Wayward Wine continues to ply the uncharted wines of Vancouver Island. It has been rough, but we found some decent Pinot Noir (read here). This marginal-in-the-best-of-times climate manages to counter its Northern latitude by bottling any warmth it can from the eastern straights with its western mountains. The best example: the Butchart Gardens utopia that traps tourists with its improbably lush gardens:
Mom and kiddo soak in the sunshine.
But after milling for hours through the throng and flora at Butchart Gardens, you could use a drink. Luckily, a mere six minute drive will get you to De Vine Vineyards (an easy 22 minutes from Victoria). So we take the narrow drive up a hill, and yes, pass real vineyards.
These grow normal, everyday grapes like Pinot Gris and Grüner Veltliner. A chunk get made into spirits, but more on that later. Our core question: can De Vine buck the brutal acid and imbalance of other Vancouver Island wines. To the tasting room!
“Beware” is right!
While our 22 month old daughter causes havoc in the parking lot, and patio, and garden, and tasting room, and winery, and well… everywhere… I pull up to the bar. It looks tidy and fine in here, replete with reclaimed wood trimmings and bottle shelves:
The diligent staff fill me in. Winemaker, Ken Winchester, a Montreal native, left his garage winemaking, studied at UC Davis, built 15 acre Winchester Vineyards in Paso Robles and saw decades of success. He also studied distilling at Islay Scotch icon Bruichladdich. But in 2002, he returned to the cold climes of Vancouver BC, and soon came under the wing of the Windsor family and their De Vine Vineyards.
We start with Gewurztraminer crossing Siegerrebe 2017 $22
It looks like pale lemon water. Yet aromas pounce with enough lychee, citrus, star gazer lily and tropical tones to remind of its Gewurztramier heritage. But do not let the nose fool you. The palate feels near dry, clean, with ample but tame acidity, and medium body, with some viscosity. Flavors range from snappy Granny Smith apple, lime, and white pear. Dev Vine’s Siegerrebe is a very good (4 of 5) white ready for summer or various light dishes.
Next, I have high hopes De Vine’s Estate Pinot Gris $22
This is not your plump, sweet yet vapid Italian Pinot Grigio. No. Twangy aromas and flavors run from peach to oodles of lemon lime and salt. It feels lean taught and steely. If your enamel can handle it, De Vine’s Pinot Gris is very good (4 of 5).
Fleur White Blend 2017 $22 comes from upland Alsatian grapes: Maeline Sylvaner, Pinot Auxerrois and Schönburger.
It looks watery pale. Honestly, it tastes sweet, yeasty, underdeveloped, but rounder and more approachable than otherwise. It is acceptable (2 of 5) but clearly compensating.
To the reds.
We already pitted De Vine’s 2017 Pinot Noir against other island Pinots (read here
). Long story short, $28 gets you a bright, soft, bubblegum, berry and earth, quaffable but forgettable red (3 of 5) thanks to carbonic macerated grapes akin to Beaujolais Nouveau style.
Luckily, De Vine makes a Marechal Foch, 2016 $28
Wait, who? No your not in Napa anymore, Toto. Marechal Foch, named for the synonymous marshal who ended WWI. I have not seen this funny Alsatian hybrid since living in Upstate New York and Nova Scotia (read here
The appearance is a purple ink. Flavors and aromas glow with blackberry compote, red cherry, medium acidity and well integrated muscular grippy tannins. 18 months in French oak barrels gives it a tobacco mocha that level up the quality to very good (4 of 5), worthy of a bottle purchase.
Look around De Vine and you quickly realize that wine only covers one side of their coin. In the lab, next to the tasting room, looms a vintage German copper pot still, named Brünhilde.
Winemaker Ken Winchester also studied distilling at no slouch Islay icon Bruichladdich. Remember those vineyards. Well, Canadian law requires that they distill half of what’s grown. So that Pinot Blanc and Grüner Veltliner make it into quite a few of De Vine’s liquors.
Yup, grape vodka. It tastes clean, simple, a touch edgy. Imagine if Le Croix made a new flavored sparkling water by sitting this vodka across the room while someone whispered “pinot blanc”.
De Vine’s other spirits draw from strawberries, sloe berries, ancient grains, and honey. I feel a bit bewildered and it is not the alcohol. I had hoped to try De Vine’s single malt Glen Saanich, but sadly members snap it up. Here are some spiritous highlights:
The Honeyshine Mead silver tastes clean, with clover, meadow foam, and light spice making it for a great mixer (4 of 5)
Their Gins are solid, especially the 1600 recipe Genever, with common (Harry Potter) household ingredients like mugwort, wormwood, horehound, and blessed thistle, all and more of which make for a plump, citric, warming, exotic nip (4 of 5 very good).
We also grab a bottle of Moderna Vermouth ($22) based on a 1786, 30 botanical Turin Vermouth recipe, with its base both their wine and spirit. Neat, it tastes spicy, with pepper sticky spruce sap carrying on a long, green finish. De Vine’s Vermouth may be bit tannic but remains very good (4 of 5).
In sum, Winchester is doing his darnedest with Vancouver Island’s tart grapes, while exploring every possible spirit style at his fingertips. De Vine sits atop a lovely hilltop. They feel pleasant and polished. Their range will have something to keep any weary traveler warm.
(Also, if you want to slip back into the United States, do not bore boarder guards with your list of wine purchases. The mere mention we bought Vermouth got us through two checks. Codeword: Vermouth).