Words: Henry Yuen
Earlier in the year, the BC Wine Institute was tasked with identifying the various wine regions of British Columbia. In the end, they have specified Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, Okanagan, Similkameen and other emerging regions including Fraser Valley, home to vineyards and wineries in Langley, Abbotsford and other lower mainland locations. With the recent arrival of Country Vines at the Richmond Country Farms, however, it seems their demarcation of Richmond needs to be rewritten.
Who would think, despite heavy precipitation along the coastal areas, there is a real vineyard right in Richmond where grapes are grown and made into wines on premise! Next to Highway 99 and Steveston is Richmond Country Farms where fruits, vegetables and squashes have been planted and sold for generations. Nowadays, rows after rows of vines can be seen at the back. Planted and owned by Country Vines, the winery arm of Richmond Country Farms, these wine grapes are the newest additions to the farmlands in this southern tip of BC.
According to Lucas Hogler, operator of the winery, the first planting took place five years ago after extensive site consultation with industry experts. While admitting Country Vines is the new venture for the family business, he's quick to point out the extensive farming heritage of the family in Richmond dated back over fifty years ago after emigrating from Europe. Judging by the popularity of their organic farm-fresh produce grown and sold here, it is easy to understand why a vineyard under their helm would be a natural success.
Since planting five years ago, the vines in Richmond are bearing fruits. Lower Mainland weather does not lend a long grape growing season and since red varietals demand a longer growing season with abundance of sunshine and cool nights, only white varietals are suitable for planting in this pocket. To hone his wine-making skill while waiting for the vines to mature, Country Vines started off by purchasing grapes from the Similkameen region for their initial wine-making. Though red grapes are from the Okanagan, all the wines are now crafted on site here in Country Vines, the best hands-on practice for Lucas to better his skill to the next level.
With over three hundred acres stretching near and beyond, there is room for the winery operation to grow and expand. A fourth generation farmer who educated in the agriculture discipline, Lucas is grateful to be armed with the latest farming and agriculture techniques and knowledge to tackle the tough task of running a highly competitive venture in a seemingly unknown grape wine region. He is confident and determined the challenges would be met with hard work, patience and diligence to ensure his wines are delicious.
Their 2014 Yee Haw under the label of Back Forty White is truly a local lower mainland wine made with fruits from the 40 acres at the back of Richmond Country Farms. A blend with predominantly Pinot Girs, this wine is crisp and refreshing with nice bouquets of apricot and green apple, and a hint of morning sweetness on the finish. A versatile wine for both the patio and Thanksgiving seasons, I find the fruit-forward aroma and subtle sweetness a good match for spicy Asian dishes as well.
The Syrah and Cabernet Franc are my favourites. I particularly savour the Cabernet Franc. With the luscious red fruit aroma and a hint of earthiness, this wine bears the classic identity of the Okanagan Cabernet Franc
The 2014 Sippin’ Pretty is an attractive blend of mostly Riseling and Gewurztraminer. With a floral undertone and lots of juicy peach and pineapple on the palate, this is a great wine for salads and starters.
All the wine tastings are free to the public in their newly-opened tasting room located at the back end of the parking lot of the Richmond Country Farms. In a farm house setting, the country-style tasting room and patio set right next to where horses, goats and sheep roam. As owner of the Country Meadow Golf Course that has been providing freshly-prepared and locally-sourced food in the restaurants there, the next step for them down the road is to offer food service in the winery. They like to make this a family destination for all visitors and the wine tasting more enjoyable for wine enthusiastes .