Whose history is this anyway?

History is a funny enough thing without wine. Then when you add wine, it just gets better but a bit ridiculous. Especially in a relatively new wine region like we have here in BC. Just reading through various sources makes me wonder if what I’m writing for my upcoming book on BC wine history is going to look as good (or as silly) twenty years from now.

Some of the same events in our province’s wine history have been written about in multiple, and completely different, ways. So which one am I to take as the ONE that REALLY happened? Or did either of them happen? How much of one of them is actually more right than the other? It’s a bit frustrating for sure but not as much as finding something that is just blatantly inaccurate right after finding something that was really amazing. I have a source that has something profoundly interesting in it that I’ve never seen before in any other source. That’s the exciting part! New information! And then two pages later they’ve written something that is so utterly wrong that it’s hard to take the cool new information seriously, even though I want to.

Therapy Vineyards - never a bad experience

Therapy Vineyards – never a bad experience

It’s like going to a wine shop (which I did a lot of last year as a tour guide) and hearing something so amazingly wrong like, “Our winery was the first to plant vinifera grapes in the Okanagan in 1987.” … Hmm, no, sorry. You weren’t the first. Or the tenth for that matter. But that kind of misinformation, even if it seems trivial (they’re just tourists, who cares?) is not trivial. At some point, the proverbial fish becomes too big and it simply becomes a lie. That winery is lying to their customers. What else could they be lying about then? Hmm… when they say the wine was “oaked”, was it really 12 months in barrels or oak tea-bags in a tank for 3 months? Is that Cabernet Sauvignon really grown in Naramata like it says on the label??

That’s where proper staff training comes into play. I can tell within 30 seconds of coming into a wine shop if the staff there have been trained properly or not. They don’t even have to open their mouths, although sometimes when they do it just confirms their level of training. It’s something that I’ve written about before and drawn the ire of many an over-worked, under-staffed wine shop manager for doing so.  But if a winery can’t afford to pay all of their wine shop staff for two full days of training and team building (four days for a winery over 30,000 cases) at the beginning of the season, then they will rarely get the kind of cohesive and consistent presentation in the wine shop that will be able to sell their wine by telling their story.

Tamsin's amazing tours at Burrowing Owl

Amazing tour at Burrowing Owl

It seems silly. “What does it matter what my story is? They’re just going to taste my wine and be dazzled by it. It’s the best wine out there – they will love it! That will make them buy it.” It’s the same old “If you built it, they will come” rationale from Field of Dreams that small wineries think will happen when they start out. That’s why they don’t allocate a lot of money to proper marketing or branding either. Patrons in a wine shop (especially Canadian patrons) will rarely tell the winery outright if they’ve had a bad experience or didn’t like the wine or the service. They just won’t buy anything and leave politely without buying anything. But there is someone who they will tell with all honesty and without any reservations.

They will tell their tour guide.

I’ve heard it all about all of the wineries that I’ve visited on tours (some at which I’ve previously worked). Tour groups tell their drivers the best information about their experience and I’m glad they do. I knew that going into the job because I’ve previously told the drivers that drove me around before on tours what I thought of certain wineries and experiences. I also have friends who are tour guides. The good tour guides’ goal is to make sure that you have a great experience. That’s their job and they are always on the lookout for great experiences as well as avoiding bad ones. Want to go to a winery that has a great experience? Find one that has tour buses parked outside of it most of the afternoons (and then go back and visit them in the morning when they aren’t as busy…).

You might think that people aren’t going to like all of the wines out there and that may be a part of it. Tour guides can easily get a sense of their groups and take all comments with a grain of salt. Unlike ten years ago, there aren’t very many seriously flawed wines out there anymore. Better consultants, mature grapevines, and more technology has meant an increased level of quality in the aggregate. But I also know that if customers can’t relate to the story of the winery, through the people who tell it, they are far less likely to buy into anything that’s being sold, regardless of how good it is. I’ve taken people to wineries that I absolutely love – my favourite wineries sometimes – and if they can’t relate to the story or the people telling it, they will walk with nothing or a polite “pity-purchase”.

Kon talks about his vines at Mocojo

Kon shows us the vines at Mocojo

I’m here to tell you that the winery’s story does matter and that it matters a lot. The good thing is that nobody knows it better than the winery does so they are their own experts in a way. And when I say, “Tell your story” I mean the story of the winery, not the whole region. That’s where wine shops get derailed. I’ve heard one wine shop person talk about the amazing geology of their region and how it makes their wine awesome. Then the next shop did the same thing but the geology was completely different! That group was confused by the second shop and (surprise surprise) didn’t buy anything. Neither wine shop had gotten their story straight. The correctness of the geology aside, they should have been focusing on what their own story was rather than try to expound on the story of the region, which is largely dependant on who their consultants were and what, if any, books they’d read on the subject. Often, it’s far more of the former than the latter in which case the fish just got two sizes bigger instead of one.

Historical memory is as foggy as the morning after having too much wine the night before: You know something happened but the exact sequence of events might not be exactly what happened. So, whose history is it anyway?

It’s the winery’s. Tell your story. You know it better than anyone else. That’s what people want to hear and why they’ve bothered to come visit you. Otherwise they’d have just gone to get your wines at Save-On for 10% off.