Last month, we visited Unsworth Vineyards, on the southeast corner of Vancouver Island, for the first time. This beautiful winery in the Cowichan Valley offers outstanding wines and warm hospitality. The First Nations Salish translation of ‘Cowichan’ means warm land. Certainly, temperatures in the valley are typically warmer than anywhere else in Canada. The late Canadian chef and author, James Barber named the area “Canada’s Provence.” As a result of the mild, Mediterranean-like climate, rich volcanic and glacial soil, and rolling hills, the wines feature a distinctively pronounced minerality. Friendly and knowledgeable Hospitality Manager Karen Newington poured eight stellar Unsworth wines for us, including three that are made from grapes unique to Vancouver Island. Read on for details.
The Unsworth Vineyards Story and Tasting Room
Tim and Colleen Turyk have a long history in the Cowichan Valley area. After more than 40 years in BC’s fishing industry, Tim looked for a new challenge. Subsequently, he, Colleen, and their son Chris found a small vineyard and winery for sale, and purchased the incredible property and early 1900s farmhouse. The Turyk family established Unsworth Vineyards in 2010. Tim’s mother Marjorie’s maiden name is Unsworth.
In 2020, Barbara Banke and daughter Julia Jackson of Jackson Family Wines purchased Unsworth Vineyards. As co-owners, they operate the winery outside Jackson Family Wines. However, the Turyk family continues to manage the business, including the vineyard, winery and a restaurant, under the Unsworth name.
As part of the Turyk’s commitment to sustainable vineyard practices, they grow grape varieties that are suitable for the climate, and require the least amount of intervention. Earlier this year, Vancouver International Wine Festival honored Chris, who is Unsworth’s Sales and Marketing director. The festival presented him with a scholarship that is “awarded to a candidate seeking to make a difference in mentorship and leadership in the British Columbia wine trade.”
You can book a reservation in their beautiful tasting room, or buy a bottle of wine to enjoy at a picnic table on their outdoor terrace. In addition, you can reserve a table at their restaurant in their restored farmhouse.
Unsworth Vineyards Wines
Talented winemaker Dan Wright and his team farm 12 acres of grape varieties at Unsworth Vineyards. During our visit, Hospitality Manager Karen Newington, poured eight of Dan’s excellent wines: a sparkler, a rosé, four whites and two reds. Of those, Allegro, Symphony and a sweeter wine called Petit Milo are uniquely Vancouver Island. Moreover, the 2023 National Wine Awards of Canada recently gave medals to three Unsworth wines.
Unsworth Sparkling, Rosé and White Wines
Charme de L’Ile ($30 CAD) means “charm of the island.” In other words, this Vancouver Island sparkler is both charming and made in the Charmat Method of sparkling wine production. This “casual patio sparkler” blends Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and other cool-climate grapes. Karen told us, “Charme is our local alternative to Prosecco. It is fruit-forward on the nose and dry on the palate, resulting in a quintessential island bubble!” We loved its pear and citrus notes. Canadian wine critic Anthony Gismondi labelled it “a winner from winemaker Dan Wright.” We agree.
2020 Allegro ($26 CAD) is a signature Unsworth white wine, which Karen called “Vancouver Island in a glass.” This dry, smooth white wine blends Island grapes Sauvignette, Petit Milo and Amiel. Grapefruit aromas and flavors entice. This is perfect for the lingering days of summer or all year with seafood.
2022 Saison Vineyard Pinot Gris ($30 CAD) is a single-vineyard Pinot Gris, and popular since its initial vintage in 2010. Again, aromas and flavors of citrus drew us in, along with the salinity and minerality typical of Island wines.
2020 Chardonnay ($31 CAD) is our kind of Chardonnay; that is to say, it is not buttery or oaky. Karen noted that the second release of Chardonnay is “certain to become a mainstay of the Unsworth portfolio.” Kudos to Dan on this distinctly Island Chard with savory notes, and apples, lemon, and hazelnuts, threaded with salinity and minerality. Consequently, the 2023 National Wine Awards of Canada awarded it a bronze medal.
2022 Rosé ($28 CAD) is one of Unsworth’s most popular wines. This is 100% Pinot Noir rosé, with delicate aromas and flavors of wild strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, cherries and rhubarb. Delicious! Not surprisingly, the 2023 National Wine Awards of Canada also gave it a bronze medal.
Unsworth Red Wines
2021 Pinot Noir ($39 CAD) is selected from the best hillside blocks in Unsworth vineyards, and a gold winner at the 2023 National Wine Awards of Canada. This Pinot showcases two Vancouver Island characteristics – its dark cherry flavors and minerality from the glacial soil. This Pinot is dry and light, yet with a depth of flavor and complexity, and no sharp edges. According to Karen, “We craft sparkling wines and rosé from this special grape, but we save the best fruit for this wine.”
2020 Symphony ($31 CAD) is another unique local wine, and one of three we brought home, along with Charme de L’Ile and 2020 Allegro. For Symphony, Dan predominately blends two hybrids, savory Cabernet Libre and Labelle, with Corivese “and 2% of Petit Milo to tone down the tannins.” Karen described Symphony as “Vancouver Island’s version of Cabernet Sauvignon.” Aromas of cherries, plums, spices and charcoal on the nose echo the palate. This delicious blend is surprisingly full-bodied for the mild climate in the Cowichan Valley.
Summary: Unsworth Vineyards
In conclusion, if you’re looking for a different type of wine road trip, we highly recommend Unsworth Vineyards in Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. The temperatures are mild, the people are very friendly, and the wine is amazing.
Margot and Dave