Sea Star Rising

A handful of wineries has sprung up on BC’s Gulf Islands over the last few years. Yet, none have impressed as much as Sea Star Estate Farm & Vineyards. The picturesque winery is perched on a bluff on North Pender Island (between Vancouver and Victoria). Its vines seem to march right down to the ocean, with stunning views across to Saturna Island.

In a relatively short time, this small winery has won plenty of accolades for its consistently well made wines. How come? Essentially, it’s all about grape and place. From the outset, Sea Star has resolutely focused on varieties that make sense for the sometimes fickle climate.

To open a winery anywhere takes boundless courage, not a little cash and a healthy dollop of good luck. But to open a winery on a Gulf Island takes even more effort. Everything has to come in and go out by at least one ferry, and sometimes two. And finding reliable year round labour can also be challenging. Never mind. Sea Star has more than overcome all challenges.

Now comes news that the winery is under contract to buy 77 acre Saturna Island Family Estate Winery. With 44 acres under vine, this is indeed an exciting development. The neighbouring island is just a 10 minute boat ride away.

 

Saturna is a just short hop across the water from Sea Star (image courtesy of Colliers)

Saturna background

Saturna has an interesting Vancouver connection. The original vineyards were hand planted by the late Jean-Luc Bertrand, who opened Le Gavroche. He later co-owned ‘Le Gav’ for many years with Manuel Ferreira. (Manuel now co-owns and operates Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek).

Jean-Luc was looking for something to do beyond the restaurant business. Seeing the BC wine industry blossom, he encouraged lawyer Larry Page to buy the Saturna property. Jean-Luc took leave and headed off to wine school in Europe. When he returned he went to work planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Despite much valiant effort, Saturna never really made it. The winery first went on the market in 2011 and finally closed in 2015.

Sea Star owner David Goudge is pretty excited about the purchase, which should be finaalised any day now.

One reason is that he’s thrilled to have access to more Pinot Noir. Plus, the fact that it’s from the Gulf Islands and just across  the channel, is even better.
“We can’t come close to what our market needs at the moment,” he says.

“There are two different lots. And even though they’ve had no love or attention for four years they’re in excellent shape,” he says.

He’s also happy to have more Pinot Gris, a small amount of Gewurztraminer, Pinot Meunier—and a whole lot of Chardonnay.

That Chardonnay offers a unique opportunity.

“People ask us all the time if we are going to make bubble,” he says.

Saturna made sparkling in the past. It would be only logical if this was part of the plan.

My guess is it will be.

Along with a handful of others in the region, Sea Star is a pace-setter. Their wines are a true indication of what can be achieved through good winemaking and fastidious sourcing of the right varieties. Almost all of their fruit comes from Pender Island—and soon from neighbouring Saturna.

Sea star wines

Reviews

Here’s a run down on Sea Star’s current releases. Most are sold out at the winery. Track them down at better wine stores and restaurants.

Sea Star Pinot Gris 2016 (Vancouver Island). Lifted notes of green apple, pear and apple skin. A generous palate of stone fruit, citrus and tangerine, a luscious lingering, zesty finish. Whole cluster grapes from Cherry Point Vineyards. $22 92 pts.

Sea Star Stella Maris 2016 (Southern Gulf Islands). White flower, honey and slight rose petal top. A crisp palate of lychee and citrus with well balanced acidity. Juicy and luscious with a touch of minerality before a crisp dry finish. $24 91 pts.

Sea Star Ortega 2016 (Southern Gulf Islands). Ortega is—or should be—Vancouver Island’s secret weapon. The few who choose to make it do so well, including this producer. Aromas of citrus, nectarine, gooseberry and pink grapefruit. Well balanced fruit and acidity on a focused mid palate. Complex layers of spicy hints and lingering zesty notes. One of the best examples of what should be Vancouver Island’s flagship varietal. $20, 92 pts.

Sea Star Blanc de Noir 2016. (Made from Pender Island vinifera plus grapes from Beaumont Winery.) Pretty salmon colour in the glass. Up front red fruit and well defined varietal character, with strawberry, melon and cherry notes supported by balanced acidity. Crisp and clean with very good length. $24, 90 pts.

Sea Star Pinot Noir Reserve 2014 (Southern Gulf Islands). Here’s why Sea Star reckons it can use more Pinot. The Saturna purchase will make a big difference. Up front strawberry and cherry notes, supple and rounded on the palate. Measured French oak and well integrated, fine tannins through the soft but well structured and gently spicy close. Organically grown grapes from the Pender estate. $30, 91 pts.

Previous Sea Star reviews here