Bailey Williamson, winemaker, with wine barrels at Blue Grouse Estate Winery. Don Denton photo

A Passion for Pinot

Sea to sky on the BC pinot noir trail

  • Apr. 28, 2021 7:30 a.m.

– Story by Jennifer Schell Photography by Don Denton

Pinot noir, dubbed the heartbreak grape by winemakers and grape growers, has found the spotlight in British Columbia. This notoriously finicky grape needs specific conditions to nurture its thin skin and temperamental nature. In wine-geek speak, it also mutates easily and is susceptible to disease and pests. However, regardless of the drama and risk, it seems that for BC winemakers the rewards are well worth the extra love and attention.

Pinot noir goes by a couple of different handles. It hails from France’s Bourgogne or Burgundy region where pinot noir and Chardonnay reign collectively as king and queen (pinot noir for Bourgogne Rouge and Chardonnay for Bourgogne Blanc).

Pinot noir culture has travelled globally, achieving major celebrity in New Zealand and the USA, primarily in Oregon and California. And then there is our very own beautiful wine country. British Columbia’s pinot success is palpable. A growing selection that graces wine-store shelves is evidence of our local winemakers’ love affair with it. With styles ranging from masculine to feminine and each reflective of its own vineyard, BC’s pinot noir gets rave reviews from wine critics everywhere.

“I love that pinot expresses its place and time with clarity,” says Shane Munn, GM and winemaker at Martin’s Lane Winery in Kelowna. “In terms of what particular characteristics I love about pinot, I can only offer a bunch of adjectives: charm, beauty, complexity, intrigue, and all in a delicate combination of elegance and power.”

Pinot noir is most commonly described as elegant. It is light- to medium-bodied and usually the only red that a white-wine drinker will consider. It is fruit forward, revealing a lovely bouquet with notes ranging from earth to spices, herbs and florals. The palate can offer up a range of flavours, including berries, maybe with notes of mushroom, tobacco and/or vanilla (depending on barrel aging). Usually drunk best young, the finish is not tannic and should be long and smooth. These characteristics make it a very versatile food wine and an all-weather sipper.

The passion for pinot has wineries like Martin’s Lane in Kelowna focussing almost entirely on its production (the winery produces pinot noir and riesling exclusively). Shane is a master craftsman, who has brought from his native New Zealand a style that finesses the certified organic vineyards into the super-premium range of four pinot labels. These are created from four different vineyards—one in West Kelowna, two in East Kelowna and one in Naramata.

In describing his winemaking process and vision, Shane says, “I’d like to think there is no defined Martin’s Lane style per se—sure, there are elements of things we use that others do (and don’t)—but really my aim is that our wines equally reflect the site and the season. That site can be an entire vineyard or just a small block. It’s important that the grapes and resultant wines are handled sensitively, that every movement is gentle, considered and justified.“

On our BC pinot noir celebrity list, Vancouver Island wine has some serious stars and pinot noir is fast becoming a signature grape. Blue Grouse Estate Winery in the Cowichan Valley has been racking up the awards and big news accolades for its two pinot noir labels. So too have neighbours like Unsworth Vineyards, Venturi-Schultze Vineyards, Averill Creek Vineyard and Emandare Vineyard.

Surprised at Vancouver Island’s success? Blue Grouse winemaker Bailey Williamson, who has been crafting these winning wines from the vineyard’s estate-grown pinot, says, “Pinot noir is perhaps the only noble red-wine grape that is not suited to hot climates, which makes it a natural fit for most regions in BC. The diurnal shift from hot days to cool nights is what it truly enjoys. It allows it to maintain its acidity and develop its bright cherry aromas and flavours. At Blue Grouse, with our south-facing slope and being only one-and-a-half kilometres from the ocean, we have this diurnal fluctuation in spades: daytime temperatures can be 32 degrees in the vineyard, and at nighttime it can be 12 degrees.”

And what many may not know is that the island has old vines from some pioneering vineyards.

As Bailey notes, “Our oldest planting of 30 years is the Ritter clone, which is Germanic in origin, and produces a more tannic, deeper representation of pinot noir. We have planted the Dijon clones as well and are hopeful they will yield more blending options for the future.”

If you are into pinot, and when travelling is safe again, plan a dynamite road trip around the vast BC wine country, exploring from sea to sky this unique pinot noirian culture, and taste these gorgeous expressions of this grape.

In the meantime, you can order the wines from the wineries and do a taste tour at home. Here are some suggestions:

Vancouver Island: Blue Grouse Estate Winery

2018 Quill Pinot Noir

This wine starts on the nose with red plum, vanilla and cranberries followed by flavours of cherry pie and warm spices in the mouth.

Food pairing: A perfect accompaniment to wild sockeye salmon or hearty pasta dishes.

