Fraser Valley wine tour with Sky Helicopters.
Our host was leaving. This was his last weekend in Vancouver, and he decided to hit it off with a bang. There is no way better to take in Vancouver and reflect on your time here than up in the sky, experiencing a view of the city that most don’t get.
The “Vancouver Harbour Heliport” was a hard one to get to. Located right by the water, there was only one way to reach our destination. The bear with a jetpack outside marked our arrival.
We registered with the clerk behind the counter and sat in the waiting room for our pilot to descend. The room had a view overlooking the harbour and the “parking lot” for the helicopters. A wooden path leading down to the Tarmac and four pads marked with the letter “H” in yellow.
The company offered a few tours, ours was the least expensive, but still a hefty price. The R44 Helicopter trip went for $799 + 5% GST tax. It allowed three passengers to ride with the pilot. The experience was visiting “the award winning wineries of the Campbell Valley Wine Route, in your private helicopter flying over the scenic wine region and horse country of the Fraser Valley, just east of Vancouver.” The tour included tastes of reds and whites at Township 7, Chaberton Estate and Vista D’oro.
Our pilot was very friendly. He pointed out general sights and offered to take group photos for us in front of the chopper. It wasn’t the largest helicopter, but it was sleek and quick, getting us to and fro, safely.
With the amount of stops and starts we were allowed to rotate and everyone got a turn in the front seat. Being in the front was surreal, nothing obstructed your view. You got a look out a window that went from head height to knee level, making the ride more immersive. Just like shot gun in a car, the front seat was the best seat. Although any window out of a helicopter is still a good view.
When it was time to get off the plane we were told to duck down and jog briskly away, to avoid the still spinning propellers. They do take a while to wind down to a stop. The other rules included no slamming the door, locking it with a lift and a twist, never walk behind the helicopter; and again, standing away from the propellers.
With several flips and switches from our pilot, the helicopter started. We began to rise up into the air. It takes you a quick second to get use to the feeling of lightness. A sense of unbalance as the helicopter adjusts itself and you firm on your seat. You communicate through your noise cancelling headphones, a pair for each seat. It drowns out the chop of the propellors and gives you the ability to speak to one another through the microphone attached to the headphone. Although as each sentence spoken never really came out clear, and the broadcast was choppy, I preferred keeping quite and just taking the sights in.
We climbed higher and we began to follow the river out of port. And as the buildings began to shrink, I thought to myself, “this experience is some next level “The Bachelor” shit”. This is the type of romance the television show lays down on first dates. An extravagant date to impress the women vying for a husband and the audience wanting the to be swept off their feet, along with the contestants. A more practical reason to rent a helicopter is to check one off the bucket list, to celebrate a birth like no other, or as an option to make an anniversary more memorable.
We were going 100 miles an hour in air speed, and were up 1500 feet. Like a plane we felt turbulence when we got caught in the wind. But other than a few bursts of it. the sky was clear and we chose the perfect sunny and cloudless day for our voyage. And although it got toasty in the cockpit, air conditioning provided relief.
Enroute to the wineries, our guide was kind enough to give us a mini tour of landmarks. He pointed out where we were and called our attention to the general direction we were heading. He pointed out each city and its surrounding area. All the man made lakes and malls with large flags, certain bridges, and beautiful secluded homes. The latter included property with a horse playground that a husband built for his wife.
To land, our pilot steered us in a large spiral downward. I always thought you sort of hovered your way down. He also gave us the tip, that you direct yourself over the power lines, as those are the highest points.
Our first stop was at “Vista Doro” in South Langley, at Campbell valley park. Here I learned that Langley is also known as “horse country”.
“Vista Doro” would be the smallest of the wineries we were visiting. We would work our way up, ending at the largest. This quaint winery and orchard is run by husband and wife team. It is a completely hands on business, with the couple doing everything themselves. He makes all the wine and she turns their fruit into sweet jams. The one wine maker did all the blending and bottling himself. Working his passion, doing it all as natural as possible with no additives.
They had five acres of vineyards and five dedicated to orchards. On the latter they grew apples, pears, plum, and cherries. They offered samples of all the jams they would become, from a help yourself tasting tray located on the counter. And it wasn’t just your traditional strawberry or raspberry jam. They weren’t afraid to mix flavour profiles and create something distinct. Pineapple with sake and candied ginger, pink grapefruit and champagne, heirloom green tomato and garam masala, plum with vanilla and star anise, and spiced cranberry with ice wine. A makeshift spoon allows you to have a one time taste of each. I wish I had the money that day to splurge on one of each, or a box set of three. They were that good, and they even did travel sizes.
