I’d wanted to visit the Sea Star winery on Pender Island, one of BC’s Gulf Islands, for a while. A tasting at the vineyards had been part of a Christmas gift, and now that spring had sprung, a trip was in order.
My mother grew up on neighbouring – and much larger – Salt Spring Island, but I had only ever been to Pender once before. The ferry got us there from Vancouver Island’s Swartz Bay directly and we went straight to the winery hoping to be first in line.
Sea Star owner David Goudge was on property and hosted our tasting and questions. They’ve recently acquired 44 additional acres located across the strait on Saturna Island. Although initially there was 5 years of untamed growth to pick through, hedge trimmers dealt with the blackberry and thistle, and the grapes were given a clean bill of health – which says a lot about the local terroir and its ability to host Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir is one of the most difficult grapes out there to raise. It’s a diva – a true heartbreak grape, so it’s even more astonishing that something so fussy is able to flourish in the southern Gulf Island micro climate which has a relatively short growing season.
The Blanc de Noir that we came away with (in addition to 2 other mixed cases), is a combination of 50% Pinot Noir grapes from Clam Bay Farm on Pender and 50% from the Saturna vineyard. The fruit has been whole-cluster pressed and the end product is atrociously delicious – we used it to toast a 76th birthday a week later. Strawberries and cream, apricots and tangy cranberry shine through. It’s no wonder the 2016 version of this wine was best in show at the 2017 Canadian Culinary Championships.
The tasting had more beauties including the Stella Maris – which is now my current favourite white. This blend of six weirdo grapes – Gew, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Ortega, Pinot Noir and Schönburger – has the most incredible nose and palate of honey, apricot, rose hips and yellow pear. The Salish Sea is another blend, this time of Ortega and Siegerrebe, offering a delicious herbaceous lemongrass and tropical fruit drink. And at a delicate 11.5% abv, you can enjoy it all day long.
I can’t wait to try my bottles of Marechal Foch which were whole cluster fresh pressed on the skins, and only lightly tannic. I’ve been told to expect a Beaujolais style red with plenty of fresh fruit.
What an unexpected gem of a winery. I’d heard it was outstanding from chef and sommelier friends, but when I saw it in action, and tasted for myself, I was excited to know wine of such a high level of quality is available here at Pender’s Sea Star. And, not only is their product outstanding, their marketing and esthetics are beautiful.
There’s plenty of great other stuff to do on Pender, so if you go, plan to visit Twin Island Cider, have lunch at The Woods (where you can have a glass of almost every Sea Star release), chow down on dessert at Poet’s Cove and sit on a beach. We did!
So west coast, so world class – nothing but great expectations for my next bottle, and visit.