We pulled up to Venturi-Schulze Vineyards and were greeted by Marilyn Venturi who was about to introduce us to her family’s legacy. For 22 years she and her husband have run the winery at Venturi-Schulze, to which they have an undying commitment.
As we walked through her dozens of acres of vines, flanked by evergreen forests up on Cobble Hill, a member of our group asked Marilyn which grape would she grow if she could only do a single varietal. “That’s like asking which one of my children I’d like to keep,” she said with a chuckle.
At Venturi Schulze they have never irrigated, never used fertilizer, never sprayed with anything harsh (or that you couldn’t eat), and the run a fully sustainable operation. They encourage natural weed cover and use resources from the surrounding woods, such as nettles for the wines and making tea.
Standing between rows of pinot grapes, we had a discussion about Vancouver Island wines, and cooking as of late. “Chefs here don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk,” said Marilyn with regards to eating and preparing food with local ingredients. With Vancouver Island being under 50km away from Vancouver, it’s a great resource for cooks and foodies.
Being so used to taking wine tours operated by guides in enormous architectural facilities, it was refreshing to walk in the dirt alongside Marilyn and get a true sense of her work, dedication, and creations. “This isn’t a business, this is our life,” she told us. “This is just what we want to do.” She told us some great stories about her children growing up with the vineyard, problems with pesky rabbits, and how she’d go as far as camping out overnight among the vines to catch grape robberies in progress. Most of the time the culprits were raccoons although she said she’s always know the best grapes of the bunch because the animals would go straight for them.
We walked back towards the house and stopped in at the vinegary where they produce four varieties of traditional balsamic vinegar, of Modena style. We learned about the different types of barrels used, the five types of wood, the process of simmering over an open flame, and the 7-20 years it takes to age.
The room was crisp and the air was sweet with the smell of aging balsamic. There were separate barrels for each one of her children, containing their own special vinegar that has been aging their entire lives. Marilyn’s husband Giordano was born in Italy and she noted, “for him, it’s a legacy.” All of it — the vineyard, the wine making, the balsamic, and passing this on to his children and one day grandchildren. The family has invested so much into the operation that you can truly see it is a labour of love.
Heading into the house for some tastings Marilyn said for her it’s also about making things happen in an organic, environmentally-friendly, and sustainable manner. “I just want to prove it can be done, especially on Vancouver Island.” We sampled their Brut Naturel, their Pinot Noir, and the Brandenburg No.3. We also had some amazing sorbet made from Ver Jus (from unripened grapes) a little corn syrup, grapefruit peel and lemon peel (see all recipes here). The Ver Jus has a strong citrus taste and it would make the perfect lemon substitute for cooking with local ingredients. “When you taste this, it’s pure here,” noted Marilyn motioning to the land and region that surrounds the vineyard.
You can stop by Venturi-Schulze for tastings which are $5 but fully refunded should you make a purchase in the shop. Calling ahead to inquire about a tour is recommended as the family is out in the vineyard most days. They would like the heads up so they can come down and greet you. All of their contact information, including a map, is available online.
If you can’t make it over to Cobble Hill, Venturi-Schulze wines are served at Spinnakers in Victoria, online, and some are available (along with the balsamic vinegar) in specialty shops around Vancouver Island and around the Lower Mainland. You can also catch them at various events, including the annual EAT! Vancouver festival.
I recently toured the South East portion of Vancouver Island with Tourism BC. You can read all of my posts from the trip under the tag: ‘Cowichan‘.