Chris Turyk was enjoying lunch in the Napa Valley with some fellow students from the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone when he heard his family had purchased a small vineyard in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. His father, Tim Turyk, had retired recently from a long career in the fishing industry and was looking for a new venture. During a visit to Vancouver Island, where the family of his mother, Colleen, had vacationed for generations, his father made an offer on an attractive piece of land.
“He wasn’t the type of guy to sit on a beach,” Chris Turyk explains, although the nature of the venture was surprising. “Wine wasn’t a big thing in our household, we weren’t collectors or anything,” he says. “We simply enjoyed it.”
Learning the business as they went, the Turyks developed vineyards and in fall 2009 established a winery in Mill Bay called Unsworth, based on Tim’s mother’s maiden name. A tasting room was opened and the 19th-century farmhouse on the property was renovated to house a highly regarded restaurant that draws its ingredients from local farmers and fishermen, as well as Unsworth’s extensive onsite garden.
Smart label design, quality wines and a dedication to hospitality and terrific guest experience helped Unsworth establish its name among Vancouver Island wineries. It also captured the attention of two of California wine’s best-known winery principals, Barbara Banke and her daughter, Julia Jackson.
After 18 months of discussions, Jackson and Banke purchased Unsworth on June 22, 2020.
The deal is a personal investment separate from the extensive holdings of Jackson Family Wines which owns and operates 40 estates in California, Oregon, Australia, France, Italy, South Africa and Chile. Best known as the producer of the bestselling Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, Jackson Family Wines has set its sights on being the owners of the finest collection of wineries in the world, as well as a leader in sustainable practices. It was a founding member, along with the Torres family of Spain, of the International Wineries for Climate Action initiative, with the aim of lowering carbon emissions in the wine industry.
“It’s not the mothership. It’s the mother and daughter,” Turyk says, dismissing a widespread misunderstanding of the ownership arrangement. While no longer the owners, his family continues to operate Unsworth along with winemaker Dan Wright, a graduate of Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute. From their end, Banke and Jackson are looking to build distribution.
Turyk believes having such high-powered investment in Vancouver Island’s wine scene is sure to bring global attention to the region and greater acceptance of Canadian wine as a quality product in general. He doesn’t feel it will threaten the existing rural culture of the Cowichan Valley.
“It doesn’t scream wine region. I don’t think it ever will,” he says, making note of what the view from Unsworth’s tasting room looks like. “All you see is hills. There’s one new milking barn on the horizon that belongs to our dairy farming neighbour. … We’re five minutes off of the highway, but it’s very much a farm feel. It’s a different scene than the Okanagan.”
One of the major beneficiaries of Unsworth’s cashed-up ownership is the prosecco-inspired Charme de L’ile, a regionally specific style of sparkling wine produced by a number of wineries using grapes grown in the Cowichan Valley and Salt Spring region. The fresh and friendly fizz is a great use for the variety of cold hardy white hybrid grapes grown on the island. It’s an enjoyable and affordable product that’s a unique selling opportunity, similar to the Tidal Bay wines from Nova Scotia, or Vigno, an association of producers of old vine carignan in the Maule region of Chile.
The latest release of Charme de L’ile is one of the featured wines of the week, with three other sparkling wine recommendations.
Cono Sur Rosé Brut (Chile)
Produced with pinot noir grown in the Bio Bio Valley in southern Chile, this fresh and fruity sparkling wine is an enjoyable reminder of how effective Cono Sur is at producing a solid range of affordable wines year after year. Ripe and refreshing red fruit flavours are featured on the nose and palate. It’s not overly complex or refined, but it is really tasty. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price, $18.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
Freixenet Cordon Negro Gran Seleccion Cava Brut (Spain)
One of the best-known cava brands continues to deliver its classic mix of toasty, lemon and green apple notes. There are more elegant and complex sparkling wines coming out of the Penedes region of Spain these days, but this dry and refreshing style has its appeal. Available in Ontario at the above price, $16.49 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $15.99 in Saskatchewan, $15.69 in Manitoba, $18.49 in New Brunswick, $16.97 in Nova Scotia, $17.50 in Prince Edward Island and $17.99 in Newfoundland.
Township 7 Vineyards & Winery Seven Stars Polaris 2017 (Canada)
Winemaker Mary McDermott is responsible for an enjoyable range of sparkling wines as well as an extensive range of red and white wines made at Township 7. This 100-per-cent chardonnay bubbly stood out in a recent tasting, with its appealing apple and toasty flavours that are freshened up with bright citrusy notes. The creamy character makes this a less aggressive blanc de blancs style that you can enjoy on its own or with a meal. Drink now to 2024. Available in British Columbia at the above price or direct through township7.com.
Unsworth Charme de L’ile (Canada)
Unsworth’s largest production wine is this vibrant and fruity bubbly that’s mostly a blend of pinot gris and pinot noir with other varieties grown on Vancouver Island. There’s also some reserve wine to contribute richness and texture. It offers apple and pear notes with zesty acidity that suggest it’s best enjoyed served well-chilled and with food. Drink now. Available in British Columbia at the above price or direct through unsworthvineyards.com, various prices in Alberta.
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