Merridale Cidery & Distillery

Like so many tourism businesses on Vancouver Island, Merridale Cidery & Distillery began with a desire to leave city living behind and return to the simplicity of country life. Janet Docherty and Rick Pipes had accomplished quite a bit in their professional lives when the inspiration to start a cidery struck. At the time there was very little by way of locally grown cider and they spotted a niche that was needing to be filled. They purchased property in the Cowichan Valley, considered by many to be the bread basket of Vancouver Island and got down to work.

Merridale Distillery Building

Rick put his education in fermentation and distillation to work, first with creating cider and then a few years later expanding to gin, brandy and even vodka. In fact, in 2013 they became the first craft distillery certified in BC. But it wasn’t just agriculture that these two had in mind. They understood the importance of creating an experience for their customers that went beyond their product. They wanted to explore the full potential of their venture, and share Merridale as a whole with their costomers.

The Farmhouse Eatery with performer Dylan Stone

They made connections with the local tourism industry and opened their property up to tours and special events. They built a restaurant, gift shop, tasting room, and most surprising of all, set up two luxury yurts on the property that can be rented by guests. Today, Janet and Rick sit on several tourism-related boards on Vancouver Island, assisting in development of the tourism industry.

One of two luxury yurts that can be rented

Thinking about taking a trip to Merridale Cidery? Why not try our Taste of Cowichan tour!

St. Jean’s Cannery

St Jean’s

Whether you’ve lived on the west coast your whole life or you’re coming here for the first time, you’ve gotta try the fish! What better place to do so then at the largest salmon cannery in all of southern BC? St. Jean’s Cannery is well-known for their wild salmon, both smoked or candied. They come in a variety of flavors, making their gift shop well worth the visit. In addition, St. Jean’s has a variety of other seafood products such as shellfish, tuna, chowder and sauces, just to name a few.

St Jean’s was founded by Armand St. Jean, a young man from Quebec that made his way out to Vancouver Island with his family in the 1950’s. In the smoke house he built himself, Armand would often smoke oysters using techniques he learned back east. He would then package the oysters and sell them at local bars to hungry patrons. It didn’t take long for this small enterprise to grow into a proper cannery.

Armand St. Jean

Armand continued to run the business alongside his sons, and after a showcasing their products at Expo ’86, the family was able to open a larger facility. St. Jean’s also expanded their depots on the mainland and made connections with the sport fishing lodges along the coast. After purchasing Raincoast Trading, a brand dedicated to sustainable fishing practices, the majority shares in St. Jean’s were purchased by a group of five West Coast Nations. The Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have always played a dual role as both stewards and participants in Vancouver Island’s seafood economy, and their values of sustainability were shared by St. Jean’s, leading to a fruitful partnership.

Cheers to a new partnership

Today St. Jean’s continues to build upon their reputation for sustainable, quality seafood. On their website you can purchase frozen or canned seafood products that are guaranteed hand-packed. However, their facility in south Nanaimo is well-worth the visit. The Smokehouse gift shop provides their full range of products, including a host of gift options. If you’re lucky, you might get a sample or two!

Thinking about visiting St. Jean’s? Why not try our Taste of Nanaimo tour?

Off the Eaten Path Dinner Series – Part 1

The difficulty with managing a tourism business on Vancouver Island isn’t that there aren’t enough opportunities, it’s that there are just too many to choose from! Between the amazing wineries, world-class restaurants, and beautiful scenery, deciding where to go or what to showcase can be a challenge. There are, quite simply, too many amazing businesses to partner with.

Beautiful dinner made by the team at Hilltop Bistro

We had this in mind when we sought to create our Off the Eaten Path dinner series, a Farm to Table venture set in different locations. The series, we hoped, would be a way to provide rare and intimate dining experiences by partnering with local businesses. Farm to Table dining experiences have become popular and are in high demand. People want something unique and different to participate in, while at the same time supporting local agriculture.

