The vineyard 411 with Robin - less is sometimes more

Cab-Foch vines with lots of healthy looking clusters of grapes on them.

Cab-Foch vines with lots of healthy looking clusters of grapes on them.

So one of the big tasks that need to be done on all of our vineyards is shoot thinning, and yes it does mean that we are going to each vine and taking off shoots of the vines that do have clusters on them. While it may seem backward that we are taking off potential product for the coming harvest, we are actually going to increase the volume and ripeness in the grapes when we pick them.

The grapevine itself needs a careful balance of shoots per length of vine, that will ensure there is enough energy to fully ripen the berries. If there are too many shoots the vine will ripen every cluster partially, it won’t swell the berries to full size, and you are left with little juice and under-ripe berries (not what a winemaker wants to turn wine into).

By taking off some of the shoots, we are ensuring that the vine has enough energy to fully grow and ripen the berries in the next few months of summer and autumn. By taking off extra shoots and clusters we will end up with more volume and riper grapes-so sometimes less is more!

When we are going through the vineyard, the shoots that we are looking to take off are:

  1. Shoots with no grape clusters

  2. Shoots that are smaller in length than the average of that vine

  3. Shoots with smaller clusters of grapes

  4. Shoots with clusters of grapes with poor fruit set


Fruit Set

So when I say fruit set, I am taking about the grapes that have been self pollinated like this cluster here.

This cluster is an example of good fruit set. There are grape berries evenly spread around the main stem, there are no big gaps in berries in the cluster, and the grapes are all increasing size at the same pace.

When we are looking for clusters that are poor fruit set, which happens all the time in the vine, we are looking for all those things mentioned and then removing that cluster so that the vine can focus on ripening a better set cluster.

Isn’t that beautiful?

Isn’t that beautiful?

My last photo I will leave you with this week is a shot from our Cab-Foch showing just where they are at. With our trellising system at the winery, we actually start the grapes at 5 ft up and let them hang down. This means no tucking the vines and very little maintenance.

Our grapes are almost touch the ground now so we have between 4-5 ft of growth which is the perfect length for them to start ripening at. While this vineyard doesn’t look as tidy as our others, I love the feeling walking through this vineyard. So enjoy one of my favourite work views.



The vineyard 411 with Robin - back again

Hello again!

I know it’s been a few weeks but I’ve just gotten back from a trip to Ontario with the family to go to my convocation! I officially can say that I have a Bachelor of Science in Oenology and Viticulture from Brock University! I just had to include a photo from the CCOVI (Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture) Research Center where I did my thesis. And while we were away we did in fact get to “research” some of the Niagara wineries, which was interesting to show a different part of Canadian wine.

That is one of my thesis Gamay Noir wines that I made in October that I’m holding. We got to go into the very limited access and alarmed cellar of commercial and research wine.

That is one of my thesis Gamay Noir wines that I made in October that I’m holding. We got to go into the very limited access and alarmed cellar of commercial and research wine.


In the vineyards we’ve gone from pre-bloom to fruit set in our experimental vineyard and bloom in the others. It is really interesting to see how spread out the vineyards get from each other depending on weather, grape varietal, and soil. Of our three vineyards our estate vineyard is by easily the most advanced in the growing season. The picture here is our Cab-Foch hybrid with tiny grape berries that will start swelling from now until mid-summer. This is the stage of fruit set in which we can see which flowers have successfully set the fruit which will be our harvest for the year.


Then about a week behind that vineyard is our Mountain Road road vineyard which is roughly a ten minute drive from the winery. When we came back from Ontario we went and checked all the vineyards and that one was in full bloom and it smelled so amazing. This picture to the left is a cluster right in the middle of cap-fall. On my fingers are the caps that the florescence give way to expose the flowers in the cluster. Those caps litter the ground below and then the vineyard blooms.


My last photo is an example of hopefully the difference between pruning and what a difference it can make. For the last few years in our estate vineyard we have been doing a method called “spur-pruning” where you leave the cane from last year on the fruiting wire and cut back each shoot to two buds. This method is fast, easy and doesn’t have a chance of ripping off the buds when the wood is getting pulled. Think of it like giving the vine a hair cut. But lately we’ve been finding the grape clusters from the years getting smaller and less fruit.

So this year in hopes to get bigger clusters and more grapes we switched over pruning methods to “cane-pruning”. This is the method where you find two long, healthy looking shoots near the crown of the plant and cut everything else off and lay down those canes for the next year. This changes the cane every year, but you can have more shoot breakage as you lay them down and knock off buds as you tie it down. There’s a lot more effort; but looking at the clusters so far it looks like cane pruning was a success in getting the vineyard up in production. Just look at the cluster, it’s as big as my whole hand! Now we just hope that the grapes swell up nicely in the next months and the crop this year will hopefully our biggest yet!

