Friday, July 29, 2011

Wine from an Invisible Island

How did one get here? It is an island on the way to the North Pole. How does an Italian land here and decide to make wine? How does anyone?

In their unquenchable thirst for discovery and adventure, Italians have been exploring and discovering wine regions for millennia. Gaul, Iberia, Germany, the New World, Australian, South Africa, South America. Why not Vancouver Island?

So close to the mainland, and so large, one barely registers being on an island. But for those with a passion for islands, the simple act of stepping off the larger land mass sets the stage for something different, if only in one’s head space.

Here, the words natural and organic sound a bit redundant. This is an island, like New Zealand’s, where life needs no help from Monsanto or ADM. Without a doubt there can be found traces of those industrial giants who spiked the punch in certain tracts. As well, the early settlers and the logging industry, set up in the 1840’s, saw the island as one large harvest-able feast of timber. It was nothing in the 19th century to fell a tree planted in the 7th century to make materials so that overfed tourists could traverse the decks at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf in the 21st century. So, the island didn’t go unnoticed, or unscathed, by industrial man. Nor did the indigenous folks, many whom died from exposure to the measles or TB.

On one of our longs walks in some of the old forests still hugging the island, I turned to my companion. “We should try some of these local wines.” And so we stopped at a little wine shop and bought a trio of wines from the area. As well when we went out to eat, the few times we didn’t forage for an impressive bounty of locally grown vegetables, island cheeses and fresh crab, halibut, shrimp and salmon, we would order wines from the list that were produced on the island.

Surprise, surprise. Sparkling wines, method traditional. White blends of Pinot Gris, Auxerrois and Kerner. Reds of Marechal Foch, Refosco-like in their bracing acidity and focused fruit. And lovely rose’s, fresh, acidic and pale salmon or onion skin colored, from Pinot Noir, lovely summer wines to go with the local food.

It was like discovering a new world of wine. And here we were in the New World, but the wines were high in acid (naturally) and clean, untampered flavors. One apple wine and cider producer, when asked about sulfur, looked at me quizzically. “Sulfur? We don’t need it here.”

These wines, and the ones from the Okanagan region on the mainland part of British Columbia, seemed un-New Wordly. Where had I landed? What a wonderful discovery. Do they need a cellar rat? If I could turn back the clock 30 years, I would make a beeline for this region. Here is where they make wines that resonate with this Old World guy stuck in a New World body. Win-Win!

And the wines?

For one the Venturi-Schulze winery is a great place to start, at least for anyone on the Italian wine trail. An Italian from Modena and his mate from Australia, she a bio-chemist.

Their sparkling, method traditional, wine called Brut Natural, we had the 2007, a blend of Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and Kerner. Sealed with a crown cap, our server popped the first bottle like a soda pop and the wine spewed all over. Retrieving a second bottle, he was advised by the sommelier to “let the bottle fart.” The second bottle, in spite of any noisome reference, was splendid.

That same night we had a Venturi-Schulze 2009 Rosato, from Pinot Noir, with the main course. We were celebrating “someone’s” birthday, a big one. The wine was perfect with the salmon. The unfinished bottle (you can take them home with you in BC) was even better later on in the hot tub.

We were so taken with the wines from Venturi Schulze that I called the winery to go visit. Alas, there was no answer (one is advised to call a day in advance). But our server at the Sooke Harbour Hotel advised us of an industry tasting later in the week, where 100 wineries from BC would be pouring their wines. So we took time off the hiking trail and went into Victoria for an afternoon of tasting. There we met Marilyn Venturi (née Schulze) and daughter Michelle Willcock Schulze and tasted through the range of their wines.

It seems the husband Giordano, the Venturi part of Venturi Schulze, came from Modena and had nostalgia for the balsamic vinegar of his town near Modena. Having recently been to Modena and tasted the real balsamic, I was pleased (“psyched” in West Coast parlance) to try their vinegar. Thought to be the sole producer of a balsamic vinegar product in America, theirs did not disappoint. And thankfully, the product doesn’t suffer under the regionial neo-prohibitionist taxation that the wines do.

Signing off for now - I have a secret assignment, under deep cover, in Tuscany - back in awhile....

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