VIWF 2017 Preview – Canadian Pinot Noir Part 1

Taste 50 Different Canadian Pinot Noirs in One Room

The 2017 Vancouver International Wine Festival runs from February 11-19 and offers pinotphiles a special opportunity to taste some outstanding pinot noirs from both British Columbia and Ontario. Thus far confirmed, thirty-two wineries (including four from Ontario) will be pouring fifty different pinot noirs.   Many of the wines will be rare, small production, single vineyard or higher end pinot noirs that would normally be available only at the winery.  Few of us have the time and resources to visit each of these wineries personally, this is a golden opportunity to taste the good stuff – all in one room.

Following is Part 1 of an area-by-area preview guide (2 more parts to follow) that helps you find which Canadian wineries will be pouring pinot noir at this year’s Vancouver Wine Festival, which pinots they will be pouring and at which events. It is organized by area to help you compare regional differences.  At the end you will find a condensed Must Taste section highlighting the pinot noirs that should not be missed and why they are worth putting on your dance card at the Festival.

Part 2 will feature pinot noirs from Ontario, Naramata/Penticton and Summerland.  Part 3 will cover wineries from Okanagan Falls, the Golden Mile, the Black Sage bench, Oliver and Osoyoos.

After the Festival, watch for Pinot Noir Highlights from the Festival, that will include individual reviews (in this blog and on of the stand out pinot noirs that were tasted.

Part 1: Kelowna, West Kelowna, Lake Country, Cowichan Valley & Saanich

Kelowna Area – Okanagan Valley

The Kelowna area in the cooler Northern part of the Okanagan Valley and the East side of Okanagan lake is clearly well situated to favour pinot noir.  Along with the West Kelowna area on the opposite side of the lake, this area has produced pinot noirs of worldwide acclaim including Mission Hill’s Martin’s Lane 2011 pinot noir that won Decanter Magazine’s award for best pinot noir in the world under $25.00.


Cedar Creek Winery has evolved it’s pinot program steadily since it’s first pinot noir release in 1994.  Originally released as three tiers of pinot noir from multiple properties, they subsequently made a “Home Block” bottling and later two block wines from the Home Block.  Their 2012 Platinum Block 2 Pinot Noir was named Best Canadian Red Wine over 15£ at the 2015 Decanter World Wine Awards in London, UK and more recently their 2013 Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir garnered 95 Points in the 2016 fall issue of Decanter Magazine.  (Click for Reviews: 2006 Platinum : 2006 Estate Select2010 Home Block )

They will be pouring Both their 2014 Platinum Block 2 Pinot Noir and 2014 Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir at the public and trade tastings.  Cedar Creek Estate Winery

SPIERHEAD WINERY  – Pouring 4 Pinot Noirs

As with many winery owners in B.C. Bill and Marina Knutson of Spierhead Winery could be said to embody the phrase “it takes ten years to be an overnight success”.  Starting out, they originally produced both pinot noirs and a meritage blend.  But as it became clear that pinot noir had a great affinity for their terroir, they have since doubled down and triple downed on pinot noir, ripping out and replacing the Bordeaux varieties as well as establishing new plantings of heritage pinot noir clones that will be coming onstream in the next few years.  There is consistent quality across their range of pinot noirs (4 produced) and the awards began with their entry level “White Label” being named best pinot noir in the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards in 2012.

However, their biggest splash has arguably come from their 2015 Spierhead Cuvée, a best barrel blend that in 2016 won both a Platinum Medal at the National Wine Awards and Double Gold Best in Category at the All Canadian Wine Championship.

They will be pouring their Okanagan Valley (white label), Saddle Block vineyard and Cuvée at the public and trade tastings as well as their Golden Retreat vineyard (a special favourite of mine) which will be poured at the Saturday lunch event. All wines will be from the 2015 vintage.  SpierHead Winery

SPERLING WINERY – Pouring 1 Pinot Noir

Sperling will be pouring their 2013 pinot noir at the main public tasting room events.




