Monday, July 26, 2010

Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, BC

Land Warmed by the Sun

The Cowichan Valley, just north of Victoria, is rich in farms and culinary businesses thanks to its warm, protected climate. You could spend days and days visiting all the different wineries and farms, but we only had one day . . . .

Organic Fair
My first contact with Organic Fair was through their fair trade organic chocolate bars (available at The Better Good in Saskatoon). There are 15 different choices, ranging from Canadiana with maple syrup, sundried apples & alder smoked salt to Capetown with figs, rooibos and Clementine. The owners have a half share in a cocoa bean farm in Costa Rica and a background in essential oils and chocolate, which explains the interesting flavour options and good quality chocolate.

Their first chocolate bar was Corazon, which they made for their wedding – “fall in love with the perfect marriage of floral rose, sweet honey, complex cacao nibs and a kiss of vanilla. A rose is often a token of the heart, and Corazon means heart in Spanish, a ‘romantic’ language, so it is only fitting that two people in love created this bar – together.” It is interesting how often couples enter marriage and a new business at the same time.

Their organic farm is far removed from civilization with flowering herbs and heritage chickens (gotta love the “fluffball” with furry claws). The farmyard store sells a wide range of organic herbs and spices, and I felt “obliged” to buy their Hedonist Hot Chocolate mix.

They also sell heavenly ice cream cones made with certified organic milk and eggs. There was real mint in the chocolate chip mint ice cream and local hazelnuts in the maple hazelnut ice cream. Yum!

Bread and Cheese in Cowichan Bay
The True Grain Bread Bakery is adjacent to Hilary’s Artisan Cheese – the perfect opportunity for a picnic lunch on the porch.

Hilary’s Cheese was established in 2001 by Hilary and Patty Abbott. They partner with local producers of cow and goat milk to produce a wide range of cheeses – from fresh curds to blue cheese to brie-style soft cheese to hard cheese that has been washed in blackberry port from Cherry Point Vineyards.

True Grain Bread uses organic ingredients and grinds their own flour (take a look through the door in the passageway) to prepare a wide range of hand-crafted breads and baked goods. They have just opened a second store in Mill Bay (unit 107 - 2690 Mill Bay Road), and I know people from Victoria who come out to Cowichan Bay on a regular basis to buy bread. One of my sister’s favourites are the buns studded with dark chocolate chunks.

Wineries
There are lots and lots of wineries in the Cowichan Valley, ranging from small to large. We only had time for two visits as we travelled up Island. Cherry Point Vineyards is a large, well-established vineyard with a tasting room and restaurant. It is the second-largest winery on the Island and one of the first. It has just been purchased by new owners, so it will be interesting to see how they develop the business.

We also visited Godfrey-Brownell Vineyards, a small vineyard up a back road. They have 60 acres of land with 20 acres devoted to growing grapes, 25 acres that have been set aside with support from The Land Conservancy for conservation purposes, and have plans for 8 acres of olives and 7 acres of mixed farming.

Their website states that they measure success by plant diversity and do not want to devote all their land to growing grapes: “You will notice lots of ‘weeds’ and compost piles on both properties. Our philosophy is multiculturalism for plants and fauna. Even the lowly broom and dock have a role. . . . Monocultures, in our experience, encourage frenetic efforts to maintain control and breed their own demise.”

We arrived at the end of the day and had a quiet chat with Mr. Godfrey. I enjoyed a taste (and later a full bottle) of William Maltman, named after Godfrey’s uncle. It’s a blend of Marechal Foch and Gamay Noir – a complex red wine that still maintains its fruity origins. I also enjoyed their Chardonnay with its strong notes of apple.

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