Hello BC wine lovers in BC Wine-Lover Land!
This is my first post in over a year and a half. Writing this seems a little bit weird given all of the changes that have happened to me over the past few years. Aside from some significant personal changes, my book, “Valleys of Wine” has now been published and is available for sale at many fine retailers in the Okanagan and online! While we’re on that topic, let’s start with it.
Valleys of Wine
This is the first published comprehensive history of the wine industry in BC since Alex Nichol’s book “Wines and Vines of British Columbia” in 1983. It took 5 years from start to finish and represents a lot of primary research with interviews and snooping around public archives across BC. When I was in the thick of writing it, I described the process of writing a non-fiction book as “studying a full grown tree from the roots to the branches with a microscope and then writing about a single leaf”. There were so many interesting tangents that I started to follow that could have been included but in the end, were not entirey relevant to the topic. As it is, the first draft of the manuscript was 174,000 words. My editor Charlene Dobmeieir gracefully paired it back to 140,000 and fine-tuned that focus a little more. Robin Mitchell Crendfield’s book design made it look beautiful, professional, and something that would look great among other wine books on the shelf.
The book arrived at my house on October 24th, which is not an insignificant day for me as it was the 4th anniversary of the passing of a dear friend of mine, Aaron Olfert, who started Wine Country BC with me. The book is also dedicated to him and for it to arrive on the anniversary of his passing was not lost on me. I am always thankful for the hours of podcasts that I have on this blog that contain his voice. I listened to them now and then whenever I would get stuck on writing a particular part because he was one of those people that could take something complicated like wine and explain it simply. Aaron knew that I was writing this book and we talked about it when I saw him the day before he passed.
I’ve been very lucky to have some great people write articles about the book’s release and some of the events that I’ve done around promoting it;
I have done a few casual talks about it through the past couple of months and even a tasting seminar at the BC Wine Information Centre (which featured some historically important wines).
Unfortunately, the book arrived just a couple of weeks after I had finished my short course on BC wine history at Okanagan College, where it would have made a perfect textbook. That course is something that I look forward to teaching every year and features a more involved historical tasting which clearly shows just how far the industry has come.
A common question that comes to me is, “What is the next book going to be about?” To which I reply, “We shall see.”
While I had planned (and started) to update this site by changing its format slightly, I have retained my original WordPress site. I really missed writing about the wines, wineries, and people that I have been meeting lately and that outlet (in the new format) becamse to cumbersome to maintain. This format makes it easier to use and, after just over a decade of using it, it is still the most familiar to me at this point.
What will I be writing about? More of the same, with a little more of the new – new wineries, new wines, new experiences, new discoveries. In July of 2018, I returned to work at the BC Wine Information Centre in Penticton, which is where I was when I first started Wine Country BC in 2009. I am lucky that I was able to return to that same perspective on the industry that I missed when I was working at wineries. Working at a winery meant that I had to focus only on that winery’s products. While this was good to do, and challenging in a different way, it wasn’t always interesting for me. I liked being in touch with the biger picture, the context of wine in the whole province. I wanted to know what was happening everywhere in the world of BC wine and working at a store like the BC Wine Info Centre gave me that perspective again.
I should be clear everything I write or say here is completely my own opinion and perspective and does not represent anything from any of the places that I work or have worked. This is and has always been a personal blog filled with my own opinions. I sell wine at work, not here. Back in the podcasting days, I always tried to make sure that we didn’t say anything about any of the places where we worked. All of the people that appeared on the podcast worked for a winery or were in the industry in some way, but we were not selling anything and I (as the only one left from those days) are not selling any particular wine or brand. (Although I am now selling a book, so there is that slight change…)
Which leads me to another topic that I get asked about…
When I started Wine Country BC, it was meant to be a podcast. I didn’t give a boo about writing anything but found it necessary to write something down in order to have a platform to post the podcasts. The posts at the beginning reflected that, such as this great example that contains a total of exactly one sentence. How times have changed.
I am sometimes asked if I am going to start podcasting again and the answer is always, “I would really like to.” Now that podcasts are not foreign concepts anymore like they were in 2009 and people can play them in their cars, this seems like a great time to come back with a wine podcast. Though I was not the first (David Bond’s BC Winecast was the first in 2007), I thought that we were able to contribute something to the conversation about BC wine at a time when it was not being adequately served in online media. Traditional print and radio were still dominant and the online world hadn’t quite figured itself out yet. That is not the case today and listening to a podcast or sharing an online article is far easier than it was back in the days of early social media.
What is still the case today is that it takes a lot of time to produce a resonable sounding podcast. I estimated that every 10 minutes of podcast time that you heard took about an hour of production time to complete. Since Wine Country BC was a long-form podcast with the average episode lasting 30-45 minutes, it was a lot of work and a lot of time. That became time that I just didn’t have anymore beginning in 2014 when I started research for Valleys of Wine (see above if you skipped that part).
Along with it being time-consuming, I was also frustrated that there wasn’t a really good way to tell if anyone was hearing it. When I asked some of the people who regularly appeared on it if they had ever listened to it, most of them said no. In addition, after spending about a half-hour interviewing a winery at an event, I turned off my audio recorder and thanked them for taking the time to talk to me. They replied with “Hey, thanks for the free publicity!” That put a sour taste in my mouth from then on about what I was doing and how much work I was willing to do for “free publicity” for a winery. Something needed to change and stopping production on the podcasts was the first thing to go.
Will I do them again? Maybe. I love the podcast medium and would take it on again if I could. I know that there are better podcasting platforms out there that are easier and that return more stats to me. I have considered some of them seriously. For me at this point, considering the balance of time investments, this WordPress site will suffice for my blogging needs.
So what will this site be about if there are not going to be any podcasts?
Well, not exactly like you’re probably used to seeing them. I’ve written about what I think of wine reviews before here and other places. I don’t like wine scores but undestand why they are useful. I know what a good wine is but also know that my own preferences might creep their way into any evaluation of them, no matter how much I may try to keep that from happening.
In addition, there is also the fact that I live and work here in wine country. Some of the people who make these wines are dear friends of mine. Can I possibly give a proper critical tasting note of a wine that way? What if the wine is awful? Would I want to call them out on making a crap bottle wine? No, I wouldn’t. What would be the point in doing that anyway? The weird thing with wine reviews is that they really don’t matter. Critics, wine writers and bloggers can pan a wine all they want, yet to somebody out there, it could be their favourite wine in the world. What is the point of knocking them down or making them feel lesser about it? Some of those wines are made by very good people whose lives depend on selling those same wines. Why would I want to belittle their efforts? I don’t.
Plus, who cares what I think about a wine?
What I would like to offer is part of my experiences with visiting wineries, enjoying BC wines, and meeting some of the amazing people that make them. I figure that over the years, I have personally visited about 90% of the wineries in this province so far. There are some really cool wineries out there. There is the winery that has rescue goats named after the cast of Friends. There is the first winery to open in the Arrow Lakes region that I visited last summer. There is a winery that is making wine from untrellised grape vines. How exciting are these places to visit and meet the people behind them? VERY! Those are the things that I want to tell you about here and what I hope will become the focus of this site going foward.
Until then, I hope that you will all pick up your copy of Valleys of Wine so that you can learn about the sometimes crazy, often weird, and certainly fun history of our province’s wine industry. There are some great wines out there to discover and I will be sharing some of the ones that I’ve enjoyed soon.