Check here over the next few weeks, I am tasting through Vancouver Island’s wines, ciders, and beers to see who rises to the top.
Wife, kid, and I (sounds like a musical) have driven a day to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. And yes, they grow enough grapes here to claim a Vancouver Island appellation or VQA. Sure, vines only started in 1992, today boasting 432 planted acres and 32 wineries (even Oregon’s tiny Willamette Valley claims 19,000 acres and over 500 wineries). But what that youth and extremely small scale means, however, is focus: most wineries are estate only, often organic, and handled by families from vineyard to bottle.
Vancouver Island needs that focus, because this climate is far removed from many a grape’s Mediterranean origin.
Although extremely North for grape growing, Vancouver Island, surprisingly, has Canada’s mildest climate. The island’s mountains shield the Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Valley from the Pacific’s worst weather, granting merely 900 to 1,200 growing degree days (less than Denmark).
Let us test the Island on the straw gold standard of cool climate white wine: Chardonnay.
Luckily, I find a bottle from Chateau Wolff Estate: one of the first and few wineries to plant Chardonnay here. The Riga family sold their restaurant to buy Wolff up in the region’s northernmost Nanaimo. Like Chablis and Burgundy in general, Chardonnay keeps so much acidity that 100% Malolactic Fermentation and six months in French barrels will only tame it.
Chateau Wolff Estate, Chardonnay, Vancouver Island 2016
Slight haze, medium minus straw color
Lemon water leads the medium intense AROMAS of brie and white mushroom, white pepper musk, wax, and honeysuckle aromas.
The PALATE is lean and dry, with medium plus acidity, a medium body, and a light 11.5% alcohol all reflect the limits of ripening Chardonnay this far North.
The wine tastes like an odd, somewhat tired Chablis. Around a core of lemon water, flavors run from flinty, salty, waxy, to grassy and a bit feral. The medium finish tastes a bit odd, plastic and again of citrus and mushroom.
Wolff’s 2016 Chardonnay is a twangy, odd, if a bit hollow, but still quite good (3 of 5 rating). For $22 it represents a good value for its rarity. I cannot imagine how 44 cases is profitable.
But it needs something. In desperation, we turn to local food.
The plush, smooth and coating “Island Brie” by Little Qualicum Cheeseworks from Morningstar Farm matches it well (great cheese). The mushroom qualities cancel each other out, emphasizing the citrus of Wolff’s Chardonnay while taming its acidity.
Wolff’s Chardonnay needs food to rise to a 4 rating, but has enough Chablis-like verve to get there.
Not a bad start.