Words: Henry Yuen
I have never been to Comox Valley until a couple of weeks ago. We flew in from downtown Vancouver via Harbour Air and was greeted by a picturesque horizon as the seaplane landed on the Comox Harbour Marina. The municipalities of Comox and Courtenay are bustling resort towns with retirees and tourists all congregating for a piece of this hidden gem. Regardless of which township, Vancouver Island does have its distinctive flair. It seems their citizens all have green thumbs to make their gardens and outdoors beautiful. Simple, natural but harmonious is my description of the scenery here. My three days here started off with an easy and mellow mood and our pace slowed down subconsciously to allow for a leisurely food and wine exploration.
The wine region of Vancouver Island is growing rapidly with most wineries concentrating in the Cowichan Valley area. Comox Valley has, however, shown strong potential, 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery, one of wineries we visited proved just that. The 24 acres vineyard where some impressive wines are being crafted has been around since 1990. It changed hands recently and new owners wisely retrack their focus to reflect and embrace the varietals suitable for the terroir in Comox Valley.
New owners, Brenda Hetman-Craig, a management consultant and Layne Craig, a pilot, switched gear mid-life to run this winery. The lack of winery experience did not deter them; their love of nature and the passion to make great wines drew them closer to the vines and barrels. Their sharp instinct and skills honed by years of management directed them to take the smart first step - seek a skilled winemaker to chart a new lineup of significant wines. They got Matt Dumayne, a seasoned professional with over 25 vintages experience; seconded at Okanagan Crush Pad', joined them to head the winemaking team. Matt, a New Zealander, with stops in Central Otago, California, Australia, Oregon, enjoys pushing the envelope to craft extraordinary wines. To me, his style can be described as progressive, unconventional and refreshing, a charmer for those who are willing to explore with him. His wines are always delightful, fresh, natural and unpretentious. The less intervention the better - Matt lets and wants the fruit to do the talking!
The soil at 40 Knots is of sandy loams with small gravels thus providing good drainage for the roots. The area is close to the water so a light sea breeze prevents frost and mildew from causing damage to the root stock. Animals such as sheep, chickens and ducks roam the vineyard to add to the diversity and provide healthy balance to the land. They all have different jobs and are happy in their working environment. Naturally, Brenda does not have “human resources” issues with these workers!
The 2014 Pinot Gris is fresh with dry apricot and wild honey on the nose. A hint of botrytis adds sweetness leading to the green apple and stone fruit on the palate. Excellent for lounging around on a hot summer day! Fresh, bright but complex, the 2014 Ziggy Siegerrabe caught our attention with the “wow” factor from its peach and a bit of kiwi aroma. The intriguing grapefruit note is on the palate with juicy melon on the finish. A patio sipper with an attitude that opens conversation! The 2014 Rose is a blend of Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir. The salmon colour comes from 24 hours skin contact to bring out the lovely hue. Lots of berries and plum on the front end with a hint of herb on the palate. Well chilled, this Rose is definitely a crowd pleaser with brightness and zesty lusciousness. The 2014 Whitecaps is a blend with predominantly Pinot Gris, Shonberger, Pinot Auxerrois and Ziegerrabe provides roundness on entry while retaining the zesty and acidity of stone fruits and citrus note. The 2015 Stall Speed Viognier is fruits from the Okanagan to add contrast to fruits from the Comox Valley. The 2014 unoaked Chardonnay is charmingly clean, with aroma of Asian pear and lemon zest, it is a lighter but inviting expression style of Chardonnay .
The 2014 Stick Shaker Syrah offers aromas of black fruits and black berries leading to subtle sweetness that harmonises on the palate and brings out layers. The 2013 Safe Haven is a mellow and well-balanced dessert wine filled with substances. The 18 months in oak barrel expresses the dense structure, a hint of smoked and cocoa with a nutty finish. In the barrel room we sampled the 2015. It already has gusty aroma lined with plums, figs and dry prunes; and sensationalized with spices and truffle on the back end. Happily sitting in the barrel for longer period of time, its potential is limitless. Job well done!
40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery is no doubt heading in the right direction, perhaps at the right speed of “40 knots”! Under Brenda’s management skill and passion for refinement and adhering to the philosophy of roots to the nature, they are carving a niche in the wine business. By the constant flow of visitors to the tasting room and by the frequent appearance on restaurant wine lists. their wines are well received by the community.