We’ve been forced to close our on-line store – for now.

Ok, kids, how does this fit into the grand scheme of things? It seems that the world of “virtual wineries” is under some scrutiny at this point. Wine maker Brad Cooper, long-time former wine maker at Township 7 and now at Serendipity in Naramata, has been producing top quality Pinot Noir under the Black Cloud branding for almost 6 years. He has recently volunteered to take down his online sales site because of a “crack-down on virtual wineries”. There are a lot of virtual wineries out there in BC right now but the line between a “virtual winery” and a “label” seems a little fuzzy. Has anyone ever visited the Prospect Winery? How about Sawmill Creek? OKV? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Many upstart wineries begin their production in other wineries’ facilities using the licence of the established winery until the upstart winery is established and can move into its own facility. Painted Rock’s first vintages were completed at Poplar Grove. Le Vieux Pin’s first vintages were also completed elsewhere. Incubator custom-crush facilities like Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland have multitudes of labels belonging to ‘virtual’ wineries – what will happen to them? Seven Directions, wine maker Daniel Bontorin’s rosé focused label, is another one along with a sundry of other garagiste-type labels that have really made the BC wine scene vastly more experimental and extremely interesting over recent years. Could this be the end of this kind of creative experimentation?

Suffice it to say that “crack-downs” from bureaucrats are usually initiated by outside complaints rather than initiated from within the bureaucracy. While it will be interesting to see how this plays out, this is an unfortunate turn of events for wine makers like Mr. Cooper and Black Cloud leading up to the Christmas Season. Just like on their labels, let’s hope there is a silver lining.

~Luke

BLACK CLOUD

If you been over to www.blackcloud.ca you will have noticed that the site is down. We shut it down voluntarily after a BC Control and Licensing inspector made it known in no uncertain terms that a crack-down on virtual wineries was happening and that Black Cloud, a brand of Serendipity Winery, was under scrutiny.

According to the powers that be, there is only one kind of winery in BC. That’s the kind that they license, and brands like Black Cloud, operating under the wing of another operation, are not going to be tolerated. They don’t like wine e-commerce to start, and operating a site without direct correalation to our parent license holder is making them, shall we say, concerned.

In a business environment that favours the landed, the financed and the established, it’s getting harder and harder to be an innovator and to create a winemaking environment that is…

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Podcast 148 – Conversation with Marcia Hamm

MeI met Marcia Hamm last summer when I was working at the winery. She and I had a lot to chat about and it became obvious that we just didn’t get enough time to talk. So we kept in touch and I jumped at the chance to record a chat with her in person when she was visiting West Kelowna recently.

Marcia is busy running her own business and wine blog Joy of Wine and has recently become the manager for a new wine store in St. Albert, AB called Hicks Fine Wines which is scheduled to open mid-November (although at the time we recorded this, the plan was to open November 1). She recently appeared on Breakfast Television in Alberta talking about wine pairings – interviewed by a guy in a cowboy hat (is that really how everyone dresses in Alberta??) Selecting a wine portfolio for a new wine store is every wine lovers dream and Marcia is living it. She’s got a lot of diverse interests and is truly passionate about wine.

So sit back, relax, and grab a nice glass of red for this podcast. Cheers!


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Podcast 147 – Similkameen BBQ King 2014

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This little piggy went to Burger 55…

20141108-193943.jpgWhat can I say about the Similkameen BBQ King that I haven’t already said before? For starters, in this podcast at least, I just shut up and started listening to what others had to say. Other media people and other attendees at this year’s competition. As always, it was tons of fun. As always, the food was top notch. As 20141108-193911.jpgalways, it was the most entertaining food and wine event that I’ve ever been too and nothing has really matched it in my mind. There were a few new competitors this year and the weather couldn’t have possibly been any better. Yes, it was hot. But we here in the Okanagan find that normal and enjoy it when it cools down to 32 degrees. All of this made this year’s BBQ King the best one that I have ever attended.

This podcast contains lots of people – chefs, attendees, and media types. I actually managed to corner Anthony GismondiAnya Levykh, and Kayla Bordignon who all offered their own unique perspectives on Similkameen wine and the experience of attending the BBQ King.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the sounds of the Similkameen’s best (and maybe BC’s best) wine and food competition. For the complete multimedia experience, pour some BBQ sauce into a small dish and smell it occasionally as you listen.

Or don’t. You know, it’s just an idea.

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Podcast 146 – Wine Tour Companies Part 3

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Ok, there’s been a lot of articles lately so let’s get back to the podcasts.

