Did you know film director James Cameron once owned a winery in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley? It is called Beaufort Winey and he and his wife Suzy were the owners of the winery for the last 7 years up until August 2021.
Mark Timmermans had been working with the Camerons since 2014. Winemaking was something new to him when he moved to Beaufort Winery from Duncan, where he was involved in farming at Providence Farm, a non-profit therapeutic community farm for people with different challenges and disabilities.
The Camerons were really keen on sustainable organic farming, and Mark and his wife Freya brought more than 25 years of farming experience in a variety of settings, and together they worked to transition to organic farming and practices as well as fully estate grown grapes. With the fruit of their hard labour, Beaufort Winey became the first vineyard on the Island to receive organic certification in 2019.
Even after the Camerons, Mark and Freya have kept the same farming ethos of “less inputs and more diversity” and the desire to keep the winery warm and inviting for people who pass through the door. On top of 10 varietals of grapes grown in the vineyard, Mark has planted crops like apples, hazelnuts, and garlic to help with the diversity and has planted cover crops between the vines as a way of helping to build the soil fertility.
Mark is also enthusiastic about compost! There is a pile of horse manure, wood chips, grasses, garlic cut offs and grape pomace that he proudly and passionately tracks the temperature daily to meet the certified organic standard.
“For organic compost, we need to keep it at 130°F for at least 4 days, then we stabilize it around 70°F. When you dig in, you feel the amount of life and microbes in here. I am just scratching the surface in terms of understanding the role of microbes and what they are able to do to bring nutrients to the plant and the soil. It is such a mind boggling world and so fascinating. What we are trying to achieve here is to get out of the mindset of just feeding the plant all the time- instead, we’re trying to improve and build the soil all the time.”
Considered a relatively northern location for wine making and with limited varietals of grapes that can be grown here, the winery is doing an excellent job highlighting the region’s unique cool climate terroir.
“Limited by a shorter growing season and fewer growing degree days, we have found our niche pretty quickly. Grapes have been grown on the Island since the 1980s. We have the luxury here of having really high levels of organic matter in the soil and we can do a good job with early ripening red varietals, even Pino Noir. Our wines have bright acidity and lighter alcohol. It is not as easy as in warmer climates, but we really craft the wine well to be refreshing, food friendly and approachable.”
Winemaker Freya carefully crafts the vintage in small batches for a unique expression of the Pacific Northwest’s cool coastal climate. Be it 100% Vancouver Island grown Pinot Noir (best serve chilled!), a bottle of Ça Beautage, which is a blend of 100% estate grown grapes or Cab Libre , a Vancouver Island single varietal red hybrid – they are all made for the Island, made for their climate and made for their soil.
It is no wonder that most Beaufort wines are consumed on the Island. The tasting room is now closed for the season, but that only gives us something to look forward to: planning a sailing trip and trying their boutique wines in the next season.
with Beaufort Winery
Q1: How was your summer 2021?
Freya (F): “It was warm! We were busy making sure the grapes weren’t water stressed. We have also sold more wines than we ever before, partly thanks to the changes to the tasting room format: we have shifted from a walk-in to appointment based model since June 2020. Our staff have done a great job at giving a personal experience to people, giving time for people to ask questions and educating people how the growing affects the wine.”
Q2: Climate change is one of the most pressing issues today. How have the recent wild fires affected your business or your approach to winemaking and farming?
F: “In recent years, it is hard to predict what June will bring so it is nice to have a numbers of varietals of grapes here. Building up the soil health is also an important hedge against the uncertainty of weather events. The healthier the plant is the better able they are to respond and even out the resiliency. We haven’t had to deal with wildfire implications in the winemaking here on the Island so far, though so we’re grateful for that.”
Q3: On top of the climate change, there is a pandemic. How do you see your winery evolving through the pandemic time and in a post pandemic world?
F: “Because we are a small team we have been able to work through and carry on. A sit down model and more intentional conversation with people in the tasting room have really worked out. A lot of people were sticking closer to home but they were branching out into their nearby places that they may not have been before. It was nice to have more people from the community come out and spend time with us here.”
Q4: What is the biggest joy working in a winery?
F: “Smells! It really is good smells all the time in the winery!”
Q5: If you were not in the wine industry, what would you be?
F: “I’ve thought about a knitting store! Actually, knitting is the way I have balanced the seasonality side of the winemaking. Fermentation is like a thing in motion and you are constantly worrying about so many processes. With knitting, you can decide what to make, when to make it or when to stop it. It is very therapeutic and hands-on, and I love the feel of the wool through my hands.”
Q6: What is your current favorite wine and how would you like to enjoy it?
F: “I especially enjoy Petite Milo. This is our first ever estate vintage, a hybrid made for Vancouver Island. You have this really bright acidity and green grassy aromas.
So many whites here are delicate, aromatic and floral but this one is kind of robust and edgy like some New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. I would enjoy it on its own, sitting down with good friends.”
Q8: How can people enjoy the Comox Valley in the fall?
F: “It is pretty beautiful in the fall in the Comox Valley. Oyster River has some great hiking trails just as rain starts and leaves start changing colours.”
Q9: How is this year’s harvest looking like?
F: “Big and clean! We’ve had only a little pressure from mildew. Without that pressure, we can let the grapes hang there and not worry about some rainy days before harvest, which is nice.”
Q10: In a few words, how would you best describe Beaufort Winery?
F: “A small and dedicated team working hard to craft great wines that really represent the region we are in.”