On a typical grey day in early May I spent an afternoon touring three wineries, a bistro, and a chocolate shop in the Comox Valley with a media group as we sampled delicious treats from some of the region’s best local producers. The trip was hosted by Tourism Vancouver Island and when we reached Courtenay and Comox we were joined by Gaetane Palardy of Island Gourmet Trails.
From bison to honey, scallops and chocolate, the Comox Valley has a diverse range of producers and farmers. Gaetane takes groups around to local culinary hot spots where guests are treated like VIPs, often getting behind-the-scenes tours and tastings that go above and beyond the regular visitors’ experience.
Gaetane’s knowledge is vast, being a well-traveled chef and educator, and she shares fascinating information about each producer while you’re en-route to their location in either Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland, Royston, Black Creek, or Parksville/Qualicum. She joined our group for an afternoon and led us to five destinations: Avenue Bistro in Comox, 40 Knots Estate Winery in Comox, Hot Chocolates in Downtown Courtenay, Nature’s Way Farm/Blue Moon Winery in Courtenay, and Coastal Black Winery at Black Creek.
Location: 2064 Comox Avenue, Comox, BC
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Our tour began at Avenue Bistro, the second restaurant venture in the Comox Valley for husband and wife team Trent McIntyre and Sandra Viney. At Avenue, the sister location to downtown Courtenay’s very popular Atlas Cafe, we were treated to a bounty of oysters, mussels and clams from Baynes Sound and the surrounding area.
As a bonus, we also met with Matthew Wright, Executive Director of the BC Shellfish Festival which takes place each year in Comox. This meeting wasn’t a part of the official culinary tour with Gaetane but it was an informative introduction to the area’s shellfish resources and culture.
40 Knots Winery
Location: 2400 Anderton Road, Comox, BC
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Arriving at 40 Knots we had time for a quick tour and tasting at the 24-acre winery which is named after the marine winds that can blow stormy breezes through its vineyard. Their wines are light and crisp, with the 40 Knots Whitecaps being a standout for me. It blends Pinot Gris and Schoenberger with a sweet and fruity pear, honey, and ginger blend on the palette. Their Rose and the Sprindrift Brut were lovely and light as well.
Hot Chocolates & Cake Bread Bakery
Location: 368 5th Street, Courtenay, BC
I have visited Hot Chocolates before as Courtenay is the hometown of one of my closest friends. I’ve also been told many times that it’s the place to go when you’re in town as they serve up house-made chocolate treats for all occasions, unique chocolate creations, truffles, and baked goods. Our group donned some hair nets and got a tour behind the scenes, where the chocolate magic happens, as they were ramping up production of their artisan chocolates for Mother’s Day.
Natures Way Farm & Blue Moon Winery
Location: 4905 Darcy Road, Courtenay, BC
We ducked into the tasting room at Blue Moon Winery to sample some of their specialty berry wines and ciders, and to hear the story of how George Ehrler and Marla Limousin a winery on their organic farm in 2009.
Right next to the tasting room they have a full demonstration kitchen for cooking classes in which Gaetane also participates and hosts. It’s from the refrigerator’s freezer that Marla pulled some chocolate cups into which our Blue Moon Dark Side blackberry port was poured for tasting — talk about a match made in heaven! Other samples on the tour included the Blue Moon Sirius cider, Blue Moon Soleil which consists of a nine-apple blend, and the Blue Moon Singularity which is a dry blackberry table wine.
Coastal Black Winery & Big D’s Honey
Location: 2186 B Endall Road, Black Creek, BC
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Hitting the highway we drove for about 15-20 minutes to the base of Mount Washington to reach Coastal Black, a massive 600-acre estate fruit winery. This family-run business could rival the amenities, wedding facilities, and land of some of the Okanagan’s largest wineries. They have 80 acres of blackberries grown on site, making them the largest cultivated blackberry farm in all of Canada.
When we arrived, they were installing an outdoor brick pizza oven, getting the patio bistro and venue rental spaces ready for the season. The O’brennan family has a lumber mill on-site as well where they have produced a series of beautifully milled fixtures and winery features like its immense wooden doors. Coastal Black produces a variety of berry wines, mead, and beeswax/honey products which are offered for sampling in their tasting room (a converted dairy barn).
Island Gourmet Trails
The true value I find with the tour is that you don’t have to bring your car across to the island if you want to explore and have a culinary adventure. You can take a float plane or walk onto the ferry, then book a tour that will take you around to farms, wineries, shops, and restaurants to sample island delicacies. Ticket prices include transportation, picnics, tastings, and entrance fees where applicable. To find out more, follow Gaetane and Island Gourmet Trails on Facebook.