Their shop space was a house. Their wine tasting counter was in the living room, the dining room served as a feature to highlight their preserves, their kitchen a cooler for chilled whites; and their porch was a great place to spend time after buying yourself a glass. And everywhere else were racks and shelves dedicated to their bottles for sale. We would learn more about their wines during our actual tasting.
They specialized in an European hybrid of grape, that survives in a more wet climate, like ours. It and their walnut port was their signature flavours. The walnut port was made from unripened green walnut, at this stage it is similar to and can be processed like a fruit. Which is harvested and then sits in clear brandy.
We tried two whites and two reds. She gave us plenty of description on each, but no change of glasses in between. We left this one not grabbing a bottle, but doing so at the other two, feeling that it was the polite thing to do after trying.
Our pilot was keeping track of our time. He came and got us when it expired. Then up and away we flew to our next and nearby destination.
Still in South Langley, was “Township 7”. It was a linear building in white, with a patio around the bend, and benches to sit and have a glass at in their picnic area. The perfect locale to host a party, and they did just that with their wine club. Arranging monthly get togethers where members get to try exclusive bottles in their lounge.
As it was on the outside, they were well organized inside. Even levelled shelves stacked full with bottles. A counter for several clerks to pour glasses for tasting.
Here they are known for their bubbly, champagne-style, sparkling wines. And this vineyard is where they grow most of the grapes needed for this wine. But this is just one of their three locations. The others are in South Okanagan which grows grapes for their reds and grapes for white wine at Naramata Bench.
Here we were able to taste three of their whites and two of their reds. And they did change glasses between the transition from white to red. Their fruity wines peaked my interest with scents like papaya.
Our wine tasting host was great at presenting her product. She sought our interest and engaged just enough to close a sale.
And once again when it was time, our guide came and got us. And then up, up, and away; we were flown to our last stop.
They saved the largest winery for last: “Chaberton Estate”. As soon as we landed on their a designated helicopter clearing, we were greeted by one of their employees. He gave us the option for a winery tour and we happily accepted.
We started at the vines to see the grapes. 50 acres of farm land to make 50 thousand bottles. 25% of all the grapes they use are grown on site. They grow cold climate German grapes, as they do well here. They are low maintenance and the staff don’t need to water them. They weren’t very big at this point, our guide recommend coming back in September to see the extent of their growth and observe their harvesting.
Next we visited the crush pad where the fruits are processed. The journey of grape to juice as they ferment in temperature controlled vats. The wine keeps cool in these tanks. Thirteen thousands bottles of wine gets pumped from tank to tank in this refrigerator room. Some were kept so cold that the stainless steel exterior of the vat was frosted.
When it’s time for the wine to be bottled, it runs in tubes, through a conveyor belt-like process in the adjoining room/bottling area. The machine first cleans each bottle and sterilizes it. Next a quick shot of nitrogen in each bottles helps to keep air out. It’s presence is noted from the mist that escapes each bottle when you open it for the first time. Wine then flows into the bottle, a cork gets punched in or is capped. The machine screws the bottle tight and a decorate foil is added. The bottle is finished with a wrapped label and then boxed into a case with other. From start to finish, the machines works through 36 bottles a minute.
The tour ended at the barrel room. Each one is made in France with their own individual characteristics that shape the wine within it. The room was lined in cedar and it smelled like it. We learned that cedar was a natural insulator and that bugs hate cedar.
The tasting was in their main hall. Here we were given the option to pick our five tastes, but instead we relied on the experience of our tasting guide. We ended up trying two whites, one pink, and two reds. She suggested taking each taste in three steps. The first sip cleanses pallet, the second gets it ready, and last makes you goes “yay!”
I ended taking a bottle of their “Bacchus” flagship wine home. Its name derived from the Roman God of wines. It is also the name that their grapes share, as well as their restaurant.
They had a bistro serving French cuisine south facing the winery. Had we known this was here, we would planned a meal into our itinerary. However to add another designation to our tour and to buy more time, would have been an additional $400-500 cost. And that was just a little too steep of a price to tact on.
Our time here ended with a complimentary bottle of our choosing, as our parting gift.
Then off we were for our last ride in the helicopter, back which the way we came.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I definitely would like to do this again and and would recommend it to anyone at less once. Though at the asking price, it might be more on the luxurious side. As I mentioned earlier, for a special occasion, or to impress in no other way. But seeing the city this way is like nothing else, you leaving grow a new appreciation for where you live. Looking down like a bird in flight, taking in a view that not everyone gets to enjoy. What a great way to experience our city known for its greenery and beauty. I truly thank my friend and our host for treated us to something so spectacular.
Vancouver Harbour Heliport
455 West Waterfront Road