So there was the vineyard 411 for this week. Next week another update and the decisions we make.



BSc. Oenology and Viticulture ‘19

The vineyard 411 with Robin- different grape varieties

The vineyard 411 with Robin- different grape varieties

As promised I have a few of our different grape varieties from our vineyards to compare and show just how different grape vines can be from each other and the methods we use to determine that. As well I have an update from the progress of the vines and what the jobs/steps that are next this week. And finally I introduce my main partner in vine (see what I did there?) Tawny the golden retriever.

The vineyard 411 with Robin


One week later…

from buds to flower clusters

Robin here,

See, I told you a lot can change in a week. We already have about 6 centimetres of growth and you can see already on this one shoot two flower clusters have unfurled from the bud, meaning that there will be two clusters of grapes just from this one shoot. This photo was taken in our estate vineyard on property, which you can get exclusive access tomorrow (May, 11) at our season opener, where I will be giving vineyard tours at 12 and 2 pm!

This vineyard is a little ahead of our other estate vineyards, which is nice from a vineyard manager point of view when it comes to getting tasks done, especially when its mostly dad and I, plus a few volunteers that help out when we need them to. At this stage it’s really neat to start to see the differences between grape varieties, which I’ll post next week, because even the leaves look different between the grapes at this stage.


The birds and the bees…

Here at Rocky Creek we love our wildlife, the vineyard itself is an ecosystem which we love to embrace and interfere as little as possible

Our management in the vineyard is like our tasting room and winery, small and personal. We care for each vineyard by hand, which gives me the opportunity to spy beautiful nature like this nest among the vines. The pretty blue colour of a Robin’s egg makes your stop and appreciate the nature of this industry.

We manage our vineyard with as little interference as possible, and our estate vineyard is planted with disease resistant hybrids so we don’t have to spray it and the canopy management is for minimal pruning during the year. We even kept the two ponds on property which are hosts for koi fish, frogs, blue herons, owls, hawks, eagles and more… We do like to keep the deer out though, as they see the vines as tasty snacks.

So stay tuned for next weeks post. I’ll make sure to take a few different pictures of our different vines that we have.

Until next week,



The vineyard 411 with Robin

The vineyard 411 with Robin

Your 411 on all things vine! Every week I’ll be taking you through the vineyards of Rocky Creek and explaining exactly what stage the vines are at, what we are doing in the vineyard to ensure the best quality grapes will be grown for our harvest this year, and as well as the considerations we take and some of the decisions that are made. Fresh from my degree at Brock University for winemaking and viticulture I’m excited to let you into the world of wine, as great wine can only be made from great grapes!

Thoughts after the Cowichan Valley Wine Festival – Fall 2018

Thoughts after the Cowichan Valley Wine Festival – Fall 2018

The seasons in the wine business are quite distinct.  We just finished a great festival. See photos from the Cowichan Valley Wine Festival and also our cooking demos recipes. Enjoy the fall season and stay tuned as we are doing this festival again in 2019.

Musings from the Vines – Summer 2018

Musings from the Vines – Summer 2018

The seasons in the wine business are quite distinct.  The ongoing pruning and maintenance of the grape vines is a huge job and keeps our crew busy for most of the summer months.  Grape shoots have to be tucked into the trellis wires, leaves in the fruiting zone have to be stripped.  Extra shoots have to be removed. 

A new change

A new change

So this year we have decided to rebrand our look.  Our slogan is "from corporate suits to gumboots", so we are embracing that.  Our daughter Katherine has been instrumental in helping design our new logo and branding.   We also went on board with Maple Bay Graphics and Design to create a fresh new "creek" on our bottles.  

Our New Bottle Design

It's Mother's Day soon and as a mother I am blessed to have great children and see how have grown.  But I'm also excited now as Katherine will be a part of our journey this year in the tasting room.  Robin is on her last year with her degree to become a winemaker.  So as a mother and president of the company, my children seem to be a big part of the continued journey.

The Swirl

Katherine helped create our logo and design of our fresh modern look.  The logo is a creek swirl, but has a unique swirl that those who have studied "gregg" shorthand will know what the swirl means.  With the recent changes over the last 2 years in the tasting room and now our "rebrand", this gives us all new life in the journey and our passion for our winery to last for generations.

