February 4, 2021
The history of our local wineries begins with the first family of Vancouver Island wine-makers.
The Zanatta family patriarch, Dionisio Zanatta, started planting grape vines around the family swimming pool as a hobby in the 1960’s. In 1970 he expanded his plantings with hybrid grapes obtained from the Government of Canada’s Plant Health Care Centre in Saanich.
Ten years later, Dionisio was offered an opportunity to pioneer the island wine industry. From 1981 through 1986, Zanatta volunteered an acre from his family farm near Duncan to what was known as the Becker Experiment, a provincial government program to test grape varieties for their suitability to the island climate and terroir..
Although numerous grape varieties were planted, only two dozen survived. Of the survivors, a few flourished in the soils and climate of the Cowichan Valley. The stage was set for today’s thriving Vancouver Island viticulture industry.
At the end of the experiment, Dionisio was confident enough in the results to plant five more acres of vines on his farm near Duncan.
Dionisio’s daughter, Loretta, embraced her father’s wine-making interest and went off to study enology (wine-making) in Italy. Upon her return in 1992, the father-daughter team officially opened Vigneti Zanatta, Vancouver Island’s very first commercial vineyard in 65 years..
Loretta brought home with her a passion for the art of making wine by the champagne method. Thanks to her work, the first Vancouver Island champagne-style sparkling wine was produced.
Zanatta’s Fantasia continues to be one of the topsparkling-wine sellers on our shelves at Lucky’s Liquor Store. Crafted from the hardy Cayuga hybrid grape, this dry sparkling wine has the uncanny fragrance of Granny Smith apples.
A regional white wine favourite, Zanatta’s Damasko, was created out of necessity.
Auxerrois vines had flourished in the Becker Experiment, so Dionisio planted much Auxerrois in his new vineyard. Tasty though Auxerrois might be as a full-bodied flavourful wine, consumers did not embrace it.
Faced with a glut of Auxerrois, the Zanatta team began blending Auxerrois with other grapes to find a wine that would sell. The lush fruity Damasko we now enjoy, with its aromas/flavours of lychee, peach, green apple and pear is a blend of Auxerrois with three other varietals. With its slight effervescence and sweetness, Damasko has become a local favourite.
Zanatta is not just a maker and vendor of wine. Coming up on Sunday, November 27 this a Champagne Tea Party in their restaurant, Vinoteca, a few kilometres southwest of Duncan. This fundraiser for the Cowichan Valley Breakfast Program offers a twist on afternoon tea. Sparkling wine in the afternoon seems like a most civil way to raise funds for a good cause!