The Savour Cowichan Festival

Vancouver Island's food and wine renaissance
  • Aug 16, 2015
  • 359 words
  • 2 minutes
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Canadians can agree on this: It often feels like the West Coast has a bit of an edge on the rest of us. While we’re secretly cheered by the cliché that Vancouver is perpetually rainy and grey, that’s quickly undercut by the reality that B.C.’s capital, Victoria, has the mildest winters in the country — and more than its share of sunshine all year round. And yes, the blossoms and bulbs really are in bloom by late February.

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Then there’s the Cowichan Valley. The crescent-shaped, 3,500-square-kilometre valley stretches from southern Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast with its ancient rainforests to its gentler southeastern coast, an hour or so north of Victoria. Bordered by the Salish Sea, the region has gorgeous coastline and a balmy Mediterranean climate with pockets of microclimates arid enough to encourage prickly pear cactus. The rich land is fed by heritage river systems and dotted with hundreds of long-established farms, as well as dozens of vineyards.

As the trend in local food and drink has gathered steam, the area has attracted growing numbers of organic and sustainable agriculture champions as well as culinary artists (the late cookbook author James Barber farmed in the valley during his retirement) and vintners. Fine wines, fresh cranberries, kiwis, lavender and hazelnuts and a profusion of specialty products, from balsamic vinegars, preserves, honey and organic chocolate to buffalo mozzarella from Canada’s first water buffalo dairy are just part of what gives this region something to celebrate.

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And celebrate it does. For 10 days from Sept. 25 to Oct. 4, the community pays joyous tribute to the valley’s cornucopia of locally produced food and drink at the Savour Cowichan Valley Festival. With 40 artisanal food and beverage producers hosting more than 60 epicurean events throughout the valley, from tastings, cooking classes and winemakers’ dinners to demonstrations by top chefs, it’s an annual event that draws residents and visitors alike. While some come for the food and drink, others stick around for the First Nation culture, the artisans and the hiking, boating, kayaking and birding.

And we’re all invited.

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