Category Archives: British Columbia

Discover the Drink Trails of Vancouver Island

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If you missed my piece on the drink trails of Vancouver Island for Fodor’s, here’s a second look:

With its bucolic farmland, rugged wilderness, and cultural vibrancy, Vancouver Island tends to stun first-time visitors. Add the islanders’ enthusiasm for the art of the beverage, and Vancouver Island makes a strong case for itself. Whether you are a beer, wine, coffee, or tea lover—or a connoisseur of them all—you could spend a week on the island just drinking. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of fresh, local food to keep your stomach full, too. Here’s our guide to the best drinking trails of Vancouver Island and what to eat along the way.

COWICHAN VALLEY ARTISAN ROUTE

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This region sits northwest of Victoria and boasts the highest average year-round temperature in Canada. To access this pastoral valley teeming with drink artisans, take the scenic car ferry across the conifer-lined shores of the Saanich Inlet, from Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay.

Once off the ferry, head north for a superb view of the valley at Averill Creek Vineyard, the island’s largest estate winery. Proprietor Andy Johnston produces fine-tuned, cherry-scented Pinot Noir utilizing a unique growing method: He wraps his vines in plastic to create a pseudo-greenhouse effect. Before heading east to Alderlea Vineyards(appointment necessary), take a detour north. A curvy, country road leads to an oasis of organic tea plants. The owners of Teafarm start harvesting the plants this year; in the meantime, they source and sell organic, loose teas, handcrafted ceramics, and perform Moroccan and Japanese tea ceremonies in their garden.

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Circling south, grab a bite in the quaint fishing village of Cowichan Bayfrom the sustainable seafood purveyor of the same name, before sampling local fizz from Vigneti Zanatta Winery. For those with an adventurous palate, swing down to Venturi-Schulze Vineyards and taste their polarizing and puzzling “Terracotta” wine. Produced from 100% Siegerrebe, the production notes are a well-kept secret. They also craft terrific traditional Modena-style balsamic vinegar. Take a coffee and panini break at the island’s superlative Drumroaster Coffee: All beans are roasted on-site, and they offer multiple brew methods. Wrap-up the day with a sampling of unusual German grapes such as Bacchus, Ortega, and Black Muscat in Blue Grouse’s farmhouse tasting room.

BEER TRAIL IN VICTORIA

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Known as the “Craft Beer Capital” of British Columbia (although rapidly being surpassed by Vancouver’s recent surge in urban breweries), Victoria brims with a staggering number of breweries, brewpubs, and taphouses for a city with a population of 80,000.

For a brewery-focused circuit, hoof it to Phillips Beer, or take the ferry from the Empress Hotel to the Swift Street Landing and walk the last five minutes. Phillips’ friendly staff will take you through their rotation of offerings like the hop-infused Electric Unicorn IPA, or the Hop Circle, featuring four varieties of hops. A short stroll from Philips, Vancouver Island Brewery, in business 30 years, is one of B.C.’s original microbreweries. Pass through their storefront and growler station to sample their latest creation, the Sabotage India Session Ale. Another 15 minute walk and you’ll reach Hoyne Brewing Co. and Driftwood Brewery, two highly praised breweries within beer geek circles. Sean Hoyne honed his craft for 13 years at Canoe Brewpub, before finally opening his own eponymous outfit. Driftwood, conveniently next door, created the wildly successful Fat Tug IPA—a must-visit, just be sure to confirm they’re open.

Victoria’s brewpubs include the aforementioned Canoe, situated on the water in a stunning heritage building that once housed the city’s coal-fired generators. Score a patio seat and watch the sun set with a hop-heavy IPA. Swans, set in the ground floor of a boutique hotel, is another old-timer known for its litany of awards and live music. Take a picturesque walk across the harbor bridge to visit Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub; their line-up of beers includes cask-conditioned ales served with elevated cuisine—think a farm-fresh beet salad and a brett-inoculated beer. Finally, for a taphouse that serves everyone else’s beer, Garrick’s Head Pub, one of Canada’s oldest English pubs founded in 1867, offers almost 50 beers.

