Venturi-Schulze is a highly original winery found in the recently designated sub-Geographical Indication (“sub-GI”) of the Cowichan Valley, located on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. Our discovery of Venturi-Schulze is a bit of a surprise: we are two British Columbians who had never heard of it until we discovered it in, of all places, the United States.
We were enjoying one of our all-time favourite, and certainly most original culinary experience, The 100 Mile Dinner at the Herbfarm. The Herbfarm is the incredible restaurant located in Woodinville, Washington that produces 12 to 14 differently themed dinners throughout the year to celebrate that particular season. Each dinner is a 9 or 10 course feast of the most delicious and innovative dishes paired perfectly with spectacular wines.
The 100 Mile Dinner is, in our view, the Herbfarm’s crowning achievement. Every molecule (not an overstatement) is sourced from within 100 miles from the chandelier that hangs in the middle of their dining room. The Cowichan Valley is just within that 100-mile radius. We were treated to 2 different Venturi-Schulze wines that night (a sparkling and a dessert wine) and we were blown away. We vowed to each other right then and there that we would make our way over to Vancouver Island to hear the Venturi-Schulze story first-hand.
What a story it turned out to be! Venturi-Schulze is the creation of Giordano Venturi and his wife Marilyn Venturi (nee Schulze), he originally from Italy and she from Australia. Giordano is the iconoclastic but extremely charming genius who emigrated from his home in Modena, Italy to British Columbia in 1967. Marilyn, equally brilliant, holds a degree in microbiology, performs all the lab tests and verifies the mathematical calculations in the winery.
Giordano, we are quite sure, would not disagree with the iconoclastic label, but we are almost as sure that he would argue the charming tag.
He is highly individualistic and has a firm grasp on his own opinions. Not opinionated, just self-assured and willing to voice his own thoughts, even if they may go against the grain. It is just what comes with a personality that is completely authentic. He told us about a period when he was studying for his Master of Wine designation, “I did the master of wine training for 3 years, I know what is considered “good” wine but I don’t agree. It depends on when you have it, who you have it with, your mood, etc.” We agree.
When Giordano first arrived in BC, he taught electronics and computers at Vancouver Technical School and pursued his passion for wine as both a consumer and as a hobby viticulturist, experimenting with different varieties on a quarter acre in his backyard. The switch from hobbyist to full-time winemaker occurred after he and Marilyn spent 3 days vacationing in the Cowichan Valley and fell in love with the area. Two months later they bought the farm where their winery and vineyards are today and began planting vines.
The Cowichan Valley is truly at the edge of viticultural extremes.
It is a cool, wet climate, and really nothing like BC’s other major wine region, the Okanagan Valley. The Okanagan is hot and dry, and its most southern areas can achieve up to 2500 degree days in a vintage. (A degree day is a measure of heat units accumulated during the growing season. For context, the Southern Okanagan has almost the same number of degree days as parts of Napa Valley). The Cowichan Valley often produces about 1000 degree days during the season. Ripening grapes is extremely difficult and ripening many varieties is virtually impossible. The amount of rain and dampness can bring all sorts of disease pressure to the vineyards. When Giordano and Marilyn began planting their vineyard, they were just the third winery in the Cowichan Valley. A very brave undertaking, indeed.
Viticulture in such a unique climate requires lots of differences from the Okanagan and other wine growing regions. First, you have to plant the right grape varieties that can survive in this climate. That means thinner-skinned grapes that require less heat units to ripen. Giordano planted varieties such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Auxerrois, Madeleine Sylvaner, Siegerrebe, Schönburger, Ortega and Kerner.
Giordano has great respect for this land and for the environment in general, so he didn’t want to use irrigation. “We said from the very beginning we had the belief that water would be the most precious thing that we could possibly think of in the future. And that’s why from day 1…we dry farmed”.
To assist the grapes to ripen they developed their own trellising system. Traditionally, vines are trained with the cordons (the branches coming off the trunk) running horizontally with canes trained to run vertically off of them, a method know as vertical shoot positioning. At Venturi-Schulze there do not appear to be any cordons with the shoots all trained upwards and rising much higher than most vines. Giordano found that this method maximized his vines exposure to the sun which gave his grapes the best chance to ripen.
We walked the vineyard with Giordano and his stepdaughter, Michelle Schulze. Michelle has clearly inherited the intelligence and work ethic of her mother and stepfather, very capably managing the vineyard and working closely with Giordano making the wine. The vineyard is a beautiful place, located on a hill with a rolling slope down to the valley and surrounded by the local mountains. Michelle told us about the soil beneath their vineyards and what surveyors had found: “They did test holes down there and we found the house is sitting on 40 feet of sand.” She points toward the other direction and says, “Then they logged the surrounding area and found that it was solid clay, so lots of variety. Before we planted, this was all a coniferous forest so the pH of the soil was extremely acidic which wasn’t suitable for growing grapes so the provincial grape expert came in and said you need to dump 30 tonnes of lime up here which we didn’t want to do. So that’s why we planted those different varieties—to see what would do well. Most of them did really well.”
