While visiting my family recently in Cowichan Bay, Canada, I decided to take a tour at one of Vancouver Island’s oldest wineries, Cherry Point Estate Wines. My mother and I were greeted by Xavier Bonilla, who has owned the winery for three years and worked there for the past 10.
Cherry Point Estate Wines opened about 23 years ago and has 34 acres, but only 24 acres are used for the vineyard. The rest is for the tasting room, a bistro, house, a lake and extra space for special events such as weddings and concerts.
As a student in the CWU World Wine program, I have visited a lot of wineries in Washington and wanted to compare them to the wineries on Vancouver Island. What was especially interesting about this place was Bonilla’s perspective on winemaking. His techniques were different from a lot of the wineries I have visited in Washington. Bonilla is from Spain, but studied wine in the United States. He believes strongly in the importance of the soil in winemaking.
“People often think that it is the grape that makes the wine, but they are wrong, it is the earth,” he said.
Cherry Point has 12 different varietals growing in the vineyard, making use of 12 different soil conditions that are suitable for each varietal in their own way. He does not believe in selling or buying grapes from other vineyards, saying it can ruin the wine.
Bonilla also believes in the survival of the fittest, so once vines begin to grip the wires for support, he cuts down on irrigation. After three years, he usually cuts the irrigation off completely because it is better if the vines dig for nutrients and water — it makes them stronger and produces better grapes, he said.
The tour ended with a tasting of nine of the Cherry Point Estate wines. Bonilla has won multiple medals over the past few years, but he is most proud of his double gold for his 2011 bottle of Ortega, of which he produced only 300 cases and will only sell to customers who come to the winery. Not only is the wine amazing, Bonilla says it was the first time a Canadian winery won a double gold medal.
Because of Bonilla’s emphasis on soil, his wines change from year to year as the soil changes. So one year his Pinot Gris may get a silver medal, but the next it will only get a bronze. He pointed out that many large companies use biochemists to alter the wine so it maintains a consistent taste year-over-year.
If you are making a visit to Vancouver Island, I recommend a stop at Cherry Point Estate Wines. Tours typically cost $8 a person for groups. The estate also has a restaurant and is family friendly. Bonilla seems quite flexible on how things work around there, as long as the vineyard and wine are treated with respect.
• Rhiannon Beunder is studying in Central Washington University’s World Wine Program. For more information about the program, contact Amy Mumma at email@example.com or 509-963-1504.