By Gail Johnson
The Fraser Valley might be best known for produce like corn, berries and apples, but the region is increasingly gaining recognition for its wine. New and more established wineries are making the area a draw for those who like to sip red, white, rosé—or walnut.
Walnut wine is indeed a thing. It’s the signature wine, in fact, of Langley City’s Vista D’oro Farms & Winery.
That’s not to say that Patrick and Lee Murphy’s 10-acre farm overlooking the Golden Ears mountains doesn’t produce grapes; it grows many different types of vinifera grapes. But it’s walnuts that got really got the entire operation off the ground over a decade ago.
The winery’s flagship 2008 D’oro, a fortified port-style wine, is a blend of Marechal Foch and Merlot, B.C. brandy, and fresh green walnuts.
The walnuts grow on three mature trees that the original homesteader planted on the property more than 110 years ago. Green walnuts are unripe walnuts that are harvested before the inner nut matures. Lime green in colour with white speckles, the fruit has gelatinous flesh that’s fragrant and slightly spicy tasting.
These round or oblong fruits are used to make Nocino, an Italian liqueur, and French Vin de Noix nectar. When the Murphys first discovered them, the pair thought they’d make walnut oil, until they heard about fortified walnut wine. Patrick Murphy made a few trips to France to learn more.
“They’re traditionally harvested around Bastille Day [July 14],” he says.
To pick the green walnuts, Murphy brings in a 45-inch boom truck—the kind you might see on a construction site—to get to the very top of the trees, where the highest concentration walnuts are found. The trees yield about 1,000 walnuts per barrel; this past year, they produced 30 barrels.
White oak barrels from Kentucky give Vista D’Oro flagship VQA fortified-walnut wine, simply called D’Oro (meaning “gold”) the taste of a 10-year-old Tawny port.
“The flavour is really nice with that full, rich body of caramel and butterscotch, with walnut lingering on the finish,” Patrick says. “It’s our best-seller.”
Lee Murphy, who makes all sorts of jams and condiments at Vista D’Oro’s Preservatory uses the fruit to make green walnut and grappa preserves.
A visit to the winery is as romantic as it is educational. “I do wine tastings under the walnut tree,” Patrick says. “Quite often, we’ll grab a leaf from the walnut tree; we smell the leaf so you get the scent of the walnut then taste the wine. It’s bucolic.”