Note: For an in-depth look that serves as a practical guide to Victoria and Vancouver’s beer scene, pick-up a copy of Craft Beer Revolution, The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries by Victoria local Joe Wiebe.

VICTORIA’S CAFFEINE CRAWL

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Coffee enthusiasts are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing the perfect cup, with as many as 11 independent shops dotting the island. Local favorite roaster Bows & Arrows, founded in 2011, doesn’t run a café, though you can visit their operation to sample coffee. They supply seven cafés in Victoria, plus shops throughout Canada and the U.S. Their beans are exclusively carried by Habit, its owners champions of sustainability: they purchase carbon offsets and transport supplies by Dutch cargo bike. Habit has two locations, the original in Chinatown, and a second at The Atrium, with floor to ceiling windows and sleek, modern design. Another roaster-cum-café called Fernwood was opened by a chef-journalist duo, and the adjacent café Parsonage sells the espresso-based drinks, hand brews, and a full breakfast and lunch menu. Other honorable mentions include Heist (727 Courtney St.), a small shop oddly located in a parking lot, which sources its beans from multiple roasters around North America, and 2% Jazz (2621 Douglas St.), a roaster and café open late in the evening and known for unusual coffee-based specialties like coffee-flavored cotton candy and foie gras ice cream affogato.

Mainland tea lovers heading to Victoria should replenish their pantries at Silk Road Tea (two locations), stocked with a range of teas from green, to white, to Yunnan province specialty Pu-erh. If you’d prefer to participate in the traditional British ritual of afternoon tea, served in delicate china on sterling silver platters with cakes and scones, reserve a table at grande dame The Fairmont Empress.

WHERE TO STAY

Vancouver Island has a wide range of lodging, from farmstays to ocean front inns, but for short visits, Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula function best as a base. For urban digs, consider downtown boutique property Magnolia Hotel and Spa. Rooms furnished in a cool palette of grey, lavender, and sand, soothe travel nerves, as does the attentive, informed staff. If you prefer to sleep where you drink, book one of the modern suites at historic Swans Hotel & Brewpub, located in a beautifully restored 1913 heritage building. Nestled in a serene setting near a small fishing village, Brentwood Bay Resort &Spa boasts two on-site restaurants, a spa, spacious rooms (and bathtubs) with water views, and quick access to the Cowichan Valley ferry.

Photo Credit: All photos by Lauren Mowery

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How Do I Drink, Shoot, and Eat My Way Around the World?

I  was asked to share a few secrets, so I did.

The saying “it takes a lot of great beer to make great wine” should be amended for a writer to: “it takes a lot of great coffee and tea to write a good story on beer and wine.” Booze and writing share a very small window of compatibility; I’ve found quality caffeine makes a better companion to prose.

Last week in Vancouver, I addressed the British Columbia Association of Travel Writers  as the keynote speaker at their 2014 symposium on The Taste of Travel: Describing and Photographing Food and Wine.

The full-day affair was held at the River Rock Casino (no, I didn’t sneak into the gaming area and bet it all on black, although I fantasize about doing that one day). The symposium featured a photo seminar by pro Craig Minielly and a beer, wine, and spirits tasting panel, along with my speech on how the heck I drink, shoot, and eat my way around the globe without being fat, broke, and lonely. I didn’t have great insights for the latter three (hotel gym!?), but could address the former trio of topics.

I spoke for 52 minutes, touching on the evolution of my wine and travel writing career: why I exchanged a soul-crushing job in the legal profession for one in the also thankless, and much less lucrative industry of writing.  The answer? I get to uncover and share what I find most fascinating in life: how culture is reflected through the lens of drink, and through the few lenses I’ve acquired for my Canon 70D. I also gave practical tips on what has helped me such as blogging, improving my photography, and networking.

Since jumping into the world of wine journalism, I’ve expanded my beverage repertoire to include coffee, tea, and beer  — they share fascinating similarities, and I’ve found that in general, a culture that respects one, will respect them all.

Dip into the video of my speech for a few minutes or the full 52; perhaps you’ll glean a few insights or relate to my experiences.  If you’ve got a story or suggestion to share, please comment — your ideas can only help propel me along my endless journey to touch every corner of our beverage loving planet.