Kamloops: Privato Vineyard & Winery

2018 Pinot Noir

This wine is an expression of sun-warmed black and ruby plums, blackberry jam and hints of wild thyme. A lingering soft palate together with approachable tannins add to the elegance of this wine.

Food pairing: Dishes with a touch of spice, seared salmon or tuna, barbecues, roast beef, beetroot dishes and especially dishes that feature cherries or figs are all fabulous choices.

Kelowna: Martin’s Lane Winery

2015 Naramata Ranch Pinot Noir

Deep ruby red. Dense, dark cherry aromas with fine, floral notes. The palate is sleek with a compact texture and complex silky tannins.

Food pairing: Says the winery’s Shane Munn: “I’m liking any of our pinots with mushroom dishes in this cold weather. Been making lots of pasta—so something like a mushroom tagliatelle or even mushroom risotto would be appropriate this time of year.”

Lake Country: O’Rourke Peak Cellars

2018 O’Rourke Pinot Noir

Aromatics that pack a full punch of big red fruits with Bing cherry, dark cherry, chocolate-covered cherry, cassis and black currant, accented with herbs, and earthy forest floor with just a hint of a floral note. The palate is soft and elegant, yet full-bodied and delightfully complex, with well-developed flavours of black currant, berries, leather, tobacco, cigar box and cedar spice with characters of coffee and cocoa leading through to a long finish of silky warm tannins.

Food pairing: Very versatile and perfect on its own. Would be amazing with roasted chicken, squash soup or mushroom pizza.

Lillooet: Fort Berens Estate Winery

2017 Pinot Noir Reserve

The rich Pinot Noir Reserve has an intense aroma of dark cherries, tobacco leaf and wild roses. On the palate, a mouth-watering acidity balances perfectly with the rich flavours of spices, ripe cherries and forest floor. The wine has a very long finish.

Food pairing: This wine pairs beautifully with stew, quiche and mushroom dishes.

Oliver: Anthony Buchanan Wines

2018 Ashlyn Pinot Noir

Unfined, unfiltered, gentle winemaking featuring black cherries, sage, plums, violets, baking spice and sweet cherry cola with a savoury, saline component.

Food pairing: The winery’s Anthony Buchanan suggests, “Pork tenderloin (perhaps with truffle oil) with roasted veggies or pork belly with garlic mash. The acidity in the wine will cut through some of the fat and should be delicious.”

Similkameen: Corcelettes Estate Winery

2017 Reserve Pinot Noir Micro Lot Series

This pinot noir features 22-year-old vines. The nature of the old vines drives greater complexity in fruit and is further enhanced by these rugged and hot soils. Mineral, mushroom and earth flavours.

Food pairing: Make this elegant Pinot a perfect pairing with dishes like seared duck breast, pork tenderloin and mushroom risotto.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

BC WineEntertainmentFood

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

North Cowichan has heated exchange over timelines of its official community plan review. (File photo)
North Cowichan’s OCP review divides council

Tight timelines leads to heated debate

Matt Ellison was a star with the Kerry Park Islanders before embarking on a pro career that included stops in the NHL and KHL. (Submitted)
Ex-NHLers to highlight Kerry Park-Peninsula alumni games

Matt Ellison and Kyle Greentree commit to suit up in August

Aaron Stone, chairman of the Island Coastal Economic Trust, said he’s encouraged with the province providing finding for local agencies to hire staff to help get back on economic track during the pandemic. (File photo)
$70K for Economic Development Cowichan for new analyst

Temporary position to help recover from pandemic

“He’ll be bowling for dollars — $30,000 to be exact. Matt Hancock, 15-years-old of Lake Cowichan won in the Coca-Cola B.C. championship finals and will now bowl in the international championship with a chance to win a $30,000 scholarship. Hancock will go to the international competition in Columbus July 10. He is coached by Karen Smith of Cowichan Lake and plays on the T.G.S. bowling team.” (Lake News/May 8, 1996)
Flashback: Taxes, school district amalgamation, logging licences and student news

A look back through the pages of Lake Cowichan’s history

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Give me a brake!

It was clear that none of these drivers had done a pre-trip inspection

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in Comox

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

The Village on Third in Nanaimo won the Judges’ Choice award as top overall entry at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Awards. (Photo submitted)
Top developments north of the Malahat honoured by Vancouver Island Real Estate Board

Nanaimo’s Village on Third takes top honour at VIREB Commercial Building Awards

BCIT. (Wikimedia Commons)
BCIT apologizes after employee’s ‘offensive and hurtful’ email leaked to Métis Nation

BCIT says employee’s conduct has been investigated and addressed

An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En’owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En’owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Rare yellow birds need wild roses to survive in British Columbia: researcher

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment

RCMP officers search around rows of luggage carts as screens block off an area of the sidewalk after a shooting outside the international departures terminal at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Police say gang conflict in Metro Vancouver may be behind shooting death at airport

Police said this generation of gangsters is taking things to new level and have no regard for community safety

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Most Read