By Tim Pawsey
Hidden in the shadow of the Okanagan, the Fraser Valley is often overlooked, but this up and coming wine region is within an hour’s drive of Vancouver. However, it’s easier to grasp the scope of the valley when approaching from the east, as the mountains yield to a vast expanse of green stretching as far as the eye can see.
Nourished by the Fraser River, over the years, the fertile valley has become the Lower Mainland’s bread—and now wine—basket. And while the actual area under vine may be small, a growing number of 200 acres is divided between 32 vineyards.
Pioneering, French born viticulturist Claude Violet got everything going when he and his wife Inge founded Domaine de Chaberton in 1981. They built up the vineyards and winery, and opened selling to the present owners in 2005. The key to their success was that they planted cool climate varieties such as Bacchus, Madeleine Angevine and Ortega, all of which thrive in the ocean influenced climate. The Violets sold the winery to the current owners Eugene Kwan and Anthony Cheng, who continue to raise the bar. With excellent, French country cuisine at Bacchus Bistro, Chaberton Estate Winery makes for a truly tasteful trip to wine country just a half hour’s drive from Vancouver or about 15 minutes from the Lynden border crossing.
Still in Langley, a few minutes drive north, a fun, laid back welcome awaits at Backyard Vineyards, which boasts a smart, newly expanded tasting room and both indoor and outdoor picnic facilities. Established in 2008, Backyard makes a full range of wines, including its Port-style “Porch”, and sparkling Blanc de Noir, using estate grown Pinot Noir. The winery also owns a 25 acre vineyard in Abbotsford (growing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Merlot) and brings in other varieties, both white and red, from partner growers in the Okanagan.
About 15 minutes driving east, Abbotsford also enjoys a crop of emerging wineries. Pioneering Mount Lehman owner and winemaker Vern Siemens originally planted a three acre experimental vineyard of some 50 varieties in 1991. He eventually expanded the vineyard to 15 acres and opened the winery in 2009. Here you’ll find Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot and a few others, all estate grown, as well as Okanagan sourced fruit. The winery grabbed headlines in 2011, when its 2010 Okanagan Viognier won a coveted BC Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence—one of only 11 wines chosen.
A short hop north you’ll find recently unveiled Singletree, which derives its name from the style of harness used to enable a horse to pull a plough. Drop by the quaint wine shop (and check out a vintage singletree harness), where the family run winery pours all four of its estate grown wines including Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, noteworthy Siegerebbe, and an Okanagan sourced Pinot Noir.
Just as wine in the bottle takes time to develop, it takes years to decide which specific varieties work in any given site. However, signs are that the Fraser Valley’s star is definitely on the rise.
For a complete list of Fraser Valley and Vancouver Area wineries, see http://www.winebc.com