The Hilltop team hard at work

We approached a few friends about our idea and it wasn’t long before it began to take shape. The team at Hilltop Bistro have created one of the most sought-after dining experiences in Nanaimo. We knew that they’d create an unforgettable menu for our guests while sourcing many of their ingredients from local farmers. The Chateau Wolff Estate Winery has a beautiful property in rural Nanaimo facing the southern slopes of Mount Benson. This lovely property would prove to be the perfect setting for what turned out to be a wonderful night.

Tables set and ready

While we set up the tents, laid out the silverware, went bushwacking for the salal centrepieces and watered the flower pots, clouds loomed overhead. The threat of rain had all of us on edge as we toiled away. While we were determined to see our vision through, we thought bringing a few blankets along might not be a bad idea.

Chateau Wolff Estate overlooking Mt. Benson

But of course, in the end, there was nothing to worry about. The dinner was a masterpiece of west coast fare, made with plenty of seafood, local seasonal ingredients and prepared with the utmost care. Chateau Wolff were ever the hospitable hosts, happy to share their piece of paradise with our guests. As for ourselves, we can’t thank our friends enough for all of their hard work and we look forward to the next one!

If you’re interested in hearing about Part 2 of our Off the Eaten Path dinner series, the date and venue have been set! It will be taking place at Cedar Valley Hop Yards on August 16th, so be sure to follow us on instagram and facebook for updates!

WildPlay Elements Park

For those seeking a thrill, it doesn’t get much better than WildPlay! Beginning in March of 2006, the company took over operations of North America’s first bungee jumping bridge, located south of Nanaimo over the Nanaimo river. It’s estimated that over 250,000 people have bungee jumped off of the bridge without incident, making it a popular and well-known attraction. WildPlay soon expanded their park to include what’s known as the Primal Swing which involves being flung from the bungee bridge through the canyon on a harness swing.

the primal swing

For those looking for more controlled adventures, the canyon also plays host to their zipline tour of the Nanaimo river, which includes two flights of 300ft and 600ft, and remains the only zipline of its kind on Vancouver Island. The aerial adventure course takes place in the trees and includes multiple levels, each one reaching higher than the last. These obstacle courses allow the participants the thrill of risk-taking while in the security of a safety harness, and include ropes swings, smaller zip lines, climbing obstacles, swaying footholds, and a host of other challenges that add to the thrill.

aerial adventures await

While WildPlay is known for it’s fun and challenging aerial elements, it’s also well-known for its charity work. The bungee bridge has long been host to a fundraising bungee known as the Naked Bungee for BCSS. The purpose of this one-day event is to increase awareness for those living with schizophrenia and psychosis while reducing the stigma. This fundraiser has partnered with the Victoria branch of the BC Schizophrenia Society for the past eleven years to provide this fun and educational event.

With so many attractions for all ages and skill levels it’s no wonder they’ve found success in so many different markets. Since their opening twelve years ago, WildPlay has expanded their locations to Victoria, Kelowna, Maple Ridge, Niagara Falls and New York state. If you find yourself in any of these areas, why not stop by and get in touch with your wild side?

bungee jumping at wildplay elements park

Horne Lake Caves

Most people, even Vancouver Island residents themselves, would be surprised to learn that the Island is roughly the same size in km2 as Taiwan. Formed hundreds of million years ago, this large and ancient piece of land holds many exciting secrets beneath the surface. With more limestone caves located on the Island than all of the Canadian provinces combined, Vancouver Island holds the highest concentration of caves in North America (over 1,000 discovered so far).

Horne Lake Cave trail

These caves are the hosts of delicate ecosystems, preserved over millennia. Unfortunately, due to a lack of education on the importance of these underground systems, industrial activities such as mining and logging have put these systems in jeopardy. Further degradation occurred in the early days of the 20th century from tourists visiting the caves without understanding the impact their presence could have. Because of this, a community effort was made to protect the Horne Lake area from further degradation. In the 1970’s the Horne Lake area was granted provincial park status, entrusting it with protection from industrial activity. In the 1980’s a management plan was created to further protect the caves from vandalism.

Guided cave tour

Today, Horne Lake Caves is well-known as one of Vancouver Island’s best eco-tourism sites. Emphasis is placed on environmental stewardship, education and personal challenge. There are guided options for a variety of ages and abilities within the many caves. From a quick one hour tour down Canada’s only cave slide, to a five hour tour of the Riverbend cave ending in a seven storey rappel down the Rainbarrel waterfall.

