In mid-August, we spent an entertaining and educational hour with Michelle Schulze at Venturi-Schulze Vineyards in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. Michelle is such a character, and as authentic as it gets. She shared lots of fun stories and good wine with us. Michelle manages the vineyards and works closely with her step-father, Giordano Venturi, to make the wine. Her mother Marilyn is hands-on, a scientist excelling in vinegar production. Venturi-Schulze was the third licensed winery on Vancouver Island in 1993. As well as 100% estate-grown wines, you’ll find ancient-method balsamic vinegar and jams. Moreover, the late, great Ron Zimmerman of well-known The Herbfarm imports Venturi-Schulze wines and vinegars for his restaurant near Seattle. And Venturi-Schulze Zeigelt is very popular with Victoria’s Hanks *a restaurant.
The Venturi-Schulze Vineyards Story
Co-owner Marilyn Venturi (née Schulze), originally from Australia, specializes in research about wine and vinegar production. Her husband and co-owner, Giordano Venturi, hails from Italy, and has always been passionate about wines. For 15 years, he experimented with cool-climate grapes in his small backyard vineyard. The two met at the University of Montreal.
In 1987, Marilyn and Giordano bought an original 1893 farmhouse on Vancouver Island, which they later expanded to a family home and a small tasting room. Subsequently, in 1988, they planted their vineyard with an initial five acres of grapes. In 1995, Michelle Schulze, Marilyn’s daughter, joined the winery. She immersed herself into soil preparation, vine planting, pruning, canopy management, harvest, and winemaking.
In 1999, the family purchased a 15-acre neighboring parcel of land. That same year, a new winery was built, partially underground below the new vineyard expansion, and completed in time for the 1999 crush. They opened a renovated tasting room in 2011, featuring the work of Cowichan Valley artisans using local woods. A display wall showcases their wines and vinegars, and a bar stretches across the room.
Meanwhile, Michelle told us that the vineyards’ soils include clay, heavy in places, over deep limestone and sand, “contributing a uniquely intense flavor profile to our wines.” She added that they farm in a natural and sustainable manner to preserve it for future generations. “Our vineyard philosophy has always been based on natural viticulture, no chemical pesticides or herbicides, and no irrigation.”
As well, Michelle, Marilyn and Giordano share the same winemaking philosophy: allow the quality of the grapes to be reflected in the purity of the wines. They grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Auxerrois, Madeleine Sylvaner, Siegerrebe, Schönburger, Ortega, Kerner and Zeigelt. During our visit last month, Michelle poured us four current releases and three unreleased wines.
2016 Brut, 2014 Kerner, and 2016 Pinot Noir Reserve
2016 Brut ($32 CAD) is 100% Pinot Auxerrois, a dry bottle-fermented (traditional method) sparkler that is crisp and clean but with a creamy texture. We loved it and took a bottle home.
2014 Kerner ($23 CAD) is from a German grape bred by crossing Trollinger and Riesling, and new to us. According to Michelle, “when young, this white wine was fruit-forward with high acidity. So, we held it to integrate the acidity. When aged, though, it smells like diesel fuel or asphalt.” However, we found aromas of black licorice, leading into flavors of apples, peaches and hints of citrus and minerality.
2016 Pinot Noir Reserve ($60 CAD) is excellent and a powerhouse wine. We think it’s a Cab-lover’s Pinot Noir. Michelle called it “a big, dry red from a never-before-seen vintage in our region. It’s bigger than normal vintages of Pinots and would pair nicely with red meat, cheese and dark chocolate.” We tasted plums, dark cherries, chocolate and spices, threaded with the minerality that is a hallmark of the Cowichan Valley.
2013 Brandenburg No. 3 ($37 CAD)
Michelle also opened this amber-colored, low-alcohol sweet wine. Aromas of caramel, smoky dried figs, honey and coffee notes echo the palate. Bradenburg would complement charcuterie, hazelnuts, and desserts such as Five Spice Crème Brulée and Orange Hazelnut Fennel Biscotti on their website’s Recipes page. Michelle advises people to put it in the fridge once it’s been opened, and then you’ll have three months to drink it. “One customer opened a bottle with pumpkin pie for Canadian Thanksgiving in October, and then put it in fridge until Christmas.”
In addition, Michelle also poured three pre-release wines for us. 2022 Marinella Rosé, 2017 Pinot Noir, and 2018 Zeigelt show great potential.
2022 Maranello Rosé is an unusual bright red color, with scents and flavors of raspberries and cherries. They named this rich rosé after the town where Ferrari is located.
2017 Pinot Noir already offers lots of complexity and nice acidity. Michelle explained that 2017 was a brutal year, so the wine is a lighter red color.
2018 Zeigelt is a dry red, structured wine with a nose of cherries and cocoa, leading into a palate of cranberries and orange zest. Michelle said Hanks *a restaurant in Victoria bought all 75 cases because Zeigelt goes so well with their meat dishes.
Summary: Venturi-Schulze Vineyards
In conclusion, Venturi-Schulze is a unique, authentic winery and vineyard, known for delicious 100% estate-grown wines and ancient-method balsamic vinegar. But don’t just take our word for it. Both The Herbfarm Restaurant in Woodinville, near Seattle, and Hanks *a restaurant in Victoria serve Venturi-Schulze wines. So give them a try!
Margot and Dave