Warm days and crisp nights, gravelly soil rich with minerals, and lush aquifers imbue Cowichan Valley wines with fruit-forward flavors that deliver a crisp, dry finish. The conditions are similar to what’s found in the northern regions of Germany and France. The main difference is: Cowichan vines are relative babies.
The oldest operating winery can trace its lineage back more than 1,150 years. By comparison, the first commercial wineries on Vancouver Island appeared just 100 years ago, making wine from local loganberries. It wasn’t until the 1980s that grapes were planted in Cowichan Valley, located on the southern end of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island.
But make no mistake — this quaint slice of paradise produces exceptional grapes. It’s a fact that was recognized in June of 2020 when Cowichan Valley was formally given a sub-geographical indication (sub-GI). An official and protected term in B.C., it helps people identify local wine origins, signifying that at least 95% of the wine was made with regionally grown grapes.
Thanks to its proximity to Victoria (it’s just a picturesque hour jaunt from downtown), Cowichan Valley is easily accessible. It’s also yet to be overrun by tourists. The wineries are small in comparison to many of the prime destinations in Napa Valley. Don’t be surprised if you bump into the winemakers during a tasting. Or if you share the road with a tractor.
3 Incredible Cowichan Valley Wineries
1. Alderlea Vineyards
You might well miss the turn into Alderlea Vineyards. It looks more like a private residence than an award-winning winery. That’s because it is. The 10-acre estate is both office and abode to the husband-wife duo, Zac Brown and Julie Powell.
The pair purchased the winery in 2017, but the vineyard’s grapes date back to 1994. Planted by a pioneer of this unique grape-growing region, Roger Dosman, the grounds were developed with sustainability in mind. It’s a philosophy near and dear to Zac and Julie’s hearts.
They utilize a low-impact spray method focused on organic practices, and vines are tended by hand. Their tractor is operated on biodiesel that’s made from local restaurants’ cooking oil. Water probes have been installed to optimize watering throughout the property, and a sand-filtration system keeps water waste from polluting the nearby watershed.
But the real star is the wine. The whites are dry, crisp, clean, and aromatic. The reds are barrel-aged, fruit-forward, balanced, and bold. Thanks to the 8-degree, southwest-facing slope and proximity to Quamichan Lake (it’s less than half a mile away), the Alderlea grapes get that ideal mix of hot days and cool nights.
The result? Award winning wines like Valerie, a clean, crisp drinking white, won Double Gold in the 2021 All Canadian Wine Championships. So, too, did the Pinot Gris.
Tastings at the small winery are by appointment only. They are hosted by the winemakers themselves, in the small tasting room within a converted barn. Julie and Zac’s passion for the wine and the process is infectious as they talk to you about their story. It’s as though the humble joy they radiate is soaked up by the vines and savored in every sip.
2. Averill Creek Vineyard
Pulling into Averill Creek Vineyard is an experience. The gravel road winds past empty lots and expansive alleyways. A Tuscan-style terrace tasting room comes into view during the hillside climb, like a hidden beacon for those ‘in the know.’
And while the number of those who have already discovered Averill Creek has grown since the vineyard was first planted in 2001, the terrace still feels like a tucked away oasis. Offering stunning views of the Cowichan Valley, the patio is vibrant with life. Flowers cascade down rock walls. Lush trees linger overhead. A frequent gentle breeze can be felt as cool air circles from the valley below. Plus, lingering here is encouraged. Bring your own picnic or sample one of the wineries’ thoughtfully orchestrated ‘snacks’ — a menu of delectable nibbles. (Particularly delightful is the Delice de Bourgogne, a soft-ripened triple-cream cow’s milk cheese from the Burgundy region that’s served with cornichons and crackers.)
Lest you not forget the real reason you came — the wine. Despite being relatively young (the first vintage was available in 2004), the wines are brilliantly intriguing. Excellent drinking wines that reflect the site and the vintage, they can easily be enjoyed on their own or paired with food.
To get the full breadth of what this 30-acre winery has to offer, select the guided experience. During these intimate tastings, a team member shares an in-depth perspective on the winery, diving into the winemaking approach in a way that’s accessible and intriguing. (No hoity-toity wine nerd verbiage, unless of course, that’s your thing.)
How do they achieve such drinkable wine? The vineyard’s south-facing slope is a rich blend of glacial stone, clay, and old-growth organics. The unique characteristics of the land are able to present themselves, thanks to a gravity flow method that allows delicate varietals to be handled gently.
The wines are wild fermented. No enzymes or nutrients are introduced, and little-to-no sulfur is added, ensuring the pure flavors of the grapes come through. Plus, the team often employs techniques designed to heighten the texture and refreshing quality of the region’s grape, including foot-stomping, skin contact, whole-bunch fermentation, pigéage, and lees ageing.
