The Cowichan Valley – Napa Valley North?

The Cowichan Valley – Napa Valley North?

The Cowichan Valley – Napa Valley North?

Anyone who has ever driven around the Cowichan Valley admiring its natural beauty (and who among us hasn’t?) has seen the vineyards that are tucked around corners and sprawled across hillsides. There are more than a dozen, after all!

This has led to the Cowichan Valley being called “Napa Valley North”, but is it really? The Napa Valley is a region of California that has a Mediterranean climate while the Cowichan Valley, here in British Columbia, has a maritime climate. However generally speaking, both have warm summers and mild winters – the perfect conditions for growing grapes.

Growing Grapes

The type of grapes grown on a vineyard depends on the climate of the region and the soil that feeds them. While the Cowichan Valley’s climate helps produce some wonderful grapes, it’s cooler than California having fewer sunny days and definitely more rain than the Napa Valley.

The Cowichan Valley grows cool climate grapes that thrive in the sandstone, glacial till, and granite soil mixture of the area. These grapes produce the wines that the region is known for: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer.

The soil of the Napa Valley is made up of volcanic ash, alluvial deposits, and sedimentary rocks which provide the basis for Napa’s high end Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot wines.

New Kid on the Block

Both Napa Valley and Cowichan Valley have seen the numbers of wineries and vineyards increase and both regions have a reputation for the production of high-quality, award-winning wines. The Napa Valley is a well established wine making region with a long history of producing high quality wines.

The Cowichan Valley is much younger and not as large or deep rooted in the wine industry. The unique flavours and characteristics of the wines grown here are leading to an increasing presence in the world of wine.

Cowichan Valley Wineries

The culture of the region has seen the rise of smaller, often family owned and operated vineyards and wineries. Using traditional methods, Cowichan Valley wineries often focus on the production of artisanal wines made of grapes or fruit. Many are increasingly using sustainable practices.

In addition, many of the wineries are “estate” wineries. This means their wines are created using grapes that are predominantly grown on the winery’s land or estate. A small quantity may be sourced from outside the winery. Quality control is tighter and there is more control over the entire wine making process from growing the grapes through harvesting to production of the wine.

Cowichan Valley region wineries such as these below offer unique wines and picturesque surroundings. Some have scenic tasting rooms and relaxed outdoor seating areas that take advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds us in the here in the Valley.

    • Alderlea Vineyards – one of Vancouver Island’s oldest and most respected vineyards with a commitment to sustainable practices
    • Averill Creek Vineyard – specializes in cool-climate grape varieties such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris
    • Blue Grouse Estate Winery – sustainable farming practices create a variety of red, white, and rosé wines
    • Cherry Point Estate Wines – produces a variety of wines made from estate-grown grapes and has a tasting room with scenic views
    • Damali Lavender and Winery – offers lavender-infused wines as well as artisan lavender oils and soaps
    • Deol Estate Winery – white and red wines made from 100% estate-grown grapes
    • Enrico Winery – produces award winning range of red and white wines and has a rustic tasting room and outdoor seating area
    • Rocky Creek Winery – offers a variety of red, white, and fruit wines and has a tasting room with a patio overlooking the vineyards
    • Unsworth Vineyards – hand crafted wines and an outdoor terrace
    • Venturi-Schulze Vineyards – prodeces pure and natural wines and balsamic vinegar
    • Zanatta Winery – Vancouver Island’s first estate winery

Dessert Wines

Dessert Wines

Dessert Wines

“Life is short – eat dessert first”. Haven’t we all wanted to start with dessert? Well, don’t forget to add a dessert wine. Since dessert wines have a higher sugar content and taste sweeter on the tongue than most other wines, they are perfect when paired with your favourite guilty pleasure. Too much at the end of a meal? Why not try a dessert wine on its own. Just the thing to finish off a meal!


Perhaps the most well known of the dessert wines is Port. This is a fortified wine made from a blend of red grapes that comes originally from the Douro region of Portugal.

Port is rich and sweet because it has been fortified by adding brandy to the grapes during fermentation, increasing its alcohol content. Aging the wine in oak barrels is critical to the production of Port as it creates a distinct flavour and character depending on the length of time it is aged.

Ports range from the full-bodied Ruby Port and smooth, mellow Tawny Port to the light and refreshing White Port and the complex, specialized flavours of a Vintage Port.

Officially, Port only comes from Portugal but “port style” wines are available in the Cowichan Valley. Port is the perfect accompaniment to an after dinner cheese plate with nuts and dried fruit.


Originating in the Jerez region of southern Spain, Sherry is another fortified wine made from fermented white grapes. The dry wine is then fortified by adding distilled spirits such as brandy. As with Port, this increases the alcohol content.

Officially, Sherry is only made in Spain. The Canadian Wine Industry has renamed this type of wine and it is now known as Apera.

There are different types of Sherry determined by the type of grape, how long it is aged and what type of barrel is used. Dry Sherries such as a Fino and Manzanilla are usually served as an aperitif.

The sweet Sherries, such as Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso are rich and nutty and popular as dessert wines. Cream Sherry is another sweet wine created by blending other types of Sherry together to get a smooth, creamy texture and nutty flavour.

Sherry has recently been enjoying a comeback and it is now possible to find bars and restaurants offering sherry flights, so give it try. It’s not just for grannies anymore!

Ice Wine

Canadian Ice Wine is highly prized as it is widely considered among the best in the world. No surprise there, we are the Great White North after all!

Creating Ice Wine is quite a process. The grapes (usually Riesling) are left to freeze on the vine and are harvested by hand typically at night in the middle of winter. This unconventional process concentrates the sugar so when the frozen grapes are pressed and fermented, the result is an intensely sweet and rich dessert wine.

Ice Wine is sought after for its honey sweet taste with the flavours of peaches, apricots and citrus. As it is so sweet, it is often consumed on its own and in smaller quantities than some of the other dessert wines.


Rounding out our look at dessert wines is Moscato. This is the lightest of the dessert wines and is becoming an increasingly popular choice.

Moscato is a delicate, sweet white wine made from Moscato Bianco grapes. This wine has the flavours of peaches, apricots, and oranges and provides a refreshing alternative to some of the richer wines. It is light bodied and has a low alcohol content.

As well as pairing well with lighter desserts such as sorbets and fruit tarts, its fizzy taste is perfect for making toasts!

Spend some time and get to know dessert wines. They might be the perfect way to end a meal when you are just looking for a little something sweet.