She explained to us the benefit of dry farming. “Because we didn’t irrigate, those roots went down through the acidic soil and they found the limestone below. We didn’t know the limestone was there for probably 12 years until a biologist came through and used this property as a place to study highway pollution. There’s a big creek that dips down and you can actually see the cut of the soil and she said ‘oh you have limestone in here’ and we were like ‘oh yeah, totally we knew that! (which we didn’t). Had we irrigated to start with, those roots likely wouldn’t have gone down that deep and found the limestone, so it ended up working out really well.”
After our tour of their vineyard, Giordano and Michelle took us down to the tasting room that is housed in a corner of the building right at the entrance to their property. It is a very cozy tasting room with a long bar running the length of the room and a display wall showing the different wines and vinegars they offer for sale. We enquired about the vinegars and Giordano offered to show us his vinegary.
Touring the vinegary was a very special treat indeed, one that Giordano seldom offers up. He told us how he makes traditional balsamic vinegars, in exactly the same way it is made back in his home of Modena. The room is full of small oak barrels that are lined up in rows in various sizes. Marilyn explained that the dozens of smaller balsamic vinegar barrels in the traditional series housing their 1990 Legacy Balsamic Vinegar (extra-vecchio) were custom made for them by a Modenese cooper from cherry, chestnut, acacia, ash and oak. The largest barrels in the Venturi-Schulze vinegary are French Oak, range from 225L to 2500L, and hold the younger vinegar.
Balsamic vinegar is made by boiling down white grapes, including the skins and stems, to reach a sugar concentration of 30% or more. It is then transferred to small oak barrels where it ages. As it ages, it partially evaporates. Once enough evaporation has occurred, Giordano does a topping-up process the smallest, oldest barrel in each series is topped up from the next in line, which is topped up from the next, and so on. This annual process continues for 12 or more years which increases the concentration and the flavor intensity to a point where Giordano deems it ready to go into a bottle. We tasted some of his vinegars and they were easily the most intense, most delicious vinegars we have ever tasted.
As the following tasting notes will show, Venturi-Schulze continues to produce truly extraordinary wines from this harsh climate. Definitely worth a visit anytime you are on Vancouver Island.
Note: Each of these wines represent particularly good value for their price.
2014 Venturi-Schulze Kerner
This was our first introduction to Kerner. It turns out that Kerner is a cross of Riesling with the red grape Trollinger originally bred in Germany in 1929. This cool climate variety breaks away from the mold in that it has more body than many of the aromatic whites that originated in Germany. In this 2014 we get very juicy grapefruit with hints of citrus and green apple and maybe even a touch of pineapple. The body is medium+ and it has a very pleasing texture. At age 6 this wine shows lots of complexity but certainly no signs of breaking down. Delicious!
Very Good/Excellent ($23.10 +tax at the winery)
2019 Venturi-Schulze Kerner
The 2019 might even be better! Not yet released, it is very mineral in its flavour profile and has a wonderful aromatic mix of peach, green apple and wet stones. Giordano did not ferment this vintage to fully dry and there is about 10 grams of residual sugar which adds texture to the wine but does not make it “sweet”. Worth checking back to their website to catch some once they decide to release it!
Excellent (Not yet released)
2014 Venturi-Schulze Terracotta
This was an unusual flavour profile for us: cooked vegetables, apple skins and melon all came up for us at various times as we sniffed and swirled this wine. It took a bit of getting used to but count us among its list of fans! There is good acidity which gives this wine backbone and a refreshing, juicy profile.
Very Good/Excellent (28.10 +tax at the winery)
2015 Venturi-Schulze Pinot Noir
Medium/light red in colour, this elegant and finesse driven Pinot Noir has intense notes of strawberry, red cherry, baking spices and hints of vanilla.
The finish is long and smooth and keeps us coming back for more. Very complex with earth notes and hints of black pepper. The finish is long and juicy. This Pinot has old world class and is likely to see its 10th birthday in fine shape.
Excellent ($45.10 +tax at the winery)
2016 Venturi-Schulze Pinot Noir
Not yet released but you will definitely want to keep an eye on their website to grab some once it is. Very different in profile from the 2015. This wine is all about texture and hedonistic delights! Dark red in colour with medium+ body, medium tannins and plenty of mineral and spice to go with the dark cherry and plum fruit profile. Consumers may be divided as to which is the better vintage; the 2015 might be more old world with its finesse and the 2016 might be more new world with its power. Both are delicious examples of well-made Pinot Noir.
Excellent (Not yet released)
2011 Venturi-Schulze Brandenberg #3
This is a completely delicious dessert wine that offers up sweet caramel and dark honey flavours on an unctuous body that richly envelopes your palate. This wine is all about pleasure and with just 8.8% alcohol, it is very easy to drink and surprisingly rich in texture. A real show-stopper!
Excellent+ ($36.60 at the winery)
4235 Vineyard Road
Cobble Hill, BC Canada
GPS coordinates: 48.7186446, -123.618936
Phone: (250) 743-5630