The Brunners purchased Blue Grouse Estate Winery and Vineyards in 2012. Paul and Cristina Brunner grew up in big families with international roots. Paul is a mining engineer and Cristina is an artist. Their only daughter, Paula, is an aspiring math student. Paul hired Boxwood Architects in Seattle to design the winery. The roofline resembles the curve of a grouse’s head and neck. The curves of the tasting room soaring ceiling are meant to remind one of a grouse’s belly.
Once the preferred habitat of Blue Grouse, the 45 acres of Blue Grouse Estate are tucked away on a sunny slope of Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, which takes its name from a First Nation’s word meaning “the warm land”. The valley enjoys one of Canada’s warmest mean temperature. The terroir encompasses wind protection by evergreen trees, an all-Southern exposure, a combination of clay and gravelly soil, and the nurturing of pure air and spring water. Thanks to this exceptional site, the seven acres of vines require little fertilisation and irrigation. Many of the vines are more than 20 years old, most of which were propagated on their own vinifera rootstock.
Bailey Williamson grew up in Burnaby. At university, Bailey wrote a food column for the newspaper suggesting simple recipes for broke college students and afterwards spent a good chunk of his life pursuing work in the culinary arts. In 1993 he relocated to Victoria and became involved in the “farm to table” movement.
Working his way from the bottom up at several wineries, Bailey managed to learn enough about winemaking to impress his wife Jenny, who was working in the wine industry in the State of Washington when they met. Bailey spent five years as Assistant Winemaker at Road 13 Vineyards before accepting the call to serve as Winemaker and Vineyard Manager for Blue Grouse.
Bailey had the following crush comments. We started picking the Siegerrebe on September 10 and finished with the Pinot Noir on October 5, which we were very pleased about. This past October turned out to be one of the rainiest on record, so if the grapes weren’t in by then, there was very little ripening that would happen past that second week.
It was a good season overall, with a growing season that provided well-adjusted fruit. The analysis parameters required no intervention in the cellar and there were no stuck fermentations. The challenge and excitement, for making wine here in the Cowichan is that even if you tried to script the ideal harvest conditions, mother nature wouldn’t allow it. I enjoy the fact there is no cookie-cutter way and every year is a bit different.
If seasonal trends continue, and average annual temperatures continue to rise, our industry may be the biggest benefactor. I always knew that growing balanced wine grapes on the Island was possible and now I’m sure we that we will continue to produce high-quality wines. This year, the whites (including our Pinot Gris, Siegerrebe, Ortega and Bacchus) were well-balanced. The reds received 1300 growing degree days which was perfect for our estate Pinot Noir and Gamay – two reds varietals that are perfectly-suited to be grown on the island.
Blue Grouse Siegerrebe 2015. 12% alcohol, total acid level 7.1 g/L. Bud-burst occurs late and fruit ripens early, which results in a vine that is well suited for cool climates. The vines are fruitful and vigour is low, which produces high extract yellow-green to golden colour and lovely apple and lime aromas. The fresh and succulent “outdoorsy” style really show off the best of the Cowichan Valley.
Blue Grouse Pinot Noir 2014. 13% alcohol, total acid level 5.8 g/L. The Pinot Noir vines on the property are all south facing on a 10% slope; the Qualicum soils are a mix of clay, loam and rock. The clones are unknown at this time but are 20+ years old and at their peak of flavour production. The Pinot exhibits aromas of cherry, nutmeg and allspice. The oak is well integrated with a hint of earthiness and eucalyptus followed by flavours of plum and black liquorice. This complex wine shows elements of minerality and flint. Fine tannins and firm acidity round out the finish. Only 200 cases produced and the wine is sold out.
For the complete portfolio of the Blue Grouse BC Wines, please visit the winery website here.