli with more German imports than we saw in Germany. Satiated, we drive to Township 7.

Empty fields lead to vineyards.  A yellow building sits above the vines.  A pleased couple ambles out, glasses in hand, to a bench flanked by vineyards. We head in…

Township Seven Barrels Township Seven BottlesOur host, who also event plans, tastes us through their wines. She is fantastic and overly educated. Here’s my review.

Check in for our last visit to the grandparent of Fraser Valley: Chamberton Estate (yes estate) Winery.

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Vancouver Visit Leaves for Backyard Vineyards in Fraser Valley

With one “dry” weather day left in Vancouver, we hike the interior of Stanley Park.  We feel like lost hobbits in this endless glade.

Stanley Park Fallen tree Dog walkers disappear as we delve deeper.  Misty and free of the city’s steel, we find something odd.

Stanley Park TreeFour placards declare the historic importance of this landmark: Hollow Tree. Once cars even elephants parked in it.  A storm knocked it down in 2006 but private donations have propped it up with steel…moving on…

Another hour and we find the overlook near Lion Gate Bridge:

Tracy and Aaron Lions Gate BridgeOddly, Guinness (yes, Ireland’s Guinness) built the bridge half a century ago. Small world

The next day, we pack up and head to wine country (finally!).

An hour drive Southeast from Vancouver takes us to Fraser Valley: End of the World if I was a grape.  We pull up to Backyard Vineyards.  Luckily the building is labeled:

Winery Backyard Fraser ValleyTracy heads in to warm up.  I pass the winery to check out real, actual vines!

Not much, but they exist.  Shivering, I head inside to taste through their offerings.

Backyard Vineyards Tasting RoomBarely through the whites, they invite us into the winery. Stainless tanks loom behind doors, but right now, Backyard’s 2012 Cab is going into bottle:

Backyard BottlingTheir winemaker, James, tastes me on the new cab. It’s tight, young, packed, but  in a few months, will be quite good.  He gives me a bottle. He expresses the tough balance between aging wines or releasing them according to the owner’s wishes.

We return to the quiet tasting room and take our time with their other wines (off season is glorious). This is what I think:

Hold your horses! It is only 11am! More wineries await!

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Vancouver Visit to Stanley Park, Liberty Distillery, Fish and Chips, BC Liquor Store

Wayward Wine continues to search for drinks-related fun in “No Fun City”: Vancouver, BC. Where better to go than downtown’s Signature BC Liquor Store?

BC Liquor Store EntranceMy wife heads to beer, while I find the BC Wine section. My goal is something more local than Okanagan, which is a five hour drive too far.

BC Liquor Store BC WineBut even in this urban chic city center, the state-run store only offers the same old Okanagan brands (Wayne Gretzky wine…sigh). Prices all tend to the teens and above. Anything cheaper and “local” is Australian but bottled in BC (yes, they have a section for it).  Thanks to brutal taxes, shelf price is twice what is stateside.  There may be reason that people line up with empties and buy bulk wine pre-made from private home brew shops:

Urban Winemaking VancouverThwarted, we walk to Stanley Park: the largest urban green space…in the world (1,001 acres to be exact). Today, we walk the perimeter of this peninsula. Along it, we taste various evergreen needles, because we learned First Peoples ate or boiled them to prevent scurvy, and for health. For us, we assume the bubblegum-tasting resin of cedar gives us a better sense of BC terrior…probably (although it does taste unique here, don’t get me into pine).

A path cuts in to Beaver Pond.

Stanley Park Beaver PondNo beaver sightings, but back on the many mile perimeter we glimpse waterfoul feasting:

In a while, a massive tanker ship cruises by at full tilt, disturbing the wildlife:

Stanley Park Shipping BoatA few hours of gorgeous open sea later, we head back to magic Granville Island. With the sun already setting, we stop by Go Fish: a blue shack that sources fish right off the docks.  We order the Salmon Fish and Chips…and literally melt with it.

Fish And Chips VancouverYes, Vancouver is a brutally modern, urban city of steel, glass, CEOs, and heroin addicts. But the fish is fantastic.

Full of fry, we pop over Liberty Distillery.

Granville Distillery interiorThe distiller munches vegan leftovers from Tupperware while making checks on his coppery, steam punk, masterpiece.  We settle at a bench, exhausted, and watch him watch his system work.

Liberty only opened in 2013, after four years of construction and government haggling. A few years ago, Vancouver had no distilleries and no happy hours.

The space is tall, open but wood touches like the 19th century wood columned and mirrored bar render it cosy and retro.  Another foreign bartender (this time from Ireland) slings us samples:

Granville Island Shots OneAll of Liberty’s grain comes from organic British Columbia growers. Their wheat-based Truth vodka is all cream, fullsome, honeyed melon, while complex, saline, and lengthy enough to merit sipping: very good (4 of 5).

Their Railspur No. 1 White is basically an organic barley whiskey sans oak. It smells and tastes like a clean ale, with honey and graham cracker flavors, richness, but a grainy astringency and heat that will love barrel time (3 of 5).

Endeavor Gin, from organic wheat, tastes classically to type: juniper forest, lime peal, cardamon, but a notable notch of black pepper and body make for a fine, showy, homage (4 of 5).

