Saturday, July 20, 2024

Reimagined Saanichton winery embraces ‘Neighbourly’ spirit in the peninsula community


Neighbourly Wine Co. opened their doors and their patio to the people of the Saanich Peninsula back in April of this year and have been working hard ever since to showcase what wine can taste like when grown on the island

The winery is located at 6409 Oldfield Road. It used to be the site of Symphony Vineyard which was open for 12 seasons and has been growing grapes for over 20 years.   

The previous owners wanted to retire and sell the business, on the condition that the winery would be taken over by a young couple who shared the same enthusiasm for wine as they did. 

They found exactly that in Mic Silvestri and Jonny Bernard, who caught wind of Symphony selling the business and without hesitation moved to the island to take over. 

Neighbourly’s origins

Silvestri began studying wine in Ontario back in 2017 with a focus on the agricultural and scientific background a producer needs to know, whereas Bernard gained his knowledge from working in restaurants serving wine. 

“The husband and wife that owned Symphony, the husband grew up on the property and it used to be over 20 acres of loganberries when he was a kid,” Silvestri told Victoria Buzz. 

She added that the property has since shrunk to 10 acres, and 20 years ago transitioned one acre to grapes so they could try their hands at producing wine for themselves. 

“After doing that for 10 years, they opened up, built the winery and planted another acre and that’s when Symphony opened.”

Neighbourly Wine Co. plot (Curtis Blandy/Victoria Buzz)

Silvestri says that Symphony and its surrounding community meant so much to the previous owners, and she and Bernard feel lucky to have had the opportunity to take over the business and continue their legacy going forward, but first they had to work the vineyard.

“The plan was that we would work for Symphony for a year or two to kind of learn how they operate and get to know the client base, introduce ourselves to everybody and then, with fair warning to all those loyal customers, we let them know it was not going to be Symphony anymore and that Jonny and I would be taking over,” she explained. 

Silvestri told Victoria Buzz that the name ‘Neighbourly’ came to her and Bernard almost immediately as one of their first ideas. 

“Naming is obviously a scary, huge commitment,” she laughed. “It came on pretty early just based on the feeling we got from the place and the way we felt on the Saanich Peninsula.”

“The people who came into Symphony were so kind and welcoming to us and it was just obvious that they cared about what was around them and supporting local.”

She added that the concept of being neighbourly is exactly the way they wanted to approach wine service and how they want people to feel in their space. 

After trying to think of other names, she and Bernard struggled to think of one that topped Neighbourly, so that is what they stuck with. 

The vineyard and tasting room

A sign on Oldfield Road tells people looking for a glass of wine to turn off into a small parking lot surrounded by trees and foliage with the tasting room’s doors open.

The tasting room is stocked with their wines, wares and locally-made snacks to take out into the luscious backyard garden patio in a picnic basket.

There, people have the choice to sit at a table, or they can opt to take a picnic blanket out with them, of which Neighbourly always keeps a basket stocked. 

Neighbourly Wine Co. upper part of garden patio space (Curtis Blandy/Victoria Buzz)

Silvestri says Neighbourly is considered quite a small operation in the grand scheme of things. In a year, they are able to produce around 1,000 cases of wine by her estimate. 

She says this is just enough to keep them stocked up through the season, supply some restaurants and retailers as well as hold on to some wines for the holidays. 

They grow eight different grape varietals spread out through seven plots scattered across the peninsula, including Ortega, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, among others.

With these grapes, they currently produce and serve seven white wines and two reds, all of which are unique and showcase the Vancouver Island terroir. 

Neighbourly’s wine

Silvestri says the Ortega wine is definitely a favourite amongst the community. 

“Because it is something you don’t really see coming for the Okanagan and I use that reference because a lot of people’s experience with BC wine is the Okanagan, it’s just there’s a lot more over there to choose from and Ortega is just something you don’t see there,” she told Victoria Buzz.  

For this reason Silvestri says that Ortega has become known as the “island variety”, and it is known to grow really well in Vancouver Island’s climate because it ripens a lot earlier than a lot of other grapes that flourish here. 

“It’s aeromatic, it’s fruit-forward, but we don’t make anything sweet,” said Silvestri. “Ours is fermented dry…it’s super refreshing and it’s a nice little sunny day wine.”

Another of Neighbourly’s wines Silvestri chose to spotlight is their Pinot Gris. 

“Pinot Gris is so cool on Vancouver Island, it’s kind of the opposite to the Ortega, because Pinot Gris grows all over the place and most people have heard of it before,” she said. 

“But when we pour it for people you get a nice little surprise because ours has that kind of rosy hue, that pink colour and that’s just from about 18 hours of skin contact before we press.”

Silvestri says by doing this, she and Bernard feel like it just gives it a bit more personality and makes it a bit more memorable for people.

“You go to pour the Pinot Gris and people are like, ‘Wait, I didn’t order the Rose,’” she laughed. 

“[Our Pinot Gris] is just super refreshing, crisp, clean… It kind of screams cool climate in a glass to me.”

In addition to their seven whites and two reds, Neighbourly will be releasing both a red and white ‘Garden Party’ blend before the end of summer. 

Neighbourly Wine Co. wine (Curtis Blandy/Victoria Buzz)

Those interested in trying Neighbourly Wine Co.’s various products can do so at the tasting room, or they can find some wines at some Victoria restaurants, including Marilena, End Dive and the Courtney Room. 

They can also be found at Charlotte & the Quail in Saanich and at the downtown Victoria retailer Vintage Spirits. 

Their tasting room is only open weekly, Friday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. for the spring and summer seasons.

Neighbourly Wine Co. owners, Mic Silvestri and Jonny Bernard (Curtis Blandy/Victoria Buzz)
Curtis Blandy

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