Your ticket to visiting Cowichan wine country? In a word, it’s Cheers.
The idyllic Cowichan Valley has gone through a renaissance of late. Once a region primarily engaged in farming and logging, in recent times it has reinvented itself as Canada’s “New Provence”. Like the fabled region in southeast France known for its fine wine and artisanal cuisine, Cowichan is now home to numerous wineries, plus a burgeoning assortment of craft breweries, distilleries, cideries, restaurants, farmers markets and associated businesses. With such a cornucopia, it’s not surprising that the world has come knocking on Cowichan’s door looking for a guided tour.
To answer that call is a company called “Cheers Cowichan Tours”. Started in 2014 by Susan Quackenbush, Cheers is the only tour company located in Cowichan run by local experts. Quackenbush, a business major and a self described, “farm girl from Pennsylvania”, started the company after moving here with her family in 2004. Her initiation into the industry began when she answered an ad looking for grape pickers placed by Blue Grouse Wineries. Susan applied and in an odd turn of events, became what the winery was really looking for – a tasting room manager. If you’ve ever visited Blue Grouse Winery, you’ll understand how Susan felt at home combining her love for the countryside while putting her business education to good use.
In her capacity as tasting room manager, Susan quickly realized that people visited by way of a variety of conveyances – cabs, limos and more often than not, their own vehicles. Susan’s astute idea was to provide an alternative: group transportation to all the local wineries while at the same time, incorporating local insight and injecting an element of fun and adventure.
Her hunch hinged on an 18-seat Ford bus that she purchased in Victoria. When she branded it with the company’s logo and phone number, Susan received permission to park the vehicle at the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre (adjacent the BC Forest Discovery Centre). Within hours, she was receiving calls from potential customers and in short order, “Cheers Cowichan Tours” literally hit the road.
It didn’t take long for the concept to catch on. In a matter of days, Quackenbush and her handpicked team of guides were escorting parties for tastings to all the local proprietors on a route that has become known as the “Cowichan Valley Wine Trail”. In the span of a year, service grew to include trips to and from restaurants, marinas, airports and ferries, plus special events such as weddings and festivals.
Recently, the company expanded into the Victoria market catering to major events such as the Victoria Whisky Festival and The Great Canadian Beer Festival. Cheers also welcomes tourists from the U.S. through partnerships with Harbour Air and Tourism Victoria. Servicing corporate retreat travel is also an aspect of the business and, with group names like “Accountants Gone Wild”, you can imagine the mood aboard the coaches.
The Cheers fleet is now comprised of two deluxe coaches: an 18-seat Ford bus and a brand new, eleven-seat Mercedes Sprinter. This is not a joke, but if you’d like to take a lap or two around the brand new, state-of-the art Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit in an 18-seat bus, Susan can make it happen!
The mechanics of Cheers Tours may involve two coaches, but what really propels the business is its friendly staff and an innate sense of what a party is looking for. Often, groups from as far away as China, Australia and Europe won’t have the foggiest idea of where to explore. It takes tour guides like Julia Hofmann to propose ideas, and if there’s a specific whim amongst the group, (such as a particular wine variety) she will designate a route and direct the driver accordingly.
Such a diversion happened last year when Susan was at the wheel. A group of tourists had hired Cheers to cap off their Canadian tour. Their flight home was looming and the party had ticked off all their boxes, save for one: seeing a bald eagle. Susan’s quick call to The Raptors (a local bird sanctuary/attraction) enabled an impromptu visit. As a result of that call, an up-close-and-personal introduction to a majestic bald eagle ensued.
“On any cheers tour, you will laugh, learn and go away with an authentic and memorable experience.”
— Susan Quackenbush, Owner, Operator, Cheers Tours
Does what happens on a Cheers Tour stay on a Cheers tour? Well, that’s up to you and your group. Susan has had groups ranging from quilting clubs and rugby teams to stags and bachelorettes. Although she won’t divulge any of the shenanigans that occur, she will say that many of the wacky hats that she stores on both coaches eventually get worn by everyone onboard. “Seeing little old ladies consumed with giggles while they model Viking hats is what gets me up in the morning”, says Susan.
After just three years, the reviews for Cheers Tours are in and they are positively glowing. According to TripAdvisor, the company is ranked #2 of twelve things to do in Cowichan and reviews range from “very good” to “excellent”. One review, which mirrors many, states, “We had a wonderful time! Julia our guide was phenomenal! Would highly recommend.”
Not too shabby for a Cowichan company started by a farm girl from Pennsylvania.
If you’d like a unique, personalized tour of the Cowichan area that includes wineries, distilleries and breweries, or pick-up and drop-off service to any of Cowichan’s hotels, marinas or restaurants, be sure to give Susan a call at Cheers Cowichan Tours. She and her team will go the distance to ensure your experience is truly memorable.
Cheers Tours can be contacted by calling 250-710-7391 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org