Granville Island Shots OneBefore we get to their other Gin, worthy mention must be made of Liberty’s sweet, delightful, Railspur No 2 White Wildflower Honey (since their whiskey awaits 2016 in barrels, honey tempers its aggression). Their Endeavour Old Tom (same gin but French oaked) is interesting, but edgy, too harsh, young, yet complex (3 of 5).

Granville Distillery shotsNow, Liberty’s Endeavour Gin Origins infuses 25 botanicals native to BC in their single copper pot still.

A deceptively mild nose soon draws out Stanley Park.  Green cypress, angry pine, wood, and brine fight with milder forces of wild berry, apricot leather, vanilla, and dried rose petal. It feels cold, glacial and steely blue. Hardly too hot, Origins feels silky and plump.  Flavors taste filigreed in their fine complexity and outstanding length. Liberty’s Endeavour Gin Origins is outstanding (5 of 5), if for the sole fact it is entirely of BC, and today, after our walk and days of adjusting our palates, we get it…so much so we buy one.

We find a local (but cheap) Tonic and close the night with G and Ts back at the YWCA:

Granville Isand Distillery G and T


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Fort Wine Co Fruit Wine, Leləm’ Cafe, and Fort Langley: Vancouver BC

Wayward Wine leaves the steely, urban clutches of Vancouver for a trip east along the Fraser River to Fort Langley and Fort Wine Co. After a drenched drive through faded countryside, we arrive in the adorable town of Fort Langley.

Then we accidentally drive through it and onto a First Peoples’ reservation. The road turns to gravel and we turn back.

After coffee and smoked salmon (when in Rome), we head to the Fort: home of the Hudson Bay Company’s western operations.

fort Langley Entrance TracyWe feel alone but find a family and guide in the Cooperage.  Here, logs got shaved into curved planks that steam formed and bound into barrels. We try a hand at it:

Tracy Fort Langley Wood workCurly peels spiral off the plank.  But instead of wine, these barrels brought endless tons of salted salmon, oddly, to…Hawaii (19th century Spam?) and beaver pelts to a top hat hungry England.

Our cooper then transforms into a blacksmith and hammers us a coathook. We learn that he came from Quebec, became a barman in Vancouver: famed “no fun city” (because happy hours were illegal, bars closed at midnight, and alcohol cost double), then he worked as a forest guide, park guide and finally full time fort guide.

Fort Langley Above(The only original building is the nearest white one).

When British Columbia lost, well, the Columbia River to America, the Hudson Bay Company shifted to Fort Langley.  Our earlier visits to Fort Vancouver in Washington made sense of this outpost (and that BC’s Vancouver is also called Vancouver).

After a few more hours of history, artifact handling, and a lame 90’s promo video, our stomachs lead us back to town.

Leləm’ Arts and Cultural Cafe fills us with the most fantastic buffalo reuben and bison sandwiches imaginable.  This modern, wood-beamed and glass café sits on the boardwalk. A tribal daughter of the Fort’s interpretative basket-weaver owns it and features native arts and fusion foods.

Next we leave for Fort Wine Co.  After a decent, wet drive through flat even wetter farms, we find a tidy, new building faced like a western trade depot.  Thankfully someone waits, bored, to taste us.

Wade Bauck, tugboat captain and cranberry farmer started making fruit wine in 2001.  Today, young Toby Bowman runs wine-making, sourcing fruit from local farmers as well as their bog. He floats between texting, clock-checking, to answering our questions, while our guide stays involved as possible.

We start with their cranberry wines.

Fort Wine Co Cranberry WinesGhost of the Bogs comes from Fort’s own pre-verizon, white skinned cranberries. It looks pale lemon, feels dry, mouthwatering, and lean, and smells and tastes of pith, citrus, and white melon. It’s basically a fudge, since BC requires wineries to produce a certain amount. Yet it works surprisingly well (4 of 5) like a tart Chenin Blanc from the Loire.

Fort’s Mighty Fraser’s Red Cranberry 2010 looks a clear, light ruby, with a sliver of sweetness that tames oodles of acid, some body, and aromas and flavors of, well, cranberry. But nothing like that sauce at Thanksgiving. No, this is zippy, fruity, and a touch saline and quite good (4 of 5).

Valley Girl Blueberry wine is fine, sweeter, perfumed, bulbous, and a touch too tannic but tastes of blueberries and its oak: fine (3 of 5).

Their strawberry wines look and taste a bit oxidized, seedy, and too sweet: like decent fruity sherry (2 of 5), but I don’t think that’s their goal.

The range of fortified desert “Saucy” Cranberry, “Finger Fruit” Raspberry, “Sweet Nothings” Blueberry etc. are very sweet, warm, and cloying. Their acidity saves them, but faults creep beneath their sugar and upper teens alcohol (2 of 5).  The oak aged “Ilse Queen” Blackberry tastes passably like port (3 of 5).  A mostly sweet-toothed consumer base clearly loves these.

Regardless of some misfires, Fort Wine Co. makes the best, dry, berry-based wine we have had in a while (and that includes Maine, Rhode Island, New York, Quebec, Washington, and Oregon). Heck, they’re even vintage.  Maybe thanks is due to Christine Leroux, who consults them (a DNO at Bordeaux U., time in Australia, at J. Lohr, Inniskillin, St-Hubertus, and teaching in the Okanagan doesn’t hurt). Their pricing from $12 to $20 also works. Either way, well done.

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