 

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Friday Night Flights: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

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This past Friday, an Australian wine importer friend came by and we decided to open wines we can’t get readily get our hands on here in NYC. I’ve stocked my wine fridge from travels abroad, so our drinking options ranged from wines like Plavac Mali smuggled out of Croatia; Furmint slogged back from Hungary; and a Roussanne from a small producer in Australia.

However, we decided to dip into the case of wine I brought back this past June from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. The Canadians and U.S. have a very cool alcohol import/export relationship; thus, these wines are wholesale, unavailable in the New York market, and, I think, most of the U.S. Such a shame. The Okanagan whites, in particular, the Rieslings, are outstanding. There’s also growing Pinot Noir production up-and-over there (there being the far west of Canada, but still a 5-hour drive east of Vancouver).

The Canadian government handles all wine sales; thus, I gathered my assemblage of vino at the VQA in Penticton. The shopkeeper professed intimate knowledge of the local wineries and wines, so I asked him to help me put together an all-star kit of under $30 bottles, showcasing producers and a variety of grapes. I have nine more bottles left, so I will post commentary and photos once those make their way into my glass. For now, I’ll address the three we consumed. And for you, readers, the best way to enjoy these wines is to visit the source. Between snow-dusted mountains peaks, arctic blue lakes, friendly locals and organic, local food scene, the Okanagan Valley is one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, setting a lofty bar for the wines to reach. Fortunately, they arc high above it.

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What we drank: Tantalus Vineyards Riesling, 2012; Moon Curser Viognier, 2011; and Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir, 2010.

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TANTALUS RIESLING 2012: YIKES. Scary delicious. Both ripe, yet nervy, full of bright, saliva-inducing acid, citrus-y lemon-lime, but plump full of tropical notes, too. Layers and layers of flavor. 2012 was a warm vintage, and maybe that shows, but there’s plenty of structure to keep this wine focused. And what, exactly, does a “warm vintage” mean in Canada, anyway? Although the Okanagan is one of the northern most winegrowing regions in the world, it’s still an arid, desert-like zone, experiencing warm to hot summers.

MoonCurserViognier

MOON CURSER VIOGNIER 2011: Gorgeous bottle, eh? Frankly, my photo doesn’t honor the colors nor art since it’s in black and white; the actual bottle shimmers with golden highlights as though treated to an appliqué of delicate gold leaf (see pic below). The juice inside is equally striking. Compared to 2012 (see above), 2011 was a cooler vintage, which probably helped tip this wine away from the ripeness scale, into a leaner, delicate style that’s uncharacteristic, but wonderful, for the grape. An obvious note of candied ginger pricks the tongue, followed by white peach, white flowers and a lemon-chiffon finish.

StoneBoatPinot

STONEBOAT VINEYARDS PINOT NOIR 2010: I wanted to love this bottle after my enchanting encounters with the first two, but the Pinot tasted just a bit too green for my palate. I can normally get behind more delicate wines–this bottle actually reminded me of a red Sancerre from the Loire I had recently–another region that struggles with Pinot Noir ripeness.  I know Stoneboat is an excellent producer, so I will give them another shot when I head back to the valley in the spring. Not all was lost, however–this wine had lovely notes of savory wet leaf, a bit of spice and earthiness, with a tea-like quality. The fruit played hide-and-seek, but when it popped out, I tasted a bit of currant, pomegranate and sour cherry. This might be to the taste of some folks out there. Interestingly, I found a number of other Okanagan Pinots swung too far on the richness scale, many of them overoaked (I heard producers are moving away from that style), so kudos to Stoneboat for not resorting to such masking measures.

Mooncurser

Above is a photo of Moon Curser bottles, taken this summer near the winery in Osoyoos.

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FREE TRIP ALERT: British Columbia Wine Tasting Adventure Giveaway

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I am giving away a free trip for two to visit the beautiful wine region of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada, compliments of the Oliver-Osoyoos Wine Assocation.

How do you win?

