I recently reviewed Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest by Lisa Morrison. That book is an excellent guide to the beers and breweries of the Pacific NW, and helped fuel my own visit to British Columbia. But a woman cannot live on beer alone, so into my travel bag also went John Schreiner's BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide. What better way to review a book for Serious Eats: Drinks than to put it to the test? We were two thirsty travelers in search of inspiration and knowledge. Could Schreiner help us?
Schreiner is a prolific author of Canadian wine guides, most focused on the popular Okanagan wine region that is located over a mountain range to the east of Vancouver City. The wineries in the BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide are smaller and less well known but, according to the author, no less deserving of visitors. Plus, coastal British Columbia (defined by this book as Vancouver Island and the Southern Gulf Islands, the city of Vancouver and the Fraser Valley) is gorgeous. Touring and tasting easily makes the list of top things to do while vacationing.
The book's greatest asset are the maps. The inside of both covers of this soft-bound book feature fold out maps of relevant areas with wineries clearly marked. Also particularly useful is a list of "BC coastal wineries at a glance" found in the inside right flap. This feature is endlessly useful when parsing recommendations from locals or while watching signs whiz by from the Canadian highway.
Schreiner also offers a brief history of winemaking in the area with special attention paid to industry pioneers like Dennis Zanatta, who, in 1983, planted a volunteer test site for thirty-one varieties of grapes. Only about two dozen survived, but those hearty few paved the way. Vigneti-Zanatta Winery and other local wine leaders championed the varietals deemed perfect for BC's cool climate: many of them lesser known grapes like ortega and auxerrois.
The center of the book contains dozens of two to three page profiles of the wineries in the area along with addresses, phone numbers, and other valuable tasting room information. This should have been the best part of the book—our guide to afternoons spent trekking from winery to winery, one fabulous sip after another. But we didn't find it as helpful as we'd hoped. The biographies were too long and the information about which wines to taste was relatively useless.
Schreiner's "picks" were vague. "There are a lot of toothsome wines here," one read. When we checked out the recommendation for Venturi-Schulze Vineyards, Schreiner suggested we try "everything." He was correct—the Venturi-Schultze wines were our favorite from the trip—but insight into vintages or the importance of the estate-grown balsamic vinegar to the winery's reputation would have been useful.
In at least once instance, we also discovered our guide had led us astray. One winery profiled in the guide turned out to be hardly recommendable. There were numerous past vintages lined up against a wall, some as old as the early 1990s. But these were not library wines. Instead they seemed to be hard to sell bottles—a suspicion perhaps confirmed by the nearly undrinkable sips poured in the tasting room. In the guide, Schreiner remarks that "the current range of these wines were not tested." Perhaps if they had, this winery would have been left off the list?
Thanks to these spotty experiences (our other winery visits fell somewhere in between) we relied more on the maps than on any recommendations in the book. With good directions in hand, we did what most other travelers do—we sniffed out our top picks using word of mouth and whimsy. Coastal BC's wineries are often very small and their production limited. Wines aren't in many shops or restaurants. Tasting in BC harkens back to what wine tasting used to be: you taste it, you love it, you buy it knowing you may never have the opportunity again. It's a noble adventure; perhaps someone should write a book about it.