What comes to mind when you hear the word backyard? For some people, it’s the image of a quiet, garden-framed, personal oasis away from the rest of the world; others might see it as a shared space where one can fire up the barbeque and pop open a bottle of wine to enjoy in the company of good friends.
Backyard Vineyards in Langley, British Columbia, touts itself as the backyard to the nearby city of Vancouver. And why not? With a tasting room, grassy picnic area, gazebo and vineyards all packaged in a peaceful rural setting, it’s easy to see why this winery checks all the boxes as a popular, “backyard hangout” for locals and out-of-towners alike.
In addition to its location, the appeal of Backyard Vineyards lies in the quality and variety of its wines. It starts with excellent grapes, both at the estate and from several other interior B.C. vineyards, and culminates with the talents of an up-and-coming winemaker who is simply crushing it by producing some truly remarkable wines.
A CROSS-CONTINENTAL JOURNEY
The son of a fighter pilot, winemaker Liam Berti was born in England and spent time in Germany before moving to Northern Ontario, where he grew up. He studied journalism in Ottawa for 4½ years, worked briefly for the CBC in Toronto, and then spent time covering and broadcasting hockey in a variety of media, including television, radio and print.
“During that time wine was always an interest for my family and me, especially my dad, who is a collector who knows what he likes,” he recalls.
“Growing up, even in Germany, my dad would take F-18s on training missions to Châteauneuf and bring some wines back, so it was always around. It was on the table every night, but we really didn’t think much of it. Later on, traveling with my dad, my brother and I would have this progression of “epiphany moments” where we realized (wine) wasn’t just a beverage.”
“That inspired both of us to get into the wine industry. My brother is a sommelier and beverage director in Toronto; he chose the fancy route where you don’t get your hands dirty,” Berti said with a grin.
While contemplating a move west with his fiancé, he began working on his winemaker training. The move was a logical choice, given they both had family in B.C. and were familiar with the area and the province’s reputation as home to several of Canada’s premiere grape-growing regions. He achieved the Wine & Spirit Education Trust diploma level in the two years prior to their departure to Vancouver in early summer of 2016.
INFLUENCE AND MENTORSHIP AT BACKYARD
Shortly after settling in British Columbia, Berti landed his first job in the wine industry at Backyard. “But there was more to it than that,” he noted. “It was more calculated in terms of tasting and doing my research on who the winemakers were. I was searching for that strong mentorship role.”
James Cambridge, Backyard’s winemaker at time, fit that role perfectly. “His accolades and his resume were enough for me to say I wanted to get to know him, even it if wasn’t on a full-time basis.
“James drove the style of the wine being produced here,” Berti added. “And one of the things he used to say that still sticks with me now is, ‘we’re all cellar hands, some of us just carry more responsibility than others.’”
With Cambridge’s subsequent departure to Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet, B.C., Liam was promoted to Backyard Vineyard winemaker in late 2018. He credits Cambridge with providing the winery with wines of quality and consistency and singles him out as an influence on his own winemaking style.
FROM CASUAL FAMILY VINEYARD TO LEGITIMATE PLAYER
Backyard Vineyard’s current location is on a five-acre parcel that was originally a private, family-owned winery established in 2000. After a series of ownership changes, the company was purchased by Ontario-based Diamond Estates Wine and Spirits in 2018. Berti notes that Backyard was the company’s first West Coast acquisition.
Diamond Estate’s reach has allowed the winery to source much of its fruit from a number of vineyards it leases in B.C.’s interior. They include varieties such as Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Franc from Osoyoos, near the Canada-U.S. border; and Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Merlot from Oliver, located a bit further north at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley.
But Backyard’s “pride and joy,” as Berti like to refer to it, is the 4 1/2 acres of Pinot Noir grown on the estate. All of the Pinot goes into the winery’s two sparkling wines, a Blanc de Noir and a Sparkling Rosé that are vibrantly colored and stylistically high acid and food friendly by Liam’s design. These wines are also the only ones the winery produces with a specific wine region designation on the label, the Fraser Valley.
“The designation tells you a story about where the wine comes from (and) to my knowledge, we’re the only ones making sparkling from Pinot Noir in the Valley,” he said. The Blanc de Noir, which is sold exclusively at the tasting room, is really “the wine that people associate with us.”
WINES TO TRY/EXPERIENCES TO BE HAD
Beyond sparkling wine, there’s a realm of possibilities at Backyard Vineyards. White wines include a lighter style, slightly floral 2018 Bacchus, partially oak barrel-fermented reserve versions of 2017 Chardonnay and 2018 Viognier and even a seven-varietal blend (aptly named for backyarders) as ‘Nosey Neighbour White.’
Red wine drinkers will enjoy a delicious 2017 Cabernet-Merlot blend, a stunning 2017 Reserve Syrah and a mind-numbingly good 2017 Reserve Cabernet Franc. All of these wines are beautifully crafted in a balanced style that leans toward understated fruit flavors and Old World character. “For us, it’s about showing the best that B.C. fruit can do,” he said.
Guests at the winery can also nosh on a cheese platter or charcuterie plate in the tasting room, listen to acoustic music in the gazebo during the summer music series, or enjoy wine in the picnic area, all as part of the Backyard experience.
Backyard Vineyards is just a short distance north of the Canadian border, which makes it a comfortable 2 1/2 hour drive from the Seattle area, plus border crossing time.
U.S. visitors will also be pleased to know that Washington state liquor regulations allow their first liter of wine purchased in Canada to be brought back into Washington duty free. And here’s where it gets even better: any quantity purchased in excess of the first liter is only charged at the dirt-cheap rate of 17 cents per 750-milliliter bottle.
Berti also notes that there are about 10 other wineries in the greater Langley/Abbotsford vicinity, not including nearby cideries and meaderies. That makes it an ideal place for wine enthusiasts to take a break from their own backyard and enjoy the hospitality and wines at their neighbors to the north.
DAN RADIL is a freelance wine writer based in Bellingham, Wash. Dan teaches wine classes at Bellingham Technical College and produces a wine blog, danthewineguy.com.
3033 232nd Street
Langley, British Columbia V2Z 3A8
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 am to 5 pm
Friday through Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm
Phone: (604) 539-9463