For the longest time I thought about Vancouver Island of the Jason Patric of wine—always on the verge of breaking out, but never quite getting it there. But the last few years have really changed the narrative from a region that's all potential, to a region that's finally realizing it.
Both ventures shared some similarities: both have not shied away from the hybrid grapes that the Island wine region was founded on, while at the same time expanding their use of the more traditional vitis vinfera grapes that the public is more accustomed to. Both took a more modern approach to bottles and labels. And both made hospitality and food a cornerstone of their winery experience. As a result both are often sold out of much of their wine by mid-summer.
So it was a huge shock when I heard a few month back that Unsworth had sold. The family had seemed happy—son Chris was working on site as the marketing director—and everything seemed to going to plan (or as close to plan as possible for a winery). And then I read who the buyers were. My jaw literally dropped, and I muttered, well the Island's time has definitely come.
Contrary what has been jawed about in the public it's not California's behemoth Jackson Family Estates that purchased Unsworth. In fact the real owner might be more impressive. It's Jackson Family Estate Chairperson Barbara Banke and her daughter and Jackson Family Exec Julia Jackson, who have purchased Unsworth personally. Banke is the widow of the legendary Jess Jackson and under her stewardship, Jackson Family has amassed a portfolio of wineries without peer and smartly left most of them alone on the winemaking front while bolstering their bottom line with production and especially distribution (think Copain, Brewer-Clifton, Siduri). Key to that success has been the work Julia has done on the environmental side of the equation, making Jackson Family a leader in the area.
So when these two reach into their own pockets to buy a winery it's time to take serious notice. As is the case with the main company, the two have kept the Turyk family on along with winemaker Dan Wright - which should keep the place firing on all cylinders. And as is also their way, they plan to help with distribution of procurement. My guess is it won't be long before you can roll into a restaurant in New York and see an Unsworth label on the list. Such huge news.
The bottle you'll likely see on that list? My guess would be their sparkling Charme de L'Ile, which is quickly being a bottle that if you don't buy soon after it's released, good luck trying to find - it sells out routinely. It's a crisp and juicy Pinot Gris, blended with some Pinot Noir and some of their other oddball varietals, and the result is a $22 wine that over delivers on every front: great acidity, clean, crisp fruit, killer value.