Picking Grapes is a Scout series that asks wine professionals to map out their complex relationships with British Columbian wines by citing the ignition point of their interest and some of their favourite wineries.
Today we speak with Brooke Fader, Sommelier (as well as cook and gardener) at Wild Mountain Food & Drink in Sooke on Vancouver Island…
What was the BC wine that you first fell in love with? Do you remember where you were? What were the circumstances?
I was working at Sooke Harbour House and I was trying Starling Lane’s Marechal Foch, made by Jerry Musio on the Saanich Peninsula. Here was this deep and complex red wine from the Island, a stand-out in our cool weather climate. It wasn’t until about 15 years later when I found out those grapes were actually grown in the Cowichan Valley, at what is now Emandare Vineyard. Mike and Robin revitalised the neglected vineyard, made it organic, built a winery (and stunning guesthouse), and now make two beautiful examples of Foch.
Summer is approaching…is there a local winery are you most looking forward to visiting, and why?
Averill Creek has an incredible slate rock patio with big hydrangeas overlooking the valley to the coast, and a really smart food program to accompany Brent Rowland`s delicious wines. Averill may be celebrating their 20th vintage (a remarkable achievement anywhere, especially on Vancouver Island), but their team and their wines are more vibrant than ever before.
Supporting small, BC businesses has become especially important these days. We know it’s difficult to narrow it down, but if you had to choose just three local wineries that you think are especially deserving of our attention, who would you choose?
Emandare in the Cowichan Valley is a husband and wife team that is stewarding their vineyard and making natural wines that are delicious, sophisticated and approachable.
Rathjen is a very small operation on the Saanich Peninsula, leasing vineyards there and in Cowichan Valley, farming and vinifying without inputs, making wonderful wines that highlight the subregions of the Island.
Kutatas is another husband and wife team who recently relocated to Salt Spring Island where they are revitalising a vineyard while also still farming grapes on the Saanich Peninsula. They make some of the most interesting, terroir-driven wines on the Wine Islands.
Have the last two years reshaped your approach to buying, serving, and enjoying wine in any way? If so, how?
For sure – our restaurant was completely closed for two-and-a-half months, and then only open for patio and takeout dining for 15 months until we could open our little dining room again. So having a wine program with a deep cellar was not relevant. Having to discount bottles To Go was not a great service moment, but I was glad our customers had good wine to drink wherever they were going.
In terms of drinking wine, I think I just doubled down on light-bodied reds. There was something very easy and enjoyable about this pretty big category, which could be a co-ferment of Syrah and Riesling from Scout, or down the street from them, the Gamay Noir from Orofino. With or without food, these gentle and nuanced Similkameen wines were a lovely reminder of the comradery of our food and beverage community.
What sort of changes, if any, do you think that the local wine industry – from wine lovers and servers, to the producers and distributors – might see in the future?
I hope there is more accountability in how grapes are grown and how wine is made. I`d like to see more people asking about what inputs went into the soil or into the wine…Who is irrigating and who is dry-farming? What is being sprayed on the grapes? What is being added to the wine? Hopefully, a reminder that wine is an agricultural product and we need to support those wine growers who are consciously stewarding the land and actively creating biodiversity.
What is the one versatile BC wine you recommend for pairing this spring/summer?
I’ll say it: Emandare has the best Sauvignon Blanc in BC! Made from 22-year-old vines (the oldest SB vines on the Island), there is a special minerality while still being varietally correct. Naturally fermented with no new oak, this wine speaks to the unique and excellent terroir of the Cowichan Valley.
If you could work in just one local winery for just one harvest, which would it be and why?
Bella on the Naramata Bench! Because Jay Drysdale and Wendy Rose don`t just make exceptional sparkling wines, they are also amazing cooks who raise and preserve their own food. Plus their bulldog Buddha is very adorable.
Can you recommend one local, emblematic-of-BC red wine for someone who didn’t even know that wine was made here? Why did you choose it?
The Lock & Worth 2021 Merlot is so juicy and delicious – they really let the fruit shine since it is not oaked. I’d like to see this unfettered style be more emblematic of BC since merlot ripens very nicely in the Okanagan.
What about a white?
Synchromesh Rieslings are a favourite year round. With a sophisticated balance of fruit, acidity, and low alcohol, Alan Dickinson’s Rieslings are site specific, complex and always fantastic.
And finally, a rose?
Rathjen 2019 Sparkling Pinot Noir is special to me because I picked and stomped those grapes! Using fruit from two tiny vineyards that founder / winegrower Mike Rathjen stewards, it is a remarkable bubble for any occasion.