Wine Culture Magazine

Church & State Wines offers a taste of both Island and Okanagan

From its perch on the Black Sage Bench, Church & State Wines offers a beautiful view over the vineyards. Photos courtesy of Church & State Wines

Unique in B.C., Church & State is the sole winery with entities on both Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan Valley. While the winery operates tasting rooms in both Brentwood Bay and Oliver, each sports its own identity and emphasis. 

With its maritime-influenced setting just north of Victoria, the Brentwood Bay vineyard is naturally inclined toward cool climate viticulture. The vines were originally planted in 2000 (by now-vanished Victoria Estate Winery) to varieties with sparkling wine in mind.

Recently that dream came to fruition, as Church & State has launched its dedicated line of traditional method and Charmat styles, made by Arnaud Thierry, who brings extensive experience from Champagne as well as Bordeaux. These wines are also the perfect match for special events—weddings in particular—that make up a busy schedule for the winery, in addition to picnics and tastings by appointment.

However, most of the company’s winery operations are Okanagan-based, on the sun-soaked Black Sage Bench across from Oliver, where plantings are devoted mainly to Bordeaux and Rhône varieties. 

Like most others, with the arrival of COVID-19, Church & State was obliged to quickly re-evaluate its tasting protocols. Now, after a busy couple of years that have seen a significant increase in direct-to-consumer shipments, the move back to in-person tasting is well under way.

The Church & State Estate Tasting includes a Riedel glass to take home.

According to Church & State operations manager Caroline Lachapelle, the pandemic also offered an unexpected, and much-needed, opportunity to change the industry’s narrative. In a post pandemic world the visitor is more engaged and has higher expectations than before. Hence, the winery has reacted accordingly, “not only to change the customer experience, but also re-shape our overall employee culture,” says Lachapelle. 

Church & State Oliver offers two “quite wonderful” contrasting tasting experiences, she says. (Reservations recommended for both.)

 “One is the Terroir Tasting Vineyard Tour, where the visitor can taste single-vineyard and varietal wines in their element—right beside the estate Coyote Bowl vineyard, from where they were sourced.” On a stunning site situated just a few feet from the winery, access is also mainly paved and partly wheelchair accessible. 

“It gives people the opportunity to have a little bit more of an in-depth, educational tasting, of touching, smelling and feeling the whole experience,” says Lachapelle. “They also leave understanding what vine growth is like, what are clusters, how they look like and so on.” The Terroir Tasting Vineyard Tour lasts about 45 minutes and costs only $30 per person.

At the Oliver property, Church & State offers two distinctive tastings that allow guests to savour their sun-soaked wines and wine country surroundings.

Meanwhile, the benchmark Estate Tasting, just $15 per person, is a 30-minute, one-on-one experience led by a tasting room associate. It features a variety of estate series and vineyard collection wines, and guests will take home a branded Riedel glass.

“The average person who comes to the Okanagan doesn’t want a cattle ranch experience,” says Lachapelle, who adds, “They don’t want to be just pushed through: they want to be taken care of.”

The onus is also on the winery, as the employer, to offer the best possible working environment, she says. “Giving hosts the opportunity to engage personally with the guest for 30 minutes allows their true passion to really show through; to convey how they themselves think about the wines and our terroirs. 

“It’s never scripted. We don’t tell them what to say or give them talking points. They work with the information received during training and choose what to use based on what resonates with them,” adds Lachapelle. 

“Ultimately you get these wonderful symbiotic relationships that are created between the employee and the guests,” she says, adding with a laugh, “It doesn’t hurt that we have one of the best views  (especially for a picnic) anywhere in the Okanagan!”

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