Southern Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, dubbed the “Napa of the North,” is increasingly renowned for its wineries. The region’s warm, dry summers and mild, moist winters provide the ideal conditions for producing full-bodied varietals. The valley is currently home to 14 wineries, and visitors can arrange for tastings at most of them. We had a wonderful time dining at restaurants in the wineries as well as at waterfront cafés overlooking Cowichan Bay. And because of the temperate maritime Mediterranean climate, people flock to the region year-round to kayak, hike, mountain bike and fish. We visited several wineries there, and these were our three favorites.
Recommended to us by the sommelier at the Villa Eyrie Resort hotel, Vigneti Zanatta is located in the small community of Glenora. Owner Dennis Zanatta moved to the Cowichan Valley from Italy with his family in the 1950s, purchased a working dairy farm and, inspired by the similarities in climate between his native Treviso and Glenora, decided to start planting vines. Later, Zanatta volunteered 1 acre of his land to British Columbia’s provincial government for a project intended to test the growth potential of a wide array of varietals. In the end, lesser-known Cayuga, Auxerrois and Ortega grapes were the ones that thrived.
The property’s robust wines solely employ grapes from the estate’s vineyard. We preferred the whites to the reds, especially the finely balanced Ortega, which started dry on the palate but finished with subtle, sweet hints of Muscat. This winery is also well-known for being the first on the island to make sparkling wines using the traditional méthode champenoise. The medium-bodied Glenora Fantasia Brut, with its tart green apple flavor and stone fruit aromas, is an ideal sparkling wine to enjoy on a warm summer’s day. In 1996, the Zanattas decided to convert the property’s farmhouse into a tasting room, flanked by a casual café. Our meal there was delightful, and if we’d had more time, we would have returned the next day for one of the hands-on cooking classes.