Anyone who has toured the Naramata Bench in the summertime will recognize the name Top Cat Tours. Their buses are almost synonymous with wine touring in Penticton. As one of the oldest wine touring companies in the Okanagan starting in 2001, they certainly have connections and offer a full range of experiences all over the south Okanagan. Tour packages include Summerland, Naramata, Okanagan Falls, a “South” tour to the Golden Mile in Oliver, and the “Cross-over” tour of both Summerland and Naramata. Lunches are generally included and there’s always lots of space to put your newly acquired bottles as you go.

In this podcast, I speak with David Brooks, long-time driver for Top Cat and an all-around fun guy who offers his experiences, tips for touring, and how to talk shop with a volcanologist while wine touring.

Wineries Need to Give Wine Bloggers More Respect

I didn’t get to attend this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference but still somehow feel the need to ‘spread the word’ a little and Valerie has done a great job with this article. You should also read the comments below it for some added arguments pro and con as well as alternative viewpoints. Self-reflection and introspection (or navel-gazing) has, for better or worse, always been a significant part of any WBC that I’ve attended (although interestingly less so in Penticton for some reaosn) and apparently this tradition lives on in the recent conference. More than just applicable to wine blogging though, I really think it’s a bigger part of the zeitgeist – musicians have effectively been deprofessionalized slowly over the past 50 years and writers are in that boat now too. Anyone with a big digital camera can be a “professional photographer” or produce videos easily using nothing but an iPad app. People who may have real talent now have a lot of outlets for it but at what cost? I once had a winery tell me, “Thanks for the free publicity!” as I was leaving after recording a podcast and it soured my outlook on blogging and the work I was putting into creating the podcast. Why was I just giving away my skills and working long hours just to tell their story? My online presence changed soon after that as I moved from a “tell their story”-mode to a “tell it like I see it”-mode. As such, I now rarely introduce myself to new wineries anymore preferring to receive a more ‘anonymous’ public experience of the wine shop (which is what most of my readers / listeners will get) instead of getting whatever VIP treatment the winery can offer. I’m not interested in free wine, I’m interested in *wine* and at this time of my blogging / podcasting life, I will say what I want to say. If your winery has a wine that interests me, I will write about it or include it in a podcast. I can only write about my point of view. I think people who read wine blogs do so because of they know that it’s someone’s point of view and not contrived marketing. That’s where I think wine bloggers need to focus – tell your story, not theirs.

The Demystified Vine

Inspired at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

I was recently at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, California, on a scholarship. During the conference, I attended a number of intensely interesting seminars, in addition to having some serious talks with industry folks about wine. I spoke with fellow bloggers, PR reps, wine writers, winery owners, and even winemakers. Throughout the conversations and seminars, I kept pondering on the relationship between wineries and wine bloggers, and that this relationship needs to be developed and intensified.

Relationships2-Brands-Rousers-Luis-Gallardo-300x300 Social web network marketing diagram Brands Rousers Luis Gallardo

Now, before you jump on this, read with an open mind. This post is not being written to complain about wineries intentionally disrespecting wine bloggers. The whole point is to create awareness and dialogue of where wine blogging stands, how wine bloggers are helping wineries, and illuminate the not-entirely-functioning relationship between wineries and wine bloggers…

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Podcast 145 – It’s BBQ King Time again!

20120821-120101.jpgIt’s that time of year again! Time for the talented chef’s of the Okanagan and Similkameen to get their grills fired up down at the Grist Mill in Keremeos for the Similkameen BBQ King Championship. In my completely humble and totally unbiased opinion, this is still the best wine and culinary event of the year. It’s got wine. It’s got great food. It’s got wine. It’s got competition. It’s got wine. It’s got prizes. And there’s wine.

2013-Sim-BBQ-King-Logo-282x300Sorry, lost my train of thought there for a second.

If you have never been, it is truly a real Similkameen experience. The member wineries in the Similkameen Wineries Association are all artisanal producers and know how to throw a party like no other. Having the chef’s compete with a black box of ingredients only adds to the excitement of the evening. (Chef’s aren’t competitive, are they?) It’s a great treat to be able to get samples of the wines paired with truly creative food that you’ll never find on a restaurant menu. The food accurately shows the skills and talents of the chefs involved. It’s like watching jazz musicians improvise at the top of their game. Unbelievable.

If you’d like more recaps from previous years, check out my posts from 2012 and 2011 recaps and an interview with George Hanson and Kim Lawton from the Similkameen Wineries Association with a preview of the 2013 event.

This podcast has got interviews and sounds from the 2013 event and will give you an idea about the kinds of food and wine that will no doubt be a part of this festival.

