In case you somehow missed it on Instagram or Snapchat (how?), I spent this past weekend eating & drinking pretty much everything in the Comox Valley. It was amazing. I must admit, I would happily become a wine blogger, but in that case I would probably have to learn to spit it out sometimes…
Given that Comox Valley is a relatively small region, I didn’t expect to be eating meals that I would remember forever, nor drinking wine that would change my perspective of wine (and we all know I love wine), but what I really didn’t foresee was falling in the love with the story behind the food and the people who make it all come together.
Although Discover Comox Valley had sent my itinerary a week before the trip, I never could have imagined the memorable experiences that these events would bring with them. Therefore, instead of telling a story that’s just about what we did, I am going to tell a story about how each stop on the itinerary left me freaking out about the fun surprise that came with it.
Comox is home to some seriously cool people.
After blasting Justin Bieber for pretty much the entire drive up island, we arrived in Comox just in time for the sunset drinks at Blackfin Pub. After a few #ootd pictures on their empty for winter patio (gotta come back in summer), we sat down for the first dinner of the trip, as well as the first surprise that Comox had in store for us.
It had been arranged for us to eat with a couple named Sue & John. I had never met them before, but they turned out to be some of the coolest adults I had met in awhile. I guess I’m technically an adult too at this point, but that’s just semantics. Anyways, they should really be considered the unofficial ambassadors of the Comox Valley because everyone in the pub knew them and wanted to say hi.
Sue could probably have a fashion blog herself and we may have googled John after leaving to see if he was an ex-rockstar (he had the right hair and glasses), but in addition to that they were interesting, hilarious and really just the perfect people to set a tone for the trip. So thank you for the wonderful introduction to the valley, Sue & John.
It may not be the biggest market, but you will wander for hours regardless.
As someone who grew up on the island, I’ve seen my fair share of farmer’s markets, but the Comox Valley Farmer’s Market is a little bit different.
We toured the market with the manager, Vickey. I’m not sure if it was with the help of her insight, or if we would have caught on regardless, but we quickly realized that this wasn’t just a market, but a community in which every single producer and product was connected. Not only did everyone know each other, but everyone came together to ensure that all farmer’s were supported, so that the valley could grow, all the while keeping in mind that it was a business, so each must succeed on an individual level too.
Contrary to the competitive nature that is the modern business environment, we learned that the Comox Valley is home to this wonderfully put together system (which is just how the world used to work) where each person has a role and when each role is filled, we have a community which produces everything that they need. There is a water buffalo farm (best sausage ever) whose females are all passed on to the dairy farm to produce milk products (surprisingly delicious yoghurt). The fresh produce farms that are too small to survive on their own form co-ops, that then allow them to supply sizeable amounts of produce to effectively run a business. The lady selling dried herbs and spices gets them fresh from Comox Valley farms. The eggs are free range and grass fed. The noodles available cross the valley are locally made and available at the market. The bread you had for breakfast was from a wood oven fired at 3 am that morning. I could easily keep going, but this is a blog post and not a novel.
In the end, the spent 3 hours lost within this marketplace that has managed to keep alive the traditional sense of what it means to be a community, in which everyone supports each other to thrive. To top it off, they had managed to incorporate certain globalized aspects such as a little Japanese grandma selling homemade Mochi and a smiling man making home cooked Sri Lankan food. I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that this was real life.
Oh, and there were gin & wine vendors too. Help.
The streetlights also play music (lolz).
After happily spending far too much time at the farmer’s market, we went for a little walk around town. A quick café stop, a few book stores and one seriously cute cat later, I realized that there was music playing. Much to my surprise and enjoyment, the main street had speakers rigged up to it’s streetlights playing songs all day, every day. The only other time I’ve experienced this it at Disneyland, so I’m convinced that it’s pretty darn great.
Berry wine is the bomb.com.
From downtown we headed to our first winery. The only other fruit wine I had ever tried was in the form of $3 bottles in Thailand, so I really wasn’t expecting much, but I was in for another pleasant surprise. Coastal Black‘s berry wines were delicious. I do love berries, so maybe I’m a little bit biased, but definitely try for yourself if you ever get the chance. The raspberry sparkling is my personal favourite.
