If you want eco-friendly, Venturi is real McCoy

At the risk of sounding cynical, there is something annoying about businesses that tie their products and services to altruism.

We all want to be responsible citizens, but sometimes we make compromises. Marketing wonks know this.

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That's why once-meaningful words like "environment," "organic" and "sustainable" have become hackneyed labels attached to most anything and everything.

Still more irksome are certifications of approval from organizations most of us have never heard of.

The wine industry is no exception. Vineyards trumpet their stewardship of the environment, highlighting agricultural certifications alongside point ratings and medals they pick up.

Fair enough, but I wonder how many winemakers would go to the time, trouble and expense of sustainable agricultural practices if there wasn't some marketing payoff. Do their values flow from their wine, or does their wine flow from their values?

Venturi Schulze Vineyard in Cobble Hill is a study in the latter. Founded in 1987 by husband-and-wife team Giordano Venturi and Marilyn Schulze, the vineyard grew out of a dream the pair had to grow their own grapes and make their own wine using natural, organic and sustainable practices, long before it came into fashion.

With only a van, an idea and a loan of $100,000 from Island Savings Credit Union, the pair quit their teaching jobs in Vancouver and purchased 15 acres of land, only four of which were suitable for vines.

(Venturi Schulze purchased additional property in 1999 and now has 30 acres, 18 of which are under trellis.)

"We wanted to start a new life and do something sustainable on our own property. We wanted to 'walk the walk,' " says Schulze.

Even so, she adds: "Buying this property was foolish. I didn't like it, but Giordano fell in love with it. He was insistent, so we lived on ground beef and dandelions for the first few years."

From the outset, irrigation equipment and commercial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides were forsaken in favour of judicious land use and natural agricultural solutions that employed such things as baking soda, kelp extract, stinging nettles and dandelions for similar effect.

All wine is made from hand-picked estate-grown grapes; mechanized harvesting and hard pressing is verboten.

"You can see the difference on the vine, and taste it in the bottle," says Schulze. "It's very satisfying to be 100 per cent accountable for our property and our products."

Devotion to values for almost 25 years has come at considerable cost and effort, but the result is a deserved reputation for some of the finest wines on Vancouver Island.

Moreover, it's heartening to see Venturi Schulze can't be bothered with the politics and marketing that go with certification of organic and sustainable practices. Rather, they just do the right thing for its own sake and let their wine speak for itself.

BRUT NATUREL KS CUVEE 2008

750 mL, 12 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV), $34

Made in the traditional method with no additives, this sparkling wine is pale gold in the glass and maintains a nice crown. It emits aromas of pear, green apple, lemon and brioche, which are all discernible on the palate with refreshing acidity. Wonderful with oysters.

PRIMAVERA 2010

750 mL, 11.8 per cent ABV, $20

The Primavera is strawcoloured with lots of tropical fruit on the nose, particularly melon and peach, with mango and orange citrus on the mouth. Versatile for any white meat or salad.

PICCOLO ROSÉ 2010

750 mL, 9.8 per cent ABV, $14

The funny thing about this rosé is that it has almost no rosé colour, other than a slight salmon hue on the surface. Plenty of tropical fruit aromas mingle with wildflower on the nose, with flavours of pear, apple and lemon on the palate. A perfect porch pounder for a hot summer day.

PINOT NOIR 2008

750 mL, 13.7 per cent ABV, $45

Ruby red in colour, this 100 per cent Pinot Noir has lots of complex blue and black fruit character, including blueberry, plum and fig, mixed with allspice, pleasing minerality and soft tannin structure. Fantastic for lamb.

BRANDENBURG 2008

375 mL, 7.5 per cent ABV, $36

A combination of Madeleine Sylvaner and Siegerrebbe, this dessert wine is molten copper in colour with aromas of caramel, toffee, apple, clove and cinnamon. Flavours of pear, maple and sweet date predominate. It begs for paté de foie gras, blue cheese and creme brulée.

Note: Venturi Schulze wines are available at the estate, or from private retailers in Victoria, notably Spinnakers Spirit Merchants in James Bay and Cascadia Liquor stores.

garthe@shaw.ca

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