We also have focused to keep improving on all our aspects of winemaking and this year's vintage has just showcased so well already.  I'm not sure if this new look has given us a fresh outlook on life but it has given us a great energy that seems to make this vintage one of our stellar years.  Every year is a good year for us and we just continue to keep improving.

Linda Holford, President

Orange is the new white

There are many choices that have to be made as we get to harvest time.  Last year choices gave us a great intensity to our Pinot Gris 2016.  We didn't want to sacrifice the flavour of the wine to clear out the color.  We knew we always made "orange wine" style with our whites; but this year we wanted to let you know this new trend.  We also didn't have a clear bottle, and the bottle is dark in the stores; so, we placed on bottle toppers with this shot and came up with a catchy slogan "Orange is the new white".  We wanted you to  know that this is white wine made like a red wine with skin contact.  This is "orange wine".  This has been done regularly all over the world; but, there is a new emerging trend for this wine again.  Mark Holford wrote an article on it in the September Valley Voice.  Huffington Post has written an article on this as well called "What the Hell Orange Wine is, And Why It's the New Rose".

Click here to see Mark's article.  

88 and counting...

We found out yesterday that we have won our 88th medal at either a National or International competition.

At Rocky Creek Winery, our winemaker, Mark Holford, has strived to create wines that he can be proud of. Above all else he makes wines he will enjoy to drink himself, not to fit 'in a certain box'. Over the 12 years of having a family run winery currently his wines have been awarded 88 medals to validate his creative and individual take on winemaking.

 In 2006, Mark's first medal was won on his 2005 vintage of the Wild Blackberry wine. It was a silver from the Northwest Wine Summit, a competition we still enter and have won medals at every year since. This win was a momentous occasion as a young winemaker starting out with a small family business. For Mark this was validation that his risks were finally starting to pay off, his wine was now 'award winning'. Since then the Wild Blackberry has won a double gold as well from the Northwest Wine Summit, the highest prestige a wine can get.

Over the years we have worn each medal as a badge of honour to give our wines a pedestal to stand on against their competition. In the Cowichan Valley we are the single most awarded winery and we hope that will speak to our consumers about the quality we want to give them. After 88 medals, Mark and the rest of the Rocky Creek Winery family are very proud of our wines, and our story that goes along with that. Our story is one of family, support, and following our passions.

The latest medal is a bronze for our just released 2016 Pinot Gris at the National Wine Awards.  Full results of the competition will be released over the next two weeks.

Earlier this year we won a gold, two silvers and a bronze at the Northwest Wine Summit and the All-Canadian Wine Championships - for the Wild Blackberry, Katherine's Sparkle and On the Mark.   Every year we enter many competitions because we see the worth in having our wines awarded, so that the public can see our worth as well.  However, we haven't entered as many wines in competitions this year - for a couple of reasons.

First, we were really busy in the spring getting our remodeling done on the tasting room  -  and as a result most of our new vintages weren't bottled in time for the early competitions.

Second, we've made a strategic decision not to enter as many competitions - as they are expensive, and we think we've made our point about the Cowichan Valley being able to produce wines that can compete toe to toe with wines from any other region in the world.

We will still enter in some competitions, just to gauge where our latest releases sit in respect to the rest of Canada and the world.  But our biggest metric on that is how popular our wines are, and how quickly our new releases are selling out.  Our TLC and Robin's Rose are almost completely sold out, and our just-released Pinot Gris is flying off the shelves.  That's the biggest compliment anyone can give a winemaker - so thanks for all the support.

 From where we are now we would only love to achieve more and provide all consumers with the highest quality wine, in a local family business, we want to have people come to our winery and have a unique experience, one they will remember.


Canada 150

Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary of confederation. As a Canadian, you can't help but feel pride for how far our country has come. In the last 150 years, our Canada has done some incredible things and we want to celebrate them.
    In 1885, Canada has successfully hammered down its last spike on a railroad that would span the entire country. During the World War One Canadian's fought at Vimy Ridge and proved their worth as a nation. In 1942 during the Second World War, Canada stormed Juno beach on D-Day playing a tremendous role in aiding Europe. Since then we have created our own unique flag, watched Terry Fox run 143 days across Canada, hosted multiple Olympic games, legalized gay marriage country wide, and enacted a Charter of Rights and Freedoms to truly create a country that is called home proudly by so many different cultures.


