Our November speaker, Kiri Dixon (the General Manager of Red Gap Cascadia Liquors) opened her presentation by describing her deep interest in boutique, locally-produced wines. Kiri believes Cowichan Valley is evolving as one of finest wine producing regions in British Columbia. To provide insight into the reason why, Kiri introduced us to a twenty-year veteran of the wine industry, Andy Johnson, the founder and proprietor of Averill Creek Vineyards.
Andy grew up in the Welsh country-side, spent most of his working years as a physician in Edmonton, then followed his passion to become a vintner. He traveled the world researching the science and art of wine-making, then looked for the perfect location for his very own winery. He found the precise match of soil, drainage, temperature, and air flow for a special (but finicky) varietal that produces Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Andy noted the Coastal Salish Hul’qumi’num were right to call the area ‘Khowutzun’, meaning ‘the land warmed by the sun’ to describe Cowichan Valley.
The following slides show the speakers presenting at our meeting, along with some of their images:
Andy started from scratch, painstakingly preparing the soil, planting every individual vine root in his 30 acres on the side of Mount Prevost. He explained that he sought to grow deep, vertical roots on his vines – ideally 20 feet long or more. He did so by irrigating for three years, then allowing them to find their own water through natural means.
Of all the wine varieties in the world, Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult to grow. It is known as the “Heartbreak Grape”. It’s the Goldilocks of wines. If grown in warm climates, it has a tendency to ripen far too early, becoming too sweet and without the needed acidity level. The grape is denied he opportunity to develop the brilliantly nuanced flavours it is known for. If grown in colder regions, the fruit fails to ripen.
Too little acid means the wine won’t age well, a problem for Okanagan Pinot Noirs. It is all about the balance. [Andy was clearly proud of how drinkable a 2004 Pinot Noir still was from his first vintage.] And while Andy spoke extensively about Pinot Noir, he also noted the Cowichan Valley has all the conditions for a world-class Pinot Gris. This high-acid wine is extremely popular among professional chefs and restaurateurs because of the ease with which the wine can be paired with food.
For suggested food pairing with Pinot Noir, go to this website: https://vinyang.com/blog/pinot-noir-food-pairing
Averill Creek’s first vintage was produced in 2004. In 2009 they produced their first really good vintage. Their 2018 is recognized as exceptional! This year, his team harvested 105 tons of fruit. But it really is about the quality, not the quantity. And the rest of the world is confirming the results of Andy’s earlier research. Aside from the “Big Reds,” Pinot Noir has become the most popular wine in the world.
In 2020, Cowichan Valley received approval for a new “sub-appellation,” allowing vintners to apply the specific name “Cowichan Valley” to their labels in addition to the broader “Vancouver Island” title. Averill Creek meets the stringent criterion of any appellation: 95% of the fruit must come from within its boundaries.
Andy warned us at the beginning of his talk that he could talk for hours and hours on the subject. He certainly showed no signs of fatigue through the extended Q&A period, sharing an infectious passion for the whole wine producing process. It is no coincidence that the next day I could not find a bottle of Averill Creek Pinot Noir in the Red Gap Cascadia, or for that matter, in three other wine stores close to Fairwinds!
NW Bay Chapter members sure like their wines!