In true Comox Valley fashion, this berry farm is also a prime example of community. It is family owned and was originally a dairy farm (don’t quote me on that), but the children decided to do something different when it was passed down to them. Berries were planted on part of the land for one kid, another decided to farm honey, another mills wood and has built all the structures for the winery and there is another who creates all the art that decorates the property. Basically, it’s just this cool place where cool things are happening! Unfortunately there were no parties when I was there, but they have a pretty epic barn which would pose the perfect place for a summertime gathering.
Another cool couple will teach you more about wine than you ever expected.
The island is covered with vineyards, but 40 Knots Winery is the best vineyard experience I’ve had so far and I am completely comfortable saying this. Although I’m no wine professional, so I can’t say how credible my opinion is on the subject, but I think their wine is delicious
The vineyards owner’s, Layne and Brenda probably spent 3 hours taking us through the process of how they make the wine, as well as allowing us to sample literally every single wine they have straight from the barrel or tank (tank being an appropriate term according to Layne). They were unbelievably open and welcoming which made touring 40 Knots Winery the highlight of 2016 for me so far.
Throughout the afternoon, they enthusiastically explained to us the stories behind their wines, whether it is a traditional wine or a blend. I will leave it to Brenda and Layne tell you those stories when you visit, but I promise you that their passion for what they do shines through in every single way.
We participated in a race to riddle the sparkling (I hope you saw on Snapchat!), as well getting a “viognier baptism” (see picture below), tasted wines like I’ve never tasted before and all the while laughing as Layne told us stories in funny accents with an approach to wine making that is both educated and refined, but more relaxed than anything I’ve experienced.
Ultimately, I could go on forever about this place, but I’m going to leave it at that. This afternoon was very special and I will be heading back there probably every time I go up island because that’s how much I loved it. Until next time, 40 Knots Winery.
The restaurants really are next level.
After a magical day at the farmer’s market, two wineries and a visit to the Oh Spa, it was time for dinner at Locals Restaurant. Located in a beautifully finished heritage home make the venue itself very special, but after five minutes of chatting with the owner Trisha, you will realize that the food is special too.
With as many ingredients locally sourced as possible (back to that farmer’s market community), we learned that not only do the local farmers produce for the town’s people, but for the region’s businesses too. Trisha would tell us about the agreements they make with local farmers at the beginning of a season to provide a certain amount of a certain herb or vegetable, at which point the farmer would then plant the required amount. It is this kind of supply chain planning that the world needs more us.
Trisha was also telling us about the focus that she and her husband, Chef Ronald St Pierre put on the dishes they make. In hopes of creating the perfect balance between all a meal’s elements: fats, proteins, carbohydrates etc., they strive to deliver their guests the perfect kind of satisfaction – not too full, but perfectly content. On a continent where bigger is often better in regards to food, this notion is very refreshing.
Locals is one of the more memorable meals I’ve had on the island.
Although it is small, Comox is a welcoming community.
Yet another special meal came the next morning in the form of brunch. Because breakfast is my favourite meal, I walked into Avenue Bistro knowing I would love it, but was once again surprised to find that another very special lady was waiting for us. Along with a delicious west coast take on Huevos, we chatted with Michelle, Avenue’s owner.
Michelle spoke about her fondness for the Valley and how it had moulded who she was as a person and how it has been a positive environment for her to raise her family. From the sounds of it, one would guess that she had lived there forever, but much to our surprise, her family was relatively new to the valley. It turns out that they had been accepted into the community quickly and were now a part of that cooperative business dynamic that had consistently shown it’s face throughout our weekend away.
Michelle spoke of running her business in a way that supports other local farmers by utilizing what they produce while making sure not to cannibalize the needs of anyone else. It was refreshing to hear her stories of how Comox supports positivity and is still open to expanding it’s community even though it is a small town.
With all this in mind and almost 2000 words later, I am going to leave it at that. I finished the weekend with a full heart and happy smile, as well as a pretty big hangover. Having said that, driving back alongside the ocean and mountains did numb the pain a little bit.
Dine Around Comox Valley continues until March 13th, so definitely check it out if you have the chance. Keep in mind that the town is always there, so going another time is cool too. I know I’ll be heading back to see what it’s like in the summer and will probably be staying at Old House Hotel & Spa then too.
Thanks for the great weekend, #CVDineAround!