The best-known wines in British Columbia come from the Okanagan Valley. But the Fraser Valley, a relatively new wine region in Canada’s BC, much closer to Vancouver, is winning awards and exciting sommeliers.
Regular contributors John and Sandra Nowlan taste and sip on a road trip from Richmond to Abbotsford (in the Fraser Valley) and back to Vancouver.
Deep-Fried Chicken Skin and stinky Durian Milkshakes were two of the more unusual culinary “treats” at North America’s largest Asian Night Market, located next door to Vancouver in Richmond, British Columbia.
Exploring the appetizing Richmond Dumpling Trail
For much of the year, this suburban city of 200,000 hosts more than 100 vendors, mostly Asian, at the Richmond Night Market. They sell a huge variety of traditional and non-traditional cuisine, primarily from China, but also from Korea, Japan, Malaysia and other countries. The joyous, colorful bazaar attracts thousands of locals and tourists who come mainly for the food but also for the craft and souvenir shops.
Richmond, with over 50% of residents identifying as of Chinese descent, has the largest proportion of Asians of any city in North America. This makes the Richmond Dumpling Trail extra special. A recent addition to the successful Vancouver Food Tours, the morning route took us to an active day market and to five authentic and bustling restaurants featuring all manner of Asian Dumplings. We were particularly impressed by the large number of midmorning diners at the Empire Seafood Restaurant and by the quality of its dim sum. As good as any we’ve enjoyed in Hong Kong.
Taking a peek at the Richmond Olympic Oval
Before leaving the Vancouver suburb and heading towards the newest part of British Columbia Wine Country, we stopped at the remarkable Richmond Olympic Oval. This huge building, the size of six Olympic hockey rinks, was used to house the long track speed skating events at the 2010 Olympics. Continually evolving, the venue now includes a couple of hockey rinks, 10 basketball courts, 13 volleyball courts, 15 badminton courts and more than a dozen high-end ping pong tables used by the Canadian-Chinese Table Tennis Federation.
In addition to the sports venues, the Richmond Oval now includes The Olympic Experience, an excellent interactive museum celebrating the Olympic spirit with unique displays and simulated bobsled, ski jump, car racing and kayak rides. A Gold Medal for creativity!
Poking around the Fraser Valley, a new wine region in British Columbia
More creativity comes from British Columbia’s vineyards in one of its newer wine regions, the Fraser Valley. Abbotsford, about an hour’s drive from Vancouver, is in the center of the region and boasts several wineries that are now winning national and international awards.
In Abbotsford, we stayed at the Brookside Inn Boutique Hotel, run by Chris and Sandi Buis (Sandi is an excellent chef), featuring just six suites all named after famous movies. Ours was called, “Under the Tuscan Sun” and included a DVD copy of the film for playback in the room. TripAdvisor has called the Brookside, the Top Small Hotel in Canada. The included breakfasts were especially imaginative and tasty.
The Fraser Valley, located between the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges, is the largest agricultural region in British Columbia and has a unique terroir that has traditionally produced berry wines. But, in recent years, many acres of grapevines have been planted with excellent results.
Close to the Brookside Inn, the Singletree Winery has produced several gold and silver medal vintages in its nine years of operation. Winery owner Debbie Etsell led us through a sampling. Especially delightful were the Pinot Gris, Merlot and our favorite, GrunerVeltliner. It was a remarkably good dry, white wine with aromas of citrus, peach and honey.
Two other nearby wineries (with two more opening soon) also produce some of the best BC vintages. The Mt. Lehman Winery started with three acres of grapes in 1991 and has now expanded to 15 acres. In 2011 this boutique producer won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in British Columbia Wines. Among the tastings we enjoyed were Three Amigos (a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Foche and Merlot), Pinot Noir, Unoaked Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer.
The Seaside Pearl Farmgate Winery is built to resemble a small church and its cozy Chapel Tasting Room does reflect the spirit of Fraser Valley wines. In addition to its fine reds and whites (especially the red blends), Seaside Pearl produces some excellent sparkling wines. Standouts are the 2018 Daffodils (a blend of Petite Milo, Gewurztraminer and Orange Muscat) and Magnolias Estate Cabernet Foch Rosé (in sparkling or still).
Another winemaker that takes advantage of Abbotsford’s cool climate is the Ripples Winery in the east end of the city. In addition to some tasty grape blends and High Bush Blueberry wines, the unique property includes a Water Garden Nursery, display gardens, an attractive wedding venue and several koi ponds where visitors are welcome to feed the fish.
The City of Abbotsford, population 140,000, was an unexpected treat, offering excellent wines, superb accommodations and a lively restaurant/craft beer scene. Just an hour apart by car, it and Richmond are like two different worlds.
Back to the big city
Like most visitors to Western British Columbia Wine Country, we headed back to the big city. Vancouver, currently ranked as the third best city in the world f (and first in North America) for quality of living is in an ideal location, flanked by the North Shore Mountains, urban beaches, seawater channels and the stunning, 1,000-acre Stanley Park. Plus, it’s so close to exotic and agricultural regions like Richmond and the Fraser Valley.
Greater Vancouver has a population of 2.5 million (650,000 in the city proper) and the best way to see the highlights with limited time is the efficient hop-on, hop-off bus services. Our narrated tour was almost three hours long and included a full circle of the city: Stanley Park, Granville Island, Chinatown and Gastown.
We stayed at the centrally located Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver and as expected, everything was of top quality. The hotel is in a great location for cruisers as it’s an easy, short walk downhill (or by inexpensive taxi) to the Vancouver Cruise Terminal at Canada Place. Very busy (especially in the summer with cruises to Alaska) but with Canadian efficiency, it was an easy facility to navigate.
At the end of our wine country trip, we reached the cruise terminal to board Holland America’s Eurodam, heading not north but south to San Diego and Mexico, with high expectations and more time to travel. But that’s another story…
*Guest contributors John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Photo credits: All photos by John and Sandra Nowlan, except lead photo
Disclosure: The authors thank Destination British Columbia for the logistical support for their trip.
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