The first modern winery on Vancouver Island is Vigneti Zanatta which is located 10 minutes by car southwest of downtown Duncan. I think what sets them apart from the other wineries on Vancouver Island is their specialization on making sparkling wines.
The winery was named Vigneti Zanatta after the Italian family who owned the farm since the 1950s, and still do through the daughter, Loretta. All the wines produced from Vigneti Zanatta come from their 25 acre vineyard. They have total control over the vines and learn more about them every year.
I mention that the Vigneti Zanatta winery is a rebel, and my reason for it is two-fold: First that they grow some unusual grape varieties, Cayuga and Castel. The other reason is that they have decided not to join the BC VQA as these grapes are not vitis vinifera, and not accepted as part of the VQA program. Jim and family could have dug up these non-vitis vinifera vines and grown accepted varieties, but they loved these grapes and the wines, and so they followed their passion.
Jim Moody, co-owner with his wife Loretta, is a very welcoming person. I toured the winery, checked out the tanks, crushing facilities, bottling line, and riddling racks with Jim. In the riddling racks were the wines waiting for their turn to pop, releasing the dead yeast cells, and then to be recapped and sold to me and you. A small production facility, riddling is done by hand, but does not overwhelm.
By riddling, this should tip you off that Vigneti Zanatta uses the Methode Champenoise to produce their sparkling wines, which brings up the quality of the wine produced, compared to other sparkling wines made with the less labour intensive Charmat method (think Prosecco). Their bottles spend at least 18 months on the lees before disgorging, offering more integrated flavours and fuller mouth-feel.
At the time of my visit, Jim had two open-top stainless steel fermenters filled with grape must creating this year’s sparkling vintages of Fantasia and Taglio Rosso. I was fortunate to try these still, base wines part-way through the fermentation process. Fresh fruit flavours. I spoke with Jim about how he, or any wine maker, can judge a base wine, or wines, and how they will finally taste when blended, re-fermented, and finally disgorged. It is a skill you learn, as well as through tasting many different blend combinations. Just a few percent difference in grape varieties can make a big difference.
The story of how Vigneti Zanatta winery came into being is a very interesting story, and I invite you to read about it from their website.
Cayuga and Castel Grapes
The Cayuga grape, according to Wikipedia, “Cayuga White is a mid-season ripening wine grape developed from crosses of the hybrids Schuyler and Seyval Blanc at Cornell University‘s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York. It is a hardy vine with some bunch-rot disease resistance. In warmer climates it should be picked at lower sugars to avoid overripe, sometimes labrusca-like, flavors; however this has not been observed in cooler climates such as the Pacific Northwest, where desirable, Riesling-type flavors are tasted in fully ripe Cayuga fruit. Picked at the proper time, it can produce a very nice sparkling wine with good acid balance, structure, and pleasant aromas, or a fruity white wine similar to a Riesling or Viognier. One advantage of Cayuga is that, if harvested unripe (e.g., in a shorter summer in cool climates), it can still make a good wine, albeit one with more green apple flavors in that case.”
The Castel grape, according to the Vine House blog, “Castel 19637 or Castel which is it’s common name, is a cross between Cinsaut x V. rupestris… It is recommended for the shorter season areas of British Columbia and rated well in a variety trial held on Vancouver Island in the late 1980’s (link – see The Duncan Project). Over the 5 years that grapes were harvested in this study the average Brix was 24, PH was 3.12, and the TA was 1.27. The five year average degree days accumulation was 900 from April to October. These are great numbers for such low degree day accumulations and are similar to the numbers that have been observed from this variety in trials in Minnesota which recorded Brix 23.9°, 3.05 pH, and 10.3 g/l of acidity. The comments on the wine from the Duncan Project were “red, intense colour, full body, attractive, earthy flavour, hybrid character, acidity…This variety is made into sevaral different syles including rose, fruity red and a complex big wine.”
My Sparkling Wine Reviews
Glenora Fantasia Brut – The Fantasia Brut is made with the Cayuga grape and there has been more than 20 vintages of this sparkling wine. It has nice light lees and stone fruit aromas. Medium body with tart green apples, followed by lees. It was dry and has a medium persistent bubble. It is a pleasant easy sipper.
Rating: Tart green apple and persistent bubble from this easy to sip sparkling wine.
Allegria Brut Rosé – The grapes spent approximately 24 hours on the skin to get the rose colour from their Pinot Noir grapes. The wine is light strawberry hued in the glass. It’s dry, full-bodied with a creamy bubble. Light strawberry flavour followed by sweet cherries and lesser amounts of cranberry and raspberry. It has a longer length with some bitterness on the finish. A very good sparkling rose wine.
Taglio Rosso – A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Castel grapes go into this sparkling wine. It is more red, rather than rose in the glass. The last sparkling red that I had was from Australia, made from the Shiraz grape. It is not very common to produce a deep red sparkling wine. This wine is almost opaque ruby in the glass. Quite a grapey nose together with some green hints. Dark purple fruit, currants and capsicum flavours. Peppery finish. Tiny bubble. A curious wine to try.
Where Can I Buy These Wines?
You can only purchase these wines directly from the winery. You can fill out their Contact page, or phone them at (250) 748-2338.
If you are out on Vancouver Island, I’d suggest that you drive out and visit the winery. The winery and tasting room is currently closed for the season, but make plans for next summer! Enjoy.