Unsworth Vineyards’ Chris Turyk Breaks Down Cowichan Pinot Gris


by Treve Ring | Wine from the edge. That’s what I think when I think about wine from our BC Wine Islands: perched on the edge of Canada, and on the edge of traditional climatic vineyard conditions. Living and working in a fringe wine region, like Vancouver Island, you’ve got to straddle dedication and madness – and hopefully the latter is not always predominant. Of course, the ups cannot be overlooked: fresh air, pristine environment, moderate annual temperatures. These are great things. The challenges, though (a windy island in the Pacific that also holds a rainforest), can sometimes make vineyard owners want to leap from that edge.

The Unsworth Vineyards family has bravely walked this edge since they began the project nearly seven years ago. Tim and Colleen Turyk, and their son Chris, have dedicated themselves to making sustainable, thoughtful wines from the Cowichan Valley. Their needle-pushing wines have received attention across Canada and overseas, like this new vintage Pinot Gris. Tight and light, ample pear, lemon and green apple drives a lean, juicy palate. Pear skin, almond and meadow herbs dominate the bright white, one lined with a good cushion of lees, textured with fine spice and trailing with faint anise.

Chris is a Culinary Institute of America and WSET Diploma graduate who splits his time between helping in the family vineyards and winery, and working the floor on the wine team at Hawksworth. I asked him for his thoughts on the Unsworth 2015 Pinot Gris.

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Gris | Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island | $20


Straight up – why did you make this wine? Pinot Gris is the hallmark white Vinifera of Vancouver Island. Its freshness and notable minerality can be felt in good examples across Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. It was the first white we released and it was made in a style that wasn’t common on the island; that is to say with a more dense texture due to extended lees contact. Its structure and flavours in cool years resembles more Muscadet than cool maritime Pinot Gris. 2015 was a very generous year so the fruit profile is as ripe as we have experienced.

Where are the grapes from? We source fruit from small vineyards in the Cowichan Valley. The majority of the 2015 Pinot Gris is from Saison Market Vineyards just North of Duncan, where dry farming with very dense plantings, combined with 10 years of vine age is yielding some delicious fruit. We have some young Pinot Gris planted in our vineyards which will start to produce more than nominal volumes this harvest; whether that continues to our Pinot Gris or sparkling will be a decision next year when blending.

Your ideal pairing with this wine would be…? Crab salad with Belgian endive grapefruit supremes and honey vinaigrette. The bitterness of endive is wonderful with the texture of the wine, the grapefruit echoes the strong citrus notes, the honey tames the racy nature of the combo, and Vancouver Island Pinot Gris should be attached to the hip with all BC seafood.

Favourite BC wine, other than yours? Being a new producer we have had the pleasure of looking at older producers to see what our company, wines and region should represent. A few of the many that stand out for specific reasons are: Blue Mountain, Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Crush Pad, Tantalus and, of course, our friend and Cowichan Valley compatriots Averill Creek Vineyards. If I had to pick just one wine to be my favourite, however, it would have to be Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut.

What do you drink when you’re not drinking BC wine? Beer. Usually from Driftwood.


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