When my fiance suggested a honeymoon in Canada, I was a little more than surprised. Before his proposition, I had been fantasizing about balmy climates and smooth beaches accompanied by delicious cocktails at sunset.
However, after revealing plans to take me on a luxury wine tour of the southern coast of British Columbia before renting out a private villa in Whistler, I happily acquiesced.
Warm Vancouver Welcome
After a little more research of my own, I was delighted to learn that Vancouver is one of the warmest cities in Canada, and home to some idyllic beaches of its own.
Our wonderful honeymoon began in the city, and on our first evening we strolled from the apartment we had rented in the downtown area and over to Granville Island. As dusk began to fall, we were treated to views of the shimmering lights of downtown Vancouver and the fading silhouette of the mountains beyond. So far, I was impressed.
Determined to get in as much delicious Canadian smoked salmon as possible, I later indulged in a delicious thin-crust smoked salmon pizza at Bridges, a rightly popular restaurant near Granville Bridge. We then meandered around Granville Island to explore some of the enticing, stylish looking bars that peppered the area.
Bright and early the following morning, we were greeted at our apartment by the private driver and guide that we had hired as part of our three-day tour of the region’s wineries. The first winery we had the pleasure of exploring was Averill Creek, a family-run vineyard situated at the heart of the Cowichan Valley. Our guide had suggested that we bring along our own picnic, so we tucked into our smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels while enjoying the panoramic views from the garden patio. We then digested our food with a stroll around the 32 acre Averill vineyards, which our knowledgeable guide informed us were home to a unique combination of soil, aspect and climate that made then an ideal place for wine growing. The highlight of the visit, unsurprisingly, was tasting the wine itself. A small glass of crisp 2010 Pinot Grigio came with accents of citrus and apple, and was refreshingly light.
The second stop on our wine tasting extravaganza was the Silverside Farm at the southern end of the Cowichan Valley. Before sampling some of the winery’s signature blackberry wine, we took a guided tour of the farm to better understand the unique wine-making process Silverside employed. Ambling leisurely through the neat rows of grapes, stretched out over rolling hills with pine forests in the distance, the whole morning couldn’t have felt more typically Canadian. When it came to tasting Silverside’s produce, I found my favourite tipple in the raspberry dessert wine, which possessed a rich and fruity flavour and was a perfect complement the dark chocolate I decided to nibble on.
Our final stop that day was at the Unsworth vineyards, another family run winery located in the southern part of the Cowichan Valley. The winery is set in a quaint old farmhouse, which is attached to a small restaurant that served a selection of dishes, all made from the local produce. Our guide informed us that at Unsworth, the intention of the owners is to grow grapes that are most suited to the regional climate that would require the least amount of intervention. I decided to round off my tasting sessions that day with a glass of sparkling 2010 Cuvée de D’ile, which was accompanied by delectable hints of apple and clove.
Our itinerary for Day Two consisted of a trip to Victoria. Once again, we met our private driver and guide in the morning before driving to Vancouver’s Tsawwassen Terminal for our 90-minute ferry journey to Victoria. My husband and I headed straight up to the top deck of the ferry to keep our eyes peeled for whales. Although we didn’t manage to see any on this trip, we were greeted by stunning views of the pine-studded islands that stud the pristine bay, and we bathed in the warm sunshine.
Upon arrival in Victoria, we took a walking tour of the city’s Inner Harbour, and marvelled at some of the old architecture, including the British Columbia Parliament Buildings. The longer we looked around Victoria, the more I began to feel like we had stumbled across a home away from home.
The nucleus of Vancouver Island’s boutique wineries can be found a short drive north of Victoria, positioned along the Saanich Peninsula with panoramic views of the coast. Our first stop was the “de Vine Vineyards”, where the tasting room boasted splendid views of the Strait of Georgia and the Gulf Islands. A sturdy, hardwood bar set over old wine barrels gave the room at de Vine a unique character of its own, and was a great place to indulge in my guilty pleasure for a lunchtime glass of Pinot Grigio.
Next on the agenda was the Dragonfly Hill Vineyard, where I decided to broaden my horizons by sampling some of the winery’s finest Merlot Cabernet. But the highlight of our day on Victoria Island came when we visited the Butchart Gardens, located a 35-minute drive from Swartz Bay. After indulging in creamy chicken and smoked salmon sandwiches in a late afternoon tea, we set off on our stroll around the gardens. The late September sun blessed us with a pleasantly balmy afternoon in which to enjoy the sprays of gold, orange, fuschia and red we encountered as we explored the gardens. Looking back, it is hard to pinpoint whether the most enjoyable part of the walk was wandering under the cool shade of the tall trees in the Sunken Garden, or rounding the corner to discover the fiery autumnal reds and oranges of the Japanese Garden.
On our final day of wine tasting, we made our way to Hornby Island to visit the Cabrea Winery. We enjoyed the bracing wind on another ferry ride with slightly less sunshine, then disembarked on Hornby Island. After entering the huge barn doors into the winery, we discovered colossal fermentation tanks and a large wall of French oak barrels, plus all the crushing and pressing equipment used for making wine.
After explaining Cabrea’s wine making process to us (by this time I was starting to feel like an expert), the guide led us to the shop where I treated my husband and I to a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and some local cheese, olives, salmon and crackers from the deli. Feeling slightly light headed after three small glasses of the rich Cabernet, we made our way back to the ferry terminal to return to Vancouver and prepare for the next leg of our Canadian honeymoon adventure.
It’s definitely worth getting to know your Canadian wine before visiting British Colombia. Here are some facts that will probably surprise you about Canada’s wine growing prowess.
- Canadian wine industry production has an annual national economic impact of $6.8 billion
- The wine and grape industry is responsible for more than 31,000 jobs in Canada in manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, transportation, research, restaurants and retail.
- Wine-related tourism welcomes more than 3 million visitors each year, generating more than $1.2 billion annually in tourism revenue and employment.
- The wine industry generates $1.2 billion in federal and provincial tax revenue.
- Canadians enjoy over 1 billion glasses or 220 million bottles of wine produced by the Canadian wine industry each year.
Source: Canadian Vinters Association