Cheers from wine country!
~Luke

Podcast 144 – The Merits of VQA

20140625-212951-77391705.jpgOk, this is a big one. Calli, while studying at UBC last semester, created a podcast for a course called Land and Food Systems. She interviewed two people (with opposing views) about the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (or VQA) and presented it in the form of a podcast. The people that she interviewed were Harry McWatters and Jeff Martin!! I could not believe it when she told me and couldn’t wait to hear the final result. It has spectacular arguments from both sides and for wine nerds like myself, there has always been a fair amount of controversy within the wine community about the merits and use of VQA and I can’t even imagine two other people in BC wine more qualified to discuss this topic.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Podcast 143 – Courcelettes’ Trivium in the Similkameen

20140625-100901.jpg20140625-100924.jpgThis week’s podcast is all about the new wineries in the Similkameen valley, which seems to be where my motorcycle takes me frequently for some reason. It also features a new winery from the Similkameen Valley called Courcelettes. It’s the Baessler family’s vineyard and winery, which is named after their home town of Courcelettes, Switzerland. They are not new to the BC wine world and if you’ve been a fan of the Pinot Blanc from Clos du Soleil over the past few years, you should really be keeping your eye out for Courcelettes’ wines in stores. Click over to their website for more information about their wines and history.

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Charlie Baessler

Charlie gave me this wonderful bottle of their Trivium and that’s the wine that Calli and I are tasting in this podcast. I also bought a bottle of their red blend called Menhir with the intention of using it for a podcast or video but somehow it got imbibed for dinner with friends and, well, that’s how it goes.
Since recording this podcast, I noticed that they have their own ‘official’ highway sign up on Route 3 going through Cawston. Just to give you an idea as to where it is, it’s in the same neck of the woods as Eau Vivre but on the other side of the highway. Their website says that they are open from Thursday to Monday 11-5 so try stopping in on your next travel through the Sim. I know that’s where I’ll be heading as soon as I can.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Podcast 142 – The Nomacorc Revolution, Part 2

20140425-193418.jpg… Continued from “The Nomacorc Revolution, Part 1

So was I convinced? Did they really manage to change my outlook on synthetic corks?? Get a hint with this podcast Calli and I recorded;

In short, yes. They did. Here’s why.

Before this trip, I wasn’t convinced that there was really even a need for synthetic corks. Natural corks are renewable and natural and honestly, I like things to be as natural as possible. Cork-tainted wine doesn’t really bother me that much – I just consider it to be one of those little things in life that are annoying but aren’t worth creating a complicated solution to a simple problem. What I learned on this trip was that cork is still good, but the problems with it (cork taint and variability) can be solved with minimal environmental impact while retaining the ceremony of removing a cork from a bottle. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve done it in a way that gives the wine maker a measurable method of controlling the amount of oxygen flow into the wine after it has been bottled, which has never been done before in the history of wine making. For that reason, I believe this is revolutionary.

Screw caps have never really appealed to me for a whole lot of reasons including the strip-mining of the bauxite which is necessary to produce the aluminium. But the biggest reason is that for years it seemed to me that there was a concerted effort by the industry to get wine writers to talk about screw caps. While I totally acknowledge that this is essentially Nomacorc’s tack as well, the ridiculous way that some wine writers casually slipped in references to the de facto superiority of screw caps just got stupid. Articles would begin with things like, “Now that summer is here, it’s time to start thinking about fresh summer wines. For me, that means a screw cap.” REALLY?? The closure somehow makes a wine more palatable for this writer because it’s a twisty? Like the summer heat in the Okanagan has made using a cork screw that much more intolerable because they’ll have to use a TOOL paired with EFFORT just to get a their wine? Whatever.

20140623-235513.jpgI got sick of reading things like that in the wine media and screw caps have never been good in my books largely for that reason. (It was also partly responsible for getting me interested in starting this blog so sometimes good things can happen…) Other closure “solutions” like Zorks and Vinoloks have amounted to little more than footnotes as far as the BC wine industry in concerned. Again, they seem to be complicated solutions to simple problems and both of these examples seem to be out of touch with the realities of the world and the environment. One has even more plastic and the other is glass (or crystal) at a time when many wineries are trying to reduce the amount of glass that they use through lighter thin-walled glass bottles or keg programs like FreshTAP to reduce environmental impact.

This reality about responsibility to the environment is evidently not far from the minds of the people at Nomacorc who, throughout all of the presentations, were always keenly aware that not only is this the world in which they must operate and sell their product but also the world in which they must live. The European heritage of Nomacorc (through Belgian founder Gert Noël and current CEO Lars Von Kantzow) has really fostered an environmental awareness that permeates all aspects of their operation from product development to manufacturing and transportation. While promotion of that aspect by Nomacorc did come dangerously close at times to green washing, their own promotional literature also noted that a wine’s closure represent “less than 1% of a wine’s total carbon footprint.” In addition, Nomacorc is also not even selling their product to the ultimate end user – wine consumers – who usually aren’t even aware what kind of cork closure a wine bottle has until they peel away the foil. Ultimately, they have little to gain or loose by touting their environmentalism but I personally give them credit for being up front about it. Part of what I don’t like about plastic has to do with environmental concerns but if all companies acted like Nomacorc with their sense of responsibility, we wouldn’t have things like this.

