It can be surprising how much wine is produced within an hour drive from downtown Vancouver.
In the Fraser Valley, where the soil is rich and farmland plentiful, there are 60-plus acres of grapevines – making up 22 wineries and nearly 30 vineyards.
The region – tiny in comparison to the Okanagan – is stamping its mark on the competitive world of wine.
But recognition has taken years of hard work and dedication from winemakers and vineyard owners.
The main goal is to get local residents out to the wineries to try what’s in the barrel – and demonstrate that the product can be in the same high-calibre category as wine produced in Naramata, Osoyoos, Oliver and other areas of the Okanagan.
“Once you remove any bias, people realize the quality we have here,” says Brian Ensor, manager of Chaberton Estate Winery in Langley, as he stands between rows of nearly ripe grapes. “It’s about recognition, and this region as a whole has been making progress.”
Chaberton Estate Winery, formerly Domain de Chaberton, was the first winery to open in the Fraser Valley region 23 years ago and is among the largest in operation.
It’s a hot day in August as guests stop by to sample wine and tour the vineyard. They learn from their tour guide that Bacchus grapes are the most common varietal planted at the vineyard, and that the Fraser Valley’s cooler climate suits some grapes well – such as Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay – but is not conducive to growing types that thrive in hotter temperatures.
Because of this, many larger Fraser Valley wineries use grapes grown in the Okanagan to supplement what they are unable to grow themselves.
Fraser Valley vineyards are small compared to many others in North America; it’s possible to see from one end of the rows of grape vines to the other. But still, to first-time visitors, the sight of grapes growing in the Lower Mainland can be shocking.
It’s this local, quaint vineyard atmosphere that the four wineries in the Campbell Valley Wine Region – Chaberton Estate Winery, Backyard Vineyard, Township 7 Vineyards & Winery and Vista D’Oro Farms & Winery – use to attract their customers.
“In the Campbell Valley, we’re not in competition with each other. We don’t compete even with the Okanagan,” Ensor says.
“We all have the same purpose – to raise the profile of B.C. wine, and even Canadian wine.”
Less than an hour drive from downtown Vancouver and mere minutes for Surrey and White Rock residents, the local wineries market themselves as a quick wine-tour getaway, in comparison to the multiple-day journey to the Okanagan.
The wineries team up together to host events that draw people out to Langley. Participants in the Campbell Valley Wine Run on Sept. 21, for instance, run a 15-kilometre route between the valley’s vineyards, stopping to sample wine along the way. The run isn’t a competitive race – it’s meant to be fun, with a five-kilometre walking option and prizes for best costume.
“We get a lot of people saying, ‘Wow, this is so close, I would have stopped here before if I had known about it,'” says Backyard Vineyard’s winemaker James Cambridge, who graduated from Niagara College’s viticulture program 15 years ago before settling at other wineries, including Summerhill and LaStella in the Okanagan.
“Once they know we’re here, our job is to keep them coming back.”
It’s winemaker Mary McDermott’s second day at Township 7 Vineyards & Winery, but she already has a lofty goal – to produce more sparkling wine.
To create the refreshing bubbles, rows of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes – easily seen from the long country road – have been planted, and will be harvested at low sugar levels with high acidity. Township 7’s 2008 Seven Stars Sparkling, created in the traditional style of French champagne, is sold out, and a new vintage is on the way.
They produce around 100 cases of sparkling wine every couple of years, depending on whether the season was conducive to growing the specific grapes needed, and McDermott plans to boost production in the future.
“The climate here in the Fraser Valley is a perfect match for sparkling wine,” says the winemaker, who recently worked for Trius Winery at Hillebrand and Thirty Bench Winery in the Niagara region of Ontario.
“It’s vital to match the grape with the climate and soil – of course every grape can’t grow anywhere”
Bottles are sold at both of Township 7’s wineries – locally and on the Naramata Bench – as well as at the White Rock Farmers’ Market, a convenient “buy local” option that is the result of recent changes to the B.C.’s liquor policy.
Other Campbell Valley wineries have their own signature styles. Chaberton recently released its off-dry 2013 Reserve Bacchus, highlighted by aromas of citrus, chamomile and apricots with peach, orange blossom and lemon notes. And Backyard Vineyard’s easy-drinking Nosey Neighbour red and white, one of the winery’s most popular labels, have been a hit among local connoisseurs.
The future is local
Competing against Okanagan and international wineries – with thousands of highly acclaimed labels from both the New and Old World – is a tough order.
To appeal to customers, wineries from the Campbell Valley have banded together to create a unique region, complete with seasonal events and tour routes.
“Buying our wine is almost an emotional experience,” Ensor says. “When people come here, they get to taste the wine, walk around the vineyard and really get know the winery – it sticks with them.”