The Bacchus Bistro
Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery
1064-216th St., Langley, B.C.
$100 for lunch for two with wine, tax and tip
Cuisine: French bistro
Township 7 Vineyard and Winery
21152 16th Ave., Langley, B.C.
Neck of the Woods Winery
3033-232nd St., Langley, B.C.
Vista D'oro Farms
20856 4th Ave., Langley, B.C.
Are you in the mood for an afternoon outing to wine country? Perhaps you've been thinking of taking the relatives to the Okanagan Valley this summer, but are secretly dreading the long drive.
Have you considered going to Langley? Yes, Langley. The picturesque home of the local horsey set, just 40 kilometres southeast of Vancouver, is a growing and well-respected wine region. It's part of the Fraser Valley, one of British Columbia's five DVAs (Designated Viticultural Areas). And if you plan accordingly, this 45-minute jaunt has the makings of a very pleasant day trip.
There are seven wineries in Langley, one brewery and numerous farm-gate markets and specialty food shops to visit. To make the tour more manageable, I recommend you focus your first excursion on the newly christened Campbell Valley Wine Run – four South Langley wineries clustered around 16th Avenue and 216th Street, all easily accessible from Hwy. 99.
Start at Township 7 Vineyard and Winery. The juice made here isn't the throwaway type you'll feel obliged to buy after chatting up the tasting-shop clerk. These are highly impressive small-lot, handcrafted wines that will blow you away with their complexity and full-bodied lusciousness (partly acquired through a blending of grapes from its sister winery on the Naramata Bench in the South Okanagan).
If lucky, you'll visit during one of the winery's many summer jazz, theatre and art festivals (check website for details). But even on a regular day, the self-guided vineyard tour packs plenty of ambience and information. Pick up a bottle of Seven Stars Sparkling (exclusive to the tasting shop) or an acclaimed 2009 merlot, custom paired with a bar of Himalayan-salt and Szechuan-pepper artisanal dark chocolate from Vancouver's Xoxolat.
After this, take a small detour to Neck of the Wood Winery, formerly Glenugie Winery. The new owners also own operate Backyard Vineyards in Abbotsford, the labels from which are available here. And they've also been working with star winemaker Tom Di Bello (formerly of Cedar Creek Estate Winery in Kelowna) and Harry McWatters (founder of Sumac Ridge and all-around godfather to the industry) so they should have some very interesting wines rolling out soon.
Unfortunately, I caught the winery on a bad day. It was stifling hot inside the tight farmhouse tasting room, with its low ceiling and roaring fireplace. The place was packed with visitors, and seriously understaffed. I didn't stick around to taste many wines. But I'd be interested in going back, if only to get my hands on a bottle of Backyard Vineyards Blanc de Noirs Brut.
Continuing on to Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery. I do recommend you stop here to visit the tasting room and wine shop. Planted in the late 1980s by a family of French wine-making expats, this is the oldest and largest estate winery in the Fraser Valley. Public tours around the vaguely militaristic compound-like setting with its chain-link fencing and squat steel buildings are offered daily.
Be sure to try the 2009 Bacchus Dry and 2009 Gamay Noir, both of which won several awards earlier this year. And for a true taste of the local terroir, ask for the slightly fruity Madeleine Sylvaner made entirely with Langley-grown grapes.
But whatever you do, don't eat here. Well, the picnic lunches (salads, cheese, duck rillettes and terrines with fresh bread for $8 to $13) would probably take the edge off a spell of plummeting blood sugar adequately enough. But my lunch at the winery's sit-down Bacchus Bistro was across-the-board awful.
It wasn't just the dowdy dining room with its filthy floors, painted cinder blocks and outdoor toilets that turned me off. I'm sure the vineyard-facing terrace is actually quite lovely in the summer.
And I could probably turn a blind eye to the restaurant's lackadaisical service. So what if our waiter forgot to refill our water glasses, never once made it to the table with our wine pairings before the food arrived and then disappeared for 15 minutes while we sat around twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the bill? It was the NHL playoffs. At least he came back with the score.
But the food? There's no excuse for a thick skin of congealed grease over the escargots, raggedly cut carrots in a braised short rib soup (that wasn't meant to be soup), browning lettuce, a cold cheese plate delivered straight out of the refrigerator, rancid walnuts and freezer-burned profiterole pastry. I don't even know how to begin explaining the Oyster Kilpatrick casserole. It was so goopy and fatty and foul smelling, I could barely swallow two bites.
So don't stop here for lunch, which is such a shame because a good restaurant would be the perfect complement to this tour.
Instead, I suggest you hold out until Vista D'oro Farms. This bucolic farmhouse winery, with its softly sloping vineyards in front and fruit orchards out back, has recently acquired an outdoor liquor licence. So now you can rent a blanket to spread out on the grass (or take a seat on the patio) and enjoy a glass of table wine with sandwiches, salads, dips and cheese boards. Many of the picnic items feature Vista D'oro's famous preserves. (The green walnut and grappa rocks my world.)
Wind down the day with a taste of the winery's flagship D'oro, a fortified walnut wine, or Cyprianna, a new plum wine fortified with aged kirsch. Soak up the sun (if it ever deigns to come out). And marvel at the beauty to be found right in our own backyard.