20140623-235522.jpgSo to recap – Nomacorc effectively calmed my environmental fears regarding plastic usage and screw caps have become annoying for a the reasons described above. So what about the different effects on the wines themselves? Shouldn’t this really be all about how the wines age and evolve?

The winery where I work received an older vintage of a bottle of white that we sell. It was from the 2008 vintage and is a white suavignon blanc / semillon blend. We are currently selling the 2013 vintage but we were just about to switch from the 2012 to the 2013. With three vintages there to compare, we tried a sample of each so that we could see how this wine had changed.

In short, it had changed but not in an evolutionary way. There was still fruit on it, but very little else. It was boring. It wasn’t designed to be aged and is best enjoyed within the first 2-3 years from vintage. Anything beyond that is not beneficial. It is the wine equivalent of a faded photograph where you can still tell what the image is, but the colors have all faded and it no longer shows the vibrancy of the time. In sealing the wine completely from the oxygen that will allow the wine to evolve, screw caps have, in my opinion, only really managed to keep one element of the aging process at bay while other factors that cause wine to change as it ages remain unchecked. It just didn’t seem natural.

So screwcaps don’t let a wine age naturally like cork since it does not allow any oxygen into the bottle, but cork is problematic for consistency and quality and lets in completely unpredictable amounts of oxygen into the bottle. It would seem to me like Nomacorc kinda hits it all with their engineered corks that allow a wine maker to effectively control the oxygen rate that gets into the wine after it has been bottled. To me, this is REVOLUTIONARY! They can now tailor their wines to age in consistent and predictable ways even after the bottle has been sold to the consumer.

Perhaps I should step back a little here. Humans throughout the centuries have learned how to make wine through various accidents. Wine itself was probably discovered by accident. Someone screwed up and left a bin of grapes out somewhere and it naturally started fermenting on its own. (Grape skins have yeast cells on them naturally.) Most every style of wine (such as ice wine, sparkling wine, Port, or Madeira) are direct results of someone screwing something up. They’ve all contributed to humans learning about grapes and what makes them into wine of these different styles. As soon that we learn to control a particular variable (grape ripeness, skin contact, yeast, oxygen, etc), we can then learn to refine those accidents into spectacular wines. As soon as yeast was discovered to the be the organism responsible for fermentation (not only for wine but other things like bread, yogurt, beer, etc) humans learned to control and manipulate it to suit their needs. Different yeast strains were cultured to be more consistent, stronger, or impart certain flavors to the wines. Winemakers could control that process much more than they could before, when fermentation itself was still mysterious.

Oxygen is tightly controlled by winemakers throughout the whole wine making process at every step from grapes (using CO2 and potasium metabisulfite) until bottling the wine. After that, there was no control at all and wines were at the mercy of the natural cork (again – inconsistent oxygen transfer and potentially ruinous to the wine) and or screw cap (delicate, iron-clad barrier to oxygen resulting in “faded photograph” wines if aged).

With Nomacorc’s engineered corks with predictable oxygen transfer rates, wine makers can now predictably control the amount of oxygen their wines receive post-bottling. In my opinion, this is truly revolutionary and the main reason why I am happy to see an engineered cork in the bottle after I’ve just peeled the foil. Nomacorc did change my perception about engineered cork closures and I am convinced that they are actually onto something that goes beyond the seemingly simple task of plugging up bottles of wine. There is still more work to be done, they haven’t got it perfect yet, but they’re very close and I believe they’re on the right track.

20140623-235530.jpgBC Wineries that use NomacorcsIf there are others, please let me know…
Adega on 45th
Backyard Vineyards
Columbia Gardens
Fort Berens
Gold Hill
Krause Berry Farms
La Frenz
Little Straw Winery
Rollingdale
Silk Scarf
Silver Sage
Thornhaven
Township 7
Vigneti Zanatta

Podcast 141 – Wine Tour Companies, Part 2

logo1048383_10151680171785673_120139829_oBased out of Kelowna, Wine Your Way Tours has been taking people to wineries around the Okanagan with an extra bonus thrown in. Shalyn Syrjanen-Ross, your tour guide, is also a certified sommelier. Can’t quite figure out what that last wine tasted like? Maybe she can help. What did they mean at that last winery when they said that this wine was aged “sur lie”? Shalyn will be able to explain it to you. And just like a sommelier in a restaurant, she’ll be able to recommend wineries that you might like and customize your tours based on the kind of wines you prefer.

I had a chance to speak with Shalyn about wine touring and all of the fun times that can be had when someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about wine is leading the way.