Pinot noir production began at Summerhill in 1991 and was good enough that on one of Queen Elizabeth’s visits to British Columbia she was served Summerhill’s 1993 vintage of the wine.  In fact, she liked it so much that Buckingham Palace ordered a case to bring home with them.  Some of their pinot noir has now also found its way into their very successful sparkling wine program.  They will be pouring both their 2013 Organic Pinot Noir and their Cipes Brut Rose nv (also pinot noir) at both the public and trade tasting events.  Summerhill Pyramid Winery

TANTALUS VINEYARDS – Pouring 2 Pinot Noirs

Riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir are the main grape varieties that Tantalus Vineyards has focused on from their beginning.  Their first pinot noir was released in 2006 and their pinot noir program has included both Dijon and German clones.  In 2016 Steven Spurrier gave their 2012 pinot noir 90 points in a Decanter Magazine feature on British Columbia Wines.
(Click for Review: 2007)
They will be showing their 2014 Pinot Noir and 2015 Juveniles Pinot Noir (from their latest Dijon plantings) at the public and trade tastings as well as their 2011 Pinot Noir at the Heartbreak & Backache event.  Tantalus Vineyards


West Kelowna Area – Okanagan Valley

QUAILS’ GATE WINERY  – Pouring 2 Pinot Noirs

With their first pinot noir being released in 1989, Quails’ Gate Winery appears to have a serious claim on being the first pinot noir producer of the modern (vinifera) era in British Columbia. Their original vineyard was purchased in 1956.  Both their regular pinot noir and their Stewart Family Reserve have been made now for over twenty-five vintages. They have also produced limited releases of pinot noirs based on Dijon clones and the 828 clone as well as a Richard’s Block pinot noir to honour the winery’s founder.  Their current winemaker is Nikki Callaway, who before coming to Quails’ Gate, crafted the 2011 Martin’s Lane pinot noir that won best pinot noir in the world under $25.00 by Decanter Magazine.  (Click for Reviews: Stewart Family Reserve 20072008 Dijon Clone Selection)

Quails’ Gate will be pouring their 2014 Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir and 2014 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir at both the trade and consumer tastings. Nikki Callaway will also be showcasing the 2014 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir during the “There’s No Place Like BC” seminar on Wednesday, February 15.   Quails’ Gate Winery


Lake Country Area – Okanagan Valley

Lake Country is just North of Kelowna on the East side of Okanagan Lake.  The area produces a cool climate style of pinot noir, slightly paler in colour but with a balanced, lofted acidity and intense red fruit aromatics.

50TH PARALLEL ESTATE – Pouring 2 Pinot Noirs

When it comes to pinot noir, 50th Parallel Estate posseses an unusual combination of  quality and quantity.  Many wineries making pinot noir in B.C. have an annual  production that is under three hundred cases, with some under a hundred but here  production is over three thousand cases. Their first pinot noir was released in 2011  The only two reds at the winery are pinot noirs, one their estate pinot noir and a higher tiered version called Unparalleled.  Both wines have won gold at both Canadian and international wine competitions with the Unparalleled recently winning a silver at the Decanter World Wine Awards.  Their winemaker is Grant Stanley who previously spent ten years as winemaker at Quails’ Gate Winery.  (Click for Review : 2012 Estate Pinot Noir )
Their 2014 Pinot Noir will be poured at the public and trade tastings, as well as the “Celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday” session.  The 2014 Unparalleled Pinot Noir (only 347 cases made) will be featured at the “Canada On the World Stage” and “Regional Tasting Station – Wines of BC” sessions.  50th Parallel Estate

EX NIHILO VINEYARDS – Pouring 1 Pinot Noir

The experience of dreaming about and creating their vineyard out of ten acres as well as a Frederick Hart sculpture, prompted Jeff and Decoa Harder to name their winery Ex Nihilo, which means “out of nothing”.  Their first pinot noir vintage was in 2010 and pinot production is about five hundred to eight hundred cases annually.  They won the 2016 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence for their 2014 pinot noir (only 16 wines were chosen from all categories out of 504 entries).
They will be pouring their 2015 pinot noir as well as their sparkling pinot noir sX Tous at the public and trade events.  Ex Nihilo Vineyards


Cowichan Valley Area, Vancouver Island

The Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island is the second most important wine area in B.C. After the Okanagan.  Though not as well known as the Okanagan, it is one of the province’s significant pinot noir growing areas.  Nestled between the central range of island mountains and the Inside Passage of ocean between Vancouver Island and the mainland, it has proved to be an ideal spot for cultivation of the vine.

It is a very cool climate region that produces crisp, engaging whites as well as some outstanding pinot noirs from a clutch of producers located there.  Some wineries have been making pinot noir here since the early mid-nineties.  This presents a rare opportunity to taste Cowichan Valley terroir pinot noirs next to their counterparts from the Okanagan and Ontario.


