Brian Storen - TrellisSurely exploring vineyards in winter promises to be more like a Mars expedition than an epiphany. Rather than a vast green immensity palpable with expectations of low slung grapes bursting with fruitfulness, there is an all pervading silent stillness. Or is there more to meet the eye of vineyard imagination mid winter? A perhaps noble, if not chilling inquiry on what is actually happening dead of winter in the land of Vancouver Island grapes. Nevertheless, photographer extraordinaire Kathleen Hay and I heed the hedonist’s beckon to discover hidden winter romance of a kind between earth, climate, vine stems, unborn grapes, critters, wine makers, tasters. A 50 klick, half hour journey north of Victoria brings us precariously close to rural nirvana at a paradoxical gestalt of thrumming winter vibrancy within the epicenter of slumbering growth at North America’s most esoteric winery, Giordano Venturi & Marilyn Schulze’s Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island Vineyard. Venturi-Schulze Vineyards is 15 Acres of breathtaking, fully southwest facing slopes composed of middle Upper Jurassic Kimmeridgian Tithonian glacial deposits. An obscure geographic reality not lost on Giordano, an engineer from Modena and Mariyln, a Micro Biologist from Australia who met as high school teachers in Vancouver, subsequently finding themselves committed to each other and Vancouver Island earth. Curious Falestra the cat After first time introductions and old time embraces are made, we take to the trellised winter vineyard. Falestra (aka small dark burning embers floating up the chimney), a jet black cat, breaks her pattern of restraint, following Kathleen and I with feline curiosity into the vineyard. Amidst the yammering of organic farming futurists extolling dreams past and future, we hit upon the oldest vine stem in the property, promptly pruned by self appointed winter vineyard manager, Falestra, before making the self congratulatory leap of love to Kathleen’s erstwhile shoulder stoop. Feline Falestra leads the way (comparable to Caesar crossing the Rubicon), to 25,000 pounds of vineyard compost from past season’s harvest. Multiple varietals of grape skins, seeds and stems proffer a Dali palette of striated colours in individuated mounds each with tender green and equally variegated uniqueness of flavour bean sprouts that become a culinary nom de clature gone mad in a frenzy of ‘what the fa!’ flavour discovery. We then head back down the hill on a mission of inquiry into the ancient method vinegary, a bequeathed emerald from Giordano’s Modena heritage. Six different wooden casks from his home town lay, within which there are consequent vintages of vinegar extrapolating the individuated scents and flavours of each type of wood over months and years of dutiful emulation. The starter barrel, Giordano’s first now in its 50’s, stands proudly maternal to one corner. Each vintage receives her genes at its inception. Miraculous.

Taste combine2Time to revel. The true and ultimate joy of winter in the vineyard being winter in the winery, we traipse to the eno library, Falestra in tow, and root through barrels tasting the future from the past. This is where I get steamy eyed and leg trembly while Giordano and Marilyn play maestro and librettist to the imagination that is slowly evolving to reality in the bottle.

So Kathleen & I take some home to a fresh line caught halibut pizza dinner at Spinnakers finishing with Old West Saanich Road’s wood burning, pot stilled, 10 different botanical, staggering Victoria Gin. Victoria Gin For those unfamiliar with Victoria Gin, here’s a taste; Struck by a sneaky release of vibrant florality pluming in the inoculated mouth as you breath into what you’ve swallowed. Interesting the self deceptive prejudices we have about price and perception of relative value: not unlike the experience of going on a blind date with low expectations and being shocked by the humble perfection of it all. Paradoxically terroire is the penultimate expression of this distillate. You smell, taste, feel the earth, the sun, the rain, hear the dragonfly hum through the leaves, even the occasional dog peeing against a fence post, syncopating the illusion of innocence into a sultry mélange of flowers, rampantly opening to the racing acidity of a food perfect innuendo from the Old West Saanich Road Vineyard where the gin is produced in the only legal wood burning copper pot still in the country. Superb without knowing it, there is an entire scope of experience in animated hyperbole that defines the liquor itself as simultaneously monastic in depth yet joyful in behaviour on the palate, with food, through the body: ultimately spirit reflecting spirit. Buena note on bended knees. brian