Robert Bell's Wines of Canada

Cowichan Valley sub-GI

Cowichan Valley

The newly (July 2020) announced Cowichan Valley sub-GI recognizes the unique terroir and solidifies Vancouver Island's position as an up-and-coming wine destination.

British Columbians shopping for a bottle of BC wine will see a new area recognized for their grape-growing and winemaking on the label – the Cowichan Valley.⁠⠀

The Cowichan Valley is being recognized as a new sub-geographical indication (sub-GI), an official and protected term under B.C. law used to help consumers identify B.C. wines' origins. The Cowichan Valley sub-GI is roughly defined as the area between the Cowichan watershed, the eastern coastline from Mill Bay to Maple Bay and the western area of Cowichan Lake.

The Cowichan Valley is a cool climate wine region. The valley has a Mediterranean-like climate with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. A strong maritime influence moderates seasonal temperature variation, unlike the more continental conditions in the major grape-growing areas of the southern interior of British Columbia. Average maximum summer temperature in the Cowichan Valley is 25°C. Historically, less than 10 days per year experienced temperatures over 30 °C. Historically the area has received between 900 and 1000 growing degree days (base 10°C) of heat between April 1 and October 31, the seasonal period of accumulation used in viticulture. The most suitable Vitis vinifera cultivars for the Cowichan Valley are currently those requiring <1000 GDD to mature although future climate warming may change that. Principle cultivars grown are Pinot noir and Pinot gris which produce premium sparkling and table wines. The cool growing season is particularly well suited to producing classic aromatic white V. vinifera cultivars such as Gewürztraminer, Ortega, and Bacchus. Also grown are cultivars developed by Valentin Blattner, including Petite Milo, Cabernet Foch and Cabernet Libre.

How it happened

In August 2018 Scott Smith was retained by Blue Grouse Estate Winery and Vineyards on behalf of a group of neighbouring wineries to help define the extent of a proposed Cowichan Valley subGeographical Indication (sub-GI) on Vancouver Island and to compile technical (biophysical) information to describe and define its nature. Elizabeth Kenney was retained to provide soil information given her experience and knowledge of the area, and Dr. Pat Bowen of the Summerland Research and Development Centre agreed to contribute a viticultural characterization section for the technical report.

A field inspection of the proposed sub-GI area and a meeting with several Cowichan Valley growers was completed in September 2018. At that time, several soil profiles were examined and photographed in support of this technical document. A preliminary report outlining a suggested boundary configuration and rationale was completed and sent to Bailey Williamson of Blue Grouse Estate Winery for distribution and discussion in October 2018. There was general support among area growers for the suggested boundary.

There are nine official geographical indications in the province and five sub-geographical indications. The Cowichan Valley is the first sub-GI outside of the Okanagan and joins the Golden Mile Bench, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls and Skaha Bench in the Okanagan Valley.

The wineries

What is a sub-GI

A official map of the Cowichan Valley sub-GI is available at: http://www.bcvqa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Cowichan_Valley_GIrev_2020.pdf

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