Averill Creek is undoubtedly one of the leading producers in the area. It’s creator Andy Johnston is a vocal advocate of Cowichan Valley Pinot Noirs which he feels are capable of developing more complexity and subtlety than those in the Okanagan.  His pinot noirs show a remarkable consistency that demonstrates the balanced and nuanced layers of both dark and red fruits the valley is capable of producing. The first vintage was 2004 and reserve wines have been made in 2009 and 2014.  (Click for Review: Vertical tasting 2005-2012)

Averill Creek will be pouring its 2013 pinot noir at both the pubic and trade tastings.  Averill Creek Vineyard

UNSWORTH VINEYARDS – Pouring 2 Pinot Noirs

Unsworth is a relative newcomer to the Cowichan Valley, having released its first pinot noir in 2012 but that inaugural vintage was good enough to garner 93 points from noted wine writer Jamie Goode.  The winery was founded by Tim and Colleen Turyk.  (Click for Review: 2012 pinot noir )
If you are looking for B.C. pinot noir at the Festival, you might want to head here first as the winery will be pouring limited amounts of their sold out 2014 vintage at the public and trade tastings.  They will also be pouring it at the “Celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday” event.

An even rarer Unsworth pinot noir will also be available at the public and trade tastings.  They will be sampling their Reserve Pinot Noir (only 720 bottles produced) from magnums.  This wine was created as a barrel selection limited to Pinot Noir clones 667 (75%) and 828 (25%) from their première Cowichan Valley vineyard.  Expect it to be more full and serious as the estate pinot noir also contains clones 777, 115, 114 and 113, which tend to be on the lighter more supple side.  Lastly, they will also be pouring their 100% Pinot Noir Rosé at the public and trade tastings as well as the Wines of Canada party .   Unsworth Vineyards


Saanich Peninsula Area, Vancouver Island

The Saanich peninsula area, adjacent to Victoria on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island is home to a handful of wineries that benefit from the modulated climate derived from having the ocean on three sides.  There are less than ten wineries but three of those craft estate pinot noirs.

CHURCH & STATE WINES – Pouring 2 Pinot Noirs

Church & State is unusual in that it has wineries and vineyards in both the Okanagan Valley and on Vancouver Island.  They are widely known both for their high end, award winning Bordeaux variety wines and their Lost Inhibitions line that feature funny and irreverent labels on bottles containing a blended red or white (but still award winning) table wine.

They are less well known for their pinot noirs but they deserve a lot more attention. Virtually all their wines are now estate but for a number of years they made a delicious pinot noir with grapes from an outside source.  They currently have two estate pinot noirs in their lineup, one from the Okanagan and one from Vancouver Island and you will be able to taste both at the Festival.  (Click for Review: Vancouver Island Pinot Noir 2009 )

Their 2015 Victoria Estate Pinot Noir and their inaugural 2014 vintage Signature Series Pinot Noir from their Okanagan vineyards will both be poured at their booth for the public and trade tasting sessions.  The Victoria Estate Pinot noir will also be poured at the BC Regional Booth at the main tasting sessions.  Church & State Wines


Must Taste Pinot Noirs: Kelowna, West Kelowna, Lake Country, Cowichan Valley & Saanich

There will be hundreds of wines competing for your attention in the tasting room but if you are looking to taste some world class Canadian pinot noirs, here is the short list of pinot noirs that should not be missed and why.

50th Parallel Unparalleled – Pinot noir specialists, an outstanding winemaker concentrated on making great pinot noir, a rare (347 cases made) wine that medaled at a world class international pinot noir competiton.

Averill Creek Estate Pinot Noir – A consistently high quality producer of Cowichan Valley Pinot Noirs

Cedar Creek Platinum Block 4 & Cedar Creek Platinum Block 2 – Cedar Creek are pioneers of individual block pinot noirs and both wines have received much attention from the greater wine world including success at national wine competitions and have been singled out by the likes of Burghound.

Church & State Victoria Estate and Signature Series Okanagan Pinot Noirs – A high achieving winery offering a direct comparison of their Vancouver Island and Okanagan Valley terroir pinot noirs side by side in one stop.

Ex Nihilo Estate Pinot Noir – Silky smooth, cool climate pinot noir from the North Okanagan

Quails’ Gate Stewart Reserve – High quality producer of pinot noir for over a quarter of a century, internationally renowned wine maker

Spierhead Winery – All Pinot Noirs – Pinot Noir focused winery making balanced and nuanced pinot noirs from distinct terroirs, double gold and platinum national medal winners.

Unsworth Estate and Reserve Pinot Noirs – To taste ethereal, cool climate Cowichan Valley terroir pinots and to taste a rare pouring of their Reserve wine.

Coming Soon…

Part 2 will feature pinot noirs from Ontario, Naramata/Penticton and Summerland

Part 3 will cover wineries from Okanagan Falls, the Golden Mile, the Black Sage bench, Oliver and Osoyoos

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