Limestone cave formations

In addition to the caving activities, the community of Horne Lake is also host to a variety of other outdoor activities including hiking, rock rappelling, swimming, and fishing to name a few. Interested in checking out Horne Lake Caves for yourself? Why not try our Caves, Waterfalls & Old Growth Forests.

Chateau Wolff Estate Winery & Vineyard

Chateau Wolff

Vancouver Island seems to attract those looking to follow their passions. In view of Mount Benson’s south-facing slope, in a unique micro-climate nestled in Nanaimo’s rural Jinglepot area, you can find a family doing just that. The Rigas purchased the five-acre Chateau Wolff property after years of working in the restaurant business. They initially opened the Port Bistro-Pub in Trenton, Ontario in 2011 with Matt working as a chef, and Natalie working the front-of-house.

Soon this duo found themselves visiting vineyards and wineries on their days off, enjoying a glass of wine together, and imagining owning a property of their own. After three years of successfully operating their restaurant, they decided to take the leap. They sold their restaurant and moved to Vancouver Island in pursuit of their dream.

Luckily for them Harry Von Wolff, the original owner, had planted his quality vines in the early 90’s which produced mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The Rigas didn’t waste any time after their big move and the birth of their daughter, Siena. With the help of friends and family they set about learning the ins and outs of winemaking. Their efforts paid off, and in 2015 they saw their first harvest.

View of Mount Benson

Today, this boutique-style winery is known for it’s Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and a fortified red called Rouge, which can be found in many local stores and restaurants. You can visit their intimate tasting room or enjoy the rustic elegance of their property while on our Taste of Nanaimo tour!

Arbutus Distillery

Arbutus Distillery tasting room

Walking into Arbutus Distillery and Cocktail Lounge can feel a bit like walking into a wizard’s shop. Inside you’ll find hand-picked botanicals drying on racks along the walls, and mysterious designs adorning the bottles. But what makes this place truly magical is the products themselves, which are made with 100% BC sourced fermentables. You can try everything from their signature single malt Coven vodka to their Baba Yaga Genuine Absinthe to their Empiric blue gin (which performs some interesting tricks – I won’t spoil it for you!).

Some of their fine products

Of course, behind all good magic is a healthy mix of art and science, and Arbutus is no exception. Head distiller Mike Pizzitelli hails from a science and cell biology background and spent some time in Scotland, learning the art of brewing and distilling. Mike brings passion and knowledge to Arbutus and takes great pride in the products that he and his team create.

A site tour will allow the uninitiated the opportunity to sample their unique products, where Mike is all too happy to educate people on the work that goes into producing these tasty spirits as well as their history. We suggest pairing these products with food trucks, live music and good friends. You can visit Arbutus Distillery on our Taste of Nanaimo tour.

Beer of the Month – July 2016

Beer of the Month - Driftwood Gose

We’ve decided to start a beer of the month blog post here at Vancouver Island Expeditions. When at the liquor store trying to figure out which beer to buy, sometimes you need a little help. Lucky for you, we’re committed to trying lots of beers for you so that we can help you choose a solid beer that you will hopefully find just as enjoyable as we found it. Our hope is that it can satisfy both the people just starting to navigate their way into craft beer all the way up to the craziest of craft beer nerds.

For our first beer of the month we have chosen a style that has become the style of the summer. Lots of breweries have decided to brew this once forgotten style of beer. Driftwood Brewery was the first in BC to release a Gose (pronounced Goz-uh), and it is brewed in the tradition of the artisan brewers of Leipzig where it originated.

Cry Me a River has a slight dry, priceofcialis.com tartness to it that is pleasantly refreshing on a warm, summer day.  The really interesting part to me is that it has a pinch of Vancouver Island Sea Salt in it to give it a bit of saltiness. I know it sounds weird, but trust me on this one. Grabbing a bottle of this to sip on in your backyard this summer will leave you feeling happy that Driftwood helped bring this style back from extinction. Cheers!