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Garth Eichel: Birds of prey entertain vineyard guests

Every year on the third Sunday of June, society gives dads a halfhearted "attaboy" in the form of Father's Day.
Garth Eichel writes a libations column for the Times Colonist.

Every year on the third Sunday of June, society gives dads a halfhearted "attaboy" in the form of Father's Day. It is a milquetoast celebration compared to Mother's Day: moms get flowers, brunches and a "day off;" fathers are expected to spend at least one day of the year doing dad-like things with their kid(s). For involved dads, that means it's pretty much like any other day.

In keeping with that, Father's Day came early for me and my eight-year-old son, Rowan. My partner was off getting her hair and nails done, so his nibs and I set out for a day of unplanned adventure. Driving along West Saanich Road in Sidney, we spied a sign for a flying raptor demonstration at the Church & State Wines vineyard south of Brentwood Bay.

Finally, wine and birds of prey, together at last.

We purchased tickets for the afternoon show and joined a small crowd of spectators sipping Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on a sunny set of bleachers overlooking an open field and the vineyards below. A young woman trainer wearing a leather gauntlet introduced herself and explained that Church & State uses raptors as part of its vineyard management program, employing birds of prey as a natural deterrent to pest birds. The birds also earn their keep entertaining vineyard guests with flying demonstrations.

Rowan and I got a real kick out of the show. A screeching succession of Harris's Hawks, a barn owl, a red-tailed falcon and a spectacled owl all took turns swooping low over our heads, diving and arcing in a series of manoeuvres that show off their natural hunting abilities. A saker falcon named "Arrow" - the final bird and star performer - was supposed to dazzle us with his speed and agility, but the instant he was released he promptly disappeared over the horizon, leaving the crowd mystified while the trainer tried to recall her wayward charge.

Rowan shot up his hand up and asked what every adult was thinking: "Have you ever lost a bird?" (The comedian W.C. Fields was right to say, "never work with children or animals.")

After the anti-climactic end to the show, Rowan and I wandered over to the winery to cool off in the shade with some refreshments. I was curious to try Church & State's various offerings and so ordered a tasting flight of four and a spit bucket. Like the flying raptor demonstration, there were plenty of enjoyable moments, interesting surprises and one major disappointment:


The 2009 Island Estate Pinot Gris is one of only two wines Church & State grows at its 11-acre estate in Brentwood Bay. (All other wines in the Church & State portfolio are sourced from grapes grown at its 80-acre estate in the Okanagan.)

Pale straw in colour, with grassy, floral and citrus notes on the nose, this Pinot Gris has flavours of green apple and pear with crisp acidity and a nice, moderate finish. A pleasant summer wine, it would pair well with a light Tuna Niçise.

2008 CHARDONNAY, $25

Very much in the New World tradition, this Chardonnay has lots of tropical fruit flavours of grapefruit and melon, with a restrained amount of oak and malolactic fermentation. This is one Chardonnay you'll want to sip in the sun this summer with fruit and soft cheeses, or pair with dungeness crab dipped in butter.

2007 PINOT NOIR, $26

Pinot Noir is the second varietal grown at the Brentwood Bay estate. While the 2007 isn't scheduled for release until later this month, it is one worth adding to your list of purchase-worthy Pinots.

Pale ruby in the glass, it has lots of red fruit character and herbaceous appeal and spice on the nose. Soft on the palate, there is pronounced raspberry and cherry with a hint of cassis in a slightly peppery finish. Try it with grilled turkey sausage or smoked salmon.

2009 MERLOT, $26

As with the flying raptor demonstration, everything went well until the end. Of all the wines I tasted at Church & State the 2009 Merlot was the only disappointment in an otherwise impressive lineup. I found it quite vegetal on the nose and palate, and the unusually high tannins and acidity were out of whack for a Merlot. Perhaps it will improve with a few more years in the bottle, but I can think of plenty other cellar dwellers to spend $26 on.

Note: Church & State Wines vineyard estate is located at 1445 Benvenuto Ave., south of Brentwood Bay. The vineyard is hosting a Father's Day dinner on June 19 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations are recommended.