3. Blue Grouse Estate Winery
There’s an aura to Blue Grouse Estate Winery that gives you a sense that you’ve wandered into a grownup fairytale, where the countryside is lush and time moves to the rhythm of slowly poured vino.
One of the oldest estate wineries in Cowichan Valley, vines were first planted on the site in 1986. Some of them are still in production today. Over the years, this award-winning winery has changed hands twice, most recently purchased by the Brunner family in 2012. The tenured team is celebrating its decade of excellence, during which they’ve made thoughtful, sustainable, and modern updates.
Among the updates was the addition of their bright and airy tasting room. Constructed in 2015, it opens onto a sun-drenched patio and also houses the winery itself. Designed after the winery’s namesake — a blue grouse — the curved ceiling of the tasting room echoes a grouse’s tail feathers with a beautiful shade of blue.
Additionally, this family-owned and operated winery has placed its barrel and sparkling wine rooms underground to capitalize on Mother Nature’s natural ability to regulate temperatures. An efficient irrigation system draws water from two on-site wells. And, the winery uses a series of in-ground bioreactors to process winery and domestic water waste so it can percolate back into the on-site aquifer.
And if the stunning estate isn’t enough to draw you in for a visit, the wines themselves are attention-worthy — earning them the distinction of Best Island Winery two years in a row. Bright, fruit-forward bottles, like the 2021 Ortega offer hints of orange and caramel. Their 2016 Paula sparkling is perfect for pairing with seafood, thanks to its mix of earthy mushroom and bright green apple.
More Can’t Miss Cowichan Valley Wineries
Focused on sustainability, Vinturi-Schulze’s five-acre vineyard holds its commitment to sustainability of the utmost importance. Rather than man-made chemicals, they use natural, earth-friendly sprays which can be safely consumed, such as the tea from steeping stinging nettles, cold kelp extract, and baking soda. Particularly unique is that in addition to their adventurous collection of state-grown wines, they also produce balsamic vinegar!
Deol Estate Winery
This family-owned and operated vineyard was once a dairy farm. Purchased in 1999, the Doel family transformed 18 acres of the estate into a vineyard that hosts eight different varietals.
Damali Lavender & Winery
Damai Lavendar & Winery offers the ideal mix of a relaxing lavender farm and a picturesque winery. Take a DIY guided tour of the lavender fields. Browse the gift shop. Sample the wines. It’s hard to go wrong.
Cherry Point Estate Wines
One of the largest vineyards on Vancouver Island, Cherry Point Estate Wines was established in 1990. The 34-acre estate was formerly a mink rank. But the glacial moraine is rich with minerals and the south-facing slopes offer plenty of sunlight, making it ideal growing conditions for Mediterranean grapes. Plus, the vineyard is home to a large pond that catches winter rain which is utilized to irrigate the vines during the summer.
Divino Estate Winery
Established in 1996, many of the Divino Estate varietals are derived from vines first planted in the late 1960s. The vineyard, spanning 40 acres, produces 100% estate wines and offers tastings Friday through Saturday in their tasting room.
In 2015, Enrico Winery was the first Vancouver Island recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC wines. The 18-acre vineyard features a tasting room that’s open Wednesday through Sunday. Plus, they often host special events, such as live music!
Rocky Creek Winery
Ideal for a picnic, Rock Creek Winery’s picturesque estate is best enjoyed with friends and family. The beautifully-made wines range from red and white to sparkling and rose, offering something for everyone. Particularly unique are the blackberry wines, which showcase one of the region’s most prolific fruits.
One of the closest wineries to Victoria, Unsworth Vineyards, is located just 30 minutes from the BC capital. In addition to its selection of handcrafted wines, it also offers a farm-to-table restaurant that features a seasonally inspired menu.
Vigneti Zanatta Winery & Vineyards
Vancouver Island’s first estate winery, the Vigneti Zanatta Winery & Vineyards, began as a hobby. The family patriarch, Dionisio (Dennis) Zanatta, came to Canada from Treviso, Italy, with no intention of pioneering a new wine region. But a chance encounter with the Provincial Grape Specialist eventually transformed his plot of grapevines into a thriving vineyard. Today, the family-run winery specializes in Champagne-style wines.
Vancouver Island Wine Tours
There are a host of wine tours available on Vancouver Island, in addition to the Island Time Tours that depart from downtown Victoria. These guided tours provide an exceptional way to explore, sip, and savor without worrying about how you will drive from Point A to Point B.
Where to Stay in Cowichan Valley
From a quaint bed-and-breakfast to a convenient hotel, there are a plethora of lodging options in Cowichan Valley. The crème de la crème is the Villa Eyrie Resort. Offering unparalleled views, impeccable service, and convenient amenities, this oasis invites you to relax at your leisure.