First, follow my blog ChasingtheVine. Then tweet me a photo @chasingthevine of you and a bottle of wine somewhere other than your house or a restaurant. Yes, go outside, get on your roof, show me your view. Go to a mountain, shoot it standing in a fountain. Take a bottle to the Top of the Rock or underground on the subway. The most creative location-based shot will win and be featured on my blog. Tweet to @chasingthevine and use #showmewine. Enter as frequently as you like. Contest open from Monday June 24, 2013 until Monday July 22, 2013. Winner announced that week.

Why should you go?

  1. Gorgeous  Wineries & Wines: 200+ in the region, and you can hardly find the wines in the States
  2. Stunning Scenery: lakes, mountains, valleys, vineyards
  3. Outdoor Activities: paddle-boarding for water babies, hiking for mountain lovers
  4. Seriously Friendly Canadians
  5. Local and Organic Food: Similkameen Valley holds title of “organic capital of Canada”
  6. Okanagan Wine Festival in the Fall: October 4-14, 2013

Trip Includes:

  • Travel voucher ($800 value)
  • Dinner for 2 at a member winery restaurant ($150 value)*
  • Lunch for 2 at a member winery restaurant ($75 value)*
  • Car rental ($125 value)
  • 2-night stay for 2 at a local hotel ($400 value)*
  • Private winery tours and tastings ($200 value)

*Exact details regarding restaurants, hotel, and wineries involved will be confirmed once the Oliver-Osoyoos Wine Association knows when you plan to visit.

This contest is restricted to those of eligible drinking age, who hold a valid passport (and can travel internationally), and are legally able to leave the country (sorry, but no criminal records please!) The award has no cash value, and is non-transferrable.

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The Journey? No, the Destination. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

PART 1: Getting There…

The wheels screeched and rumbled, braking, bouncing, striking the runway. Our plane careened forward another few minutes, inertia tugging me against the seat-belt, before coasting to stop at the gate. I peered out the mini-window of the CRJ. Dirty beige plastic framed the striking scene: In the distance sat mountains, stoic, frosted in snow like sifted sugar. Tall pines painted Crayola “forest green” reached beyond my peripheral sight. Fog, stretched like a roll of gauze, gently draped the shoulders of each granitic peak. How lovely, I thought wistfully, taking a mental snapshot. If I lived in Vancouver, this view would greet me when I came home.

But I live in New York City. I had just completed leg one of a long journey home from Penticton, B.C., following the close of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. Rather than Pacific Northwest grandeur, my friendly flight-hub of Newark welcomes weary homebound travelers with glimpses of central New Jersey’s local highlights: smokestacks and power grids. But I wouldn’t see that view today. My plane landed at midnight.

The trek to-and-from Penticton proved exactly as I imagined: a trek, especially for those on the East coast. Even with a major hub (Newark) and direct 6-hour service to Vancouver (United), an hour-layover followed by a quick 30-minute hop to Kelowna on a small regional plane (Air Canada), Penticton was still another hour-drive further south.  Flying to London is faster.

Truthfully, the travel time and sequence of connections exhausts. I endured first-time flyers holding up the security line for pocket-change; gruff stewardesses, stingy on the soda pour, refusing to give up the whole can as though protecting a baby cub.  My seatmate wore a crinkly, stiff jacket the entire flight. His coat folded like origami each time he moved, scratching my skin. I scrunched my arm for relief from the itchy fabric, nearly bruising my ribs in retreat, while he smothered the armrest into submission.

Sorry Mr. Emerson, but you never endured the United/Continental merger. Unless one is privileged enough to ride the Orient Express from Singapore to Thailand First Class, the joy of modern travel is no longer about the journey, it’s the destination (plus a little anticipation mixed with relief your plane landed)—so it better be good. And British Columbia is that good. The exercise in patience taxation is worth it. That view I would return a thousand times for; the mountain-fog-and-pine-tree postcard through smudged pane that greets you when plane meets earth. And knowing what lies beyond as you pick-up your luggage in a rush to break out of the airport penitentiary: pristine wilderness, genuinely genial people and the alluring wines of the Okanagan Valley.

Part 2: Coming Soon…

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