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Picking Grapes With Chris MacKay of Mt. Pleasant’s La Fabrique St-George

The Wine Director and Manager of the new winery and grocery maps out some of her favourite wines of the moment.

Picking Grapes With Chris MacKay of Mt. Pleasant’s La Fabrique St-George

Picking Grapes is a new 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 put our Picking Grapes questions to Chris MacKay, Wine Director and Manager of Mt. Pleasant’s newest natural winery and grocer, La Fabrique St-George

What was the BC wine that you first fell in love with? Do you remember where you were? What was the circumstance?

Bella’s sparkling rose. I don’t even remember which one, but the lucky thing is that they are fantastic across the board. I didn’t used to spend a lot of time with BC wines, but this is the wine that really changed my mind. I was in my early 20’s sitting at the bar at L’Abattoir – my friend and I used to go there after filling up on cheap pizza by the slice – and just order a nice wine and some dessert. It stopped me in my tracks and I fell absolutely in love with everything they do.

Bella Wines 4320 Gulch Road, Site 15A Comp 2, Naramata MAP

Which local winery you are most looking forward to visiting once travel becomes feasible/enjoyable again and why?

I’d love to head up to Sage Hills. I have Summerland on my mind a lot lately. So many of my favourite wines (and ciders!) are coming out of there. It’s an area I haven’t spent a lot of time in, but something special is definitely going on. I was poured Sage Hills for the first time this year by Brendan at Plato Ferments, and was really impressed, especially by the skin contact Pinot Gris. Plus they have a 2020 Carbonic Syrah that’s exclusive to their Wine Club I’m dying to try, and maybe they would let me sneak a bottle or two if I showed up in person.

Sage Hills Estate Winery & Vineyards 18555 Matsu Drive, Summerland MAP

If you could work in just one local winery for just one harvest, which would it be and why?

Lightning Rock! The BC wines I get the most excited about are sparkling, and no one is doing it better than Jordan Kubek and the whole team over in Summerland. I’d love to be there to take in the beauty of the area, and marvel in the alchemy of traditional method bubbles. They take painstaking care of three absolutely stunning vineyards growing Pinot Noir, Viognier, Syrah & Chardonnay. It’s not every day you find wines that taste as good as the vineyards look. Who wouldn’t want to spend a harvest there! Though I worry I’d have to be dragged back to city life kicking and screaming.

Lightning Rock Winery 6611 Giants Head Rd, Summerland, BC MAP

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, what would they be?

Kutatas – A solid lineup from Saltspring Island, especially the Sauvignette.

Neon Eon – Two of my favourite BC wines this year were made by Tyler, his Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir Nouveaux. Just try whatever you can get your hands on, you won’t be disappointed.

A Sunday in August – Hardly a well kept secret, but some of the best natural wines coming out of BC, hands down.

Kutatás Wines 164 Norton Rd, Salt Spring Island, BC MAP
Neon Eon Wine West Kelowna MAP
A Sunday In August 165 Hedger Rd., Salt Spring Island, BC MAP

Can you recommend one local, emblematic-of-BC red wine for someone who didn’t even know that wine was made here? Why would you choose it?

Echo Bay Vineyard has a 2016 Cabernet Franc Merlot that really shows how delicious BC reds can be. When you start with a great vineyard, care for it well, avoid chemicals and commercial yeast, and have a great family of winemakers, you showcase what the land here can really provide. It’s rich, bright and full of bramble and sage notes. It can be difficult to track this bottle down now, but the 2017 Cabernet Franc is also amazing, and available – even if they only made 120 cases!

Echo Bay Vineyards 224 Eastside Rd, Okanagan Falls, BC MAP

What about a white?

A showstopper white is the 2017 Little Farm Pied de Cuve Riesling. It’s so incredibly unique and complex, it’s always the highlight in any lineup. It’s savoury, oily and mineral with just a touch of petrol and even salami on a good day. This wine gets crushed by foot in the vineyard in Cawston, and left in the field to ferment with the naturally occurring native yeasts. It’s age worthy, endlessly interesting and really shows off some of the unique and beautiful wines that can come out of BC.

Little Farm WInery 2155 Newton Rd, Cawston, BC MAP

And finally, a rosé?

The ‘2020 Rosé’ that Scout Vineyard released this week is everything I love about BC rosé. Made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer & Riesling, a greatest hits collection of grapes that do so well here. It’s on the darker side of the rose spectrum, and that heavy handedness with the Cab really adds a great boost of tannin and structure to an otherwise aromatic, fruit forward wine. It’s about as far from Provençal rosé as it gets, and I really enjoy this new style emerging. It’s all red twizzlers and white flowers, cranberry and some lees contact from time spent in qvevri.

Scout Vineyard Similkameen Valley, B.C MAP

What is the one versatile BC wine you recommend for dining al fresco all summer long?

The Fitz Brut from Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards. Talk about versatile, this wine goes with just about anything. For a traditional method sparkler aged in bottle on lees for 24 months, it’s honestly a steal of a deal that makes it perfect for everything from a lunch picnic to a special occasion. Crisp and peachy, a touch of brioche, with a stunning lush mouthfeel and fine bubbles. I find myself reaching for this bottle to go with a bag of chips or a pot of buttery spot prawns. My dog is also named Fitz, so I may have an extra soft spot for this wine.

Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards 697 Highway 97 South, Peachland MAP

How have the pandemic months reshaped your approach to buying, serving, and enjoying wine? What lasting effects do you expect the pandemic to have on local businesses and wine lovers?

There’s been a huge shift towards drinking wine at home rather than in a restaurant or lounge setting. This means that I’m not always there to talk about the wine, so the wine really needs to speak for itself. I tried tackling this change by writing more extensive tasting and serving notes on our labels, to mixed results! We get tagged in a lot of social media posts of folks enjoying our wines at home, and it’s always so fun to see them out in the wild alongside a good meal and some friends. I was also tagged in a video where someone zooms in on the ‘serve lightly chilled’ note on our red wine, then the video cuts to the wine getting put in the microwave with a ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ caption. So, mixed results.

I think a lot of people have been incorporating nice wines into their routines, as it can be a lot easier to pull a cork than try to recreate your favourite bar’s cocktail list from home. Folks have been branching out from their go-to wines and are more willing to experiment with some new styles. Hopefully this translates into a whole new group of wine lovers eager to learn more about what they are drinking and where it comes from.

With so many businesses struggling during the pandemic, consumers now care even more about supporting their local wineries. Locals want to be drinking BC wines, and it’s really what’s keeping everyone in the industry going. I suspect there will be a trend towards drinking locally for quite a while to come.

Less serious wines are on the rise, fresh and zippy, casual and fun, wines to be gulped from solo cups at a picnic. We can’t keep our sparkling rosé on the shelves, and are selling it at twice the rate as our rosé last summer. Parks & picnics are the new wine hotspots!

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