Rocky Creek Winery is proud to be authentically Canadian focused on the region we live in and are so proud to call it our home. Our winery was created in Ladysmith in the basement of our suburban home on Vancouver Island and has since moved to bigger operations in Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island. In our basement, we could have bought from all over the world and just imported grapes; but we chose to be Vancouver Island and all Canadian.
    Our winery is all about family and our story comes from working in oil in gas in Calgary, Alberta to our own local winery on Vancouver Island, or as we like to say; "from corporate suits to gumboots". Vancouver Island is a fantastic region for wine and has a vast amount of wineries, particularly in the Cowichan Valley. Our winery is local and sustainable growing grapes only from the Cowichan Valley region. We are focused on our terroir and turning our own soil and grapes that we are surrounded by, into our end product of delicious and local wine. Our region in particular is a truly cool climate similar to the old world wines of France and Germany but with our own Canadian twist. We have 87 medals internationally to prove this for our winery.


 It was as early as the 1800's that people had discovered Canada has a region for grapes, and therefore, wine. Ever since then Canada has been continuously discovering new regions for grapes and wine to be made. Even with wine being made for so long here in Canada we are still considered a "new emerging wine region," in comparison with majority of the famous wine regions throughout the globe. However the Canadian regions are rich and diverse and create unique and delicious wine varieties for everyone to enjoy. The regions we have across this country are: Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, Nova Scotia, Okanagan, Similkameen, Naramata Bench, Vancouver Island, and the Fraser Valley. Each and every one filled with so many unique wineries with completely different climates and varieties of grapes in
each one.
    Canada may still be considered new in the way of wines but so is our country in
comparison with a many of the countries around the world; and like our country, our regions are incredible and one of a kind. We should not be forgotten about but celebrated as a truly spectacular and diverse. Cheers and Happy Birthday Canada.

The big storm

Well the weatherman is projecting some serious rain over the next few days.

Luckily most of our grapes are now safely fermenting away in the winery and what's left should weather pretty much anything. 

Well... except the Pinot Noir.  Despite our best efforts there's a smidge of pinot still hanging in one vineyard.  We made a strategic decision to pick our massive crop of Tempranillo before finishing the last of the pinot.  The tempranillo looks amazing so it is definitely worth it.



one bunch of tempranillo can be more than enough for a bottle

one bunch of tempranillo can be more than enough for a bottle

So far the pinot us holding on but we now have to wait almost a week before we can finish up.  Why?  Weĺl because a) the weather is predicted to be awful b) I dont have any empty fermenters left until I ferment and press what we've already picked and c) even if I had fermenters and good weather I dont have empty space to put another fermenter.  Yes we're full to the rafters right now.  Not a square inch free anywhere.


the pinot noir with a little frost damage on the leaves

the pinot noir with a little frost damage on the leaves

So we're in a holding pattern with just a few picking days left before we're done.

So far it's looking like a record harvest may be in the works - or at least on par with our amazing 2015 crop. 

Harvest Continues

So we're right in the thick of it.

All our whites are picked and we're right in the middle of picking our reds.  Pinot Noir is a little over half picked and Tempranillo is on deck followed by Cab-Foch to finish off. 

So far everything has been impeccably clean.  Almost no signs of rot mildew or mould.  Our harvest tends to be drawn out.  We rely on volunteers from wwoof and workaway as our picking crew.  This year I've also been busier consulting and have been away for a week after the whites were finished. 

But the end is in sight.  Pinot should be all off in a couple more days and the remaining reds are thick skinned tough grapes that can stand up the inclement weather quite well


It's hard work chasings Robins from the nets.

and from a couple of weeks ago... pinot gris dark enough to masquerade as a red

Harvest has started

So fall is almost here and we've begun to pick our grapes already.  Siegerrebe is done and we're starting on our sparkling blend for Katherine's Sparkle.  This includes a field blend from one of our leased vineyards of pinot gris, ortega, siegerrebe, kerner, and chardonnay blended with four experimental whites from our estate vineyard.

despite the early colour from the pinot gris this blend wont have much colour when its finished.

Looks like more good news on it's way

Well, we are still a bit overwhelmed by the great result at the All Canadian Wine Championships.  A double gold was the absolute best result we could ever have hoped for.  The other competition we have traditionally done very well at is the Northwest wine summit.  Results haven't been posted online yet, but the organizer, Parks Redwine, emailed me our results today.  I'm waiting for clarification on one item, but there is definitely more good news.

I'll use a true Canadianism...  I think I'm getting a double-double... :)

more to follow.....

Double gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships!

Well, our Wild Blackberry has always been a great wine, but the latest vintage is definitely our best.  We just found out it won Double Gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships and is the Best Soft Fruit Dessert Wine in Canada this year.

Full results of the competition can be found here:

Congrats to the other Vancouver Island wineries who are also bringing home medals - Blue Grouse, Silverside, Enrico, Unsworth and Beaufort Winery.

Our Double Gold Award Winning Wild Blackberry