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West Saanich winery feels like a pioneer farm

There is more to wine touring than wine.

There is more to wine touring than wine.

Visiting wineries is a delightful way to spend a weekend, or holiday, traipsing through manicured vineyards, while learning about local terroir and the winemakers who pour their hearts, souls and wallets into their passion. The end result is a greater appreciation for place, people and products, which only enhances enjoyment once the cork is out of the bottle.

Wineries come in a variety of stripes, though: Some of the best sell wine right out of their kitchen or garage, while magnificent estates just down the road can sometimes offer nasty plonk.

Personally, I prefer small craft wineries. Owners are often on hand to talk about everything from viticulture to vinification. What is more, they often produce exceptional wine from hand-picked grapes processed in small batches, using artisanal methods.

The downside of touring small craft wineries is that they are often not much to look at. Many put their money into agriculture and workmanlike wineries, with little left over for aesthetics. If you want to enjoy a charcuterie plate and a glass of wine in a Tuscan villa overlooking rolling vineyards, you generally have to make your way to bigger wineries.

That said, some exceptional small wineries combine estate elegance with superior products. One such example is Starling Lane Winery on Old West Saanich Road. Owned and operated by three married couples - John and Jacqueline Wrinch, Jerry and Sherry Mussio and Ken and Sue Houston - Starling Lane is a heritage farm situated on a historic piece of property that holds true to its origins.

Acquired in 1859 by Chief Justice Matthew Baillie Begbie, first judge of the Supreme Court of the Crown Colony of British Columbia, the property is dotted with a number of English 19th century-style structures, including a cottage, historic barns, greenhouse and what is arguably the most impressive chicken coop ever built (it now serves as the winery and tasting room).

A horticultural delight, the property is lined with vine trellises and orchards, as well as a rose garden that can compete with Government House. It all has the look and feel of a pioneer farm transported to the Cotswolds, which perhaps explains the winery's popularity as a wedding site.

"[Starling Lane] is not just a winery; it's a refined and genteel experience," says Jacqueline Wrinch.

"When we bought the property in 1990, we knew it had to be preserved. It would have been a mistake to change the ambiance and soul of the place. That was an expensive decision- but it was worth it."

Likewise, Starling Lane produces a number of excellent wines that match the exquisite nature of the property while staying true to the land. In fact, Starling Lane is the only winery on the Saanich Peninsula that grows 100 per cent of its fruit on the Island - the majority of it along Old West Saanich Road. As such, the owners have opted for a number of cool-climate, early-ripening varieties that are unique expressions of the Peninsula.


750 mL, 12 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV), $19

Pale gold in the glass, this light-bodied white has fresh floral aromas and notes of fresh-cut grass and apricot that reappear on the palate with refreshing acidity that hints of pear and tropical fruit. Try pairing with seafood or summer salads.


750 mL, 11.5 per cent ABV, $19

This straw-coloured Siegerrebe has aromas of melon, grapefruit and honeysuckle that are revealed in the mouth with a pleasing acidity reminiscent of green apple. A good partner for chicken or pork.

STAR 2011

750 mL, 12.2 per cent ABV, $19

A blend of Siegerrebe, Ortega, Pinot Noir and Marechal Foch, this brassy salmon-coloured off-dry white has lots of pear, floral and tropical fruit notes, as well as a hint of grass, which is replaced by juicy red fruit flavours of strawberry and raspberry, underscored by pear. Match with ham, smoked cheeses or fruit salad.


750 mL, 13.8 per cent ABV, $24

One of the few red varietals successful on Vancouver Island, Starling Lane's Marechal Foch is an impressive medium-bodied red aged in French oak.

Garnet in colour, it expresses black fruit, peppery spice, earthy minerality and soft tannins. Try with a savoury beef stew such as beef bourguignon.


375 mL, 18 per cent ABV, $24

This 100 per cent blackberry dessert wine is made from fruit harvested on the Saanich Peninsula by First Nations. Ruby red in the glass, it is jammy enough to spread on your morning toast, but pairs much better with chocolate.

Note: Starling Lane wines are available at the winery and most independent liquor stores in Victoria.

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