Regional Marketing in BC

Regional associations of wineries (sometimes blandly referred to as “generic marketing bodies” in the wine industry) are not a new phenomena in B.C. They lurk in the background of tastings and marketing campaigns in the Okanagan, Vancouver, and other key markets. I’m not even sure that many consumers are all that familiar with them specifically and perhaps that’s not a bad thing. They are kind of under-the-radar organizations that represent many (and sometimes, but rarely, all) of the wineries within a given geographical region. They publish maps and buy advertising space on behalf of their wineries. When asked to name one of these organizations, I suspect that most wine tourists wouldn’t be able to name more than one or two if any at all. When I produced the “BC Wine 101” series of podcasts and posts about each region in advance of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Penticton, it was the representatives from each of these organizations that I consulted and interviewed for the podcasts. They are great for learning about each region but their real value is promoting all of the member wineries. They are worth getting to know because many host amazing events (Similkameen BBQ King, Naramata Tailgate Party, etc) and some of their websites have lots of great information for planning  your next wine tour.

So, have you been to all of these?

The Associations

Naramata was the first unofficial subregion to begin promoting itself as a destination through the Naramata Bench Wineries Association. As a result, wine tourists who come to the Okanagan are more familiar with or have heard more about Naramata wineries than any other region. It is ironic today that a region is that essentially on a road to nowhere is the first place that people want to go. That’s a testament to the success of the continued marketing behind the Naramata wine brand. It wasn’t an overnight success but has surely paid off well to the member wineries and non-member wineries alike. The Naramata Tailgate Party in September is always a hit and spring tasting events held in key markets ensures that there is never a dull moment for lovers of Naramata wine. It’s a strategy that has worked with the results clearly on display at any Naramata winery on any day of the week during the summer. As a touring region, Naramata probably draws the most people daily because the wineries are conveniently close together and most are within a very short drive from Penticton.

Across the lake the wineries in Summerland’s Bottleneck Drive have organized themselves with some fantastic events to promote their region. The pre-Christmas Light Up the Vines events are a pre-Christmas wonderland of activity that is a rare off-season event in the Okanagan. Wine tasting on a cold winter evening is quite a different experience and Summerland is a spectacular place to do it, showcasing each winery’s unique landscape and Christmas light display. As a touring region, Summerland is a fascinating diversity of landscapes which makes it completely different from Naramata’s views (Oh look – a vineyard. Oh look – the lake). Giants Head mountain is the may poll around which the wine tourists spin, stopping at wineries that could overlook a deep canyon, a bucolic farming valley, or even (yes) a lake.

The Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association represents the largest geographical region in the Okanagan Valley compared to the others and also currently has the largest number of member wineries (36). Hosting events like the Pig Out, the wildly popular Half-Corked Marathon, and Cactus Jalopies, OOWA’s events take place mostly in the early part of the summer from May through to July. The exception is the Winter in Wine Country which is held in late November. As a wine touring region, the Oliver Osoyoos region is big. You can’t see it in a day so don’t try. You will miss wineries so just note which ones they are and try again next time. This is the best place to spend an entire week because you can tour every day and not hit the same winery again, unless you want to. The vineyards are more impressive here because they are bigger and so are many of the wineries. Like the Westside there are boutiques and commercial productions here but many of the wineries are solidly medium size productions. This is the best region to tour at any time of the year since many wineries remain open all year. Vineyards in the winter are every bit as beautiful as they are in the summer.

toplogo-finalThe Okanagan Falls Wineries Association represents the wineries in the region around the town of Okanagan Falls. It’s a town that many wine tourists (myself included at one point) drive through without stopping while on the way to somewhere else. The valley narrows here and wineries are far less visible than in any other region in B.C. Most tourist brochures feature a stunning view of MacIntyre Bluff with Blue Mountain Vineyards in the foreground which is just south of Okanagan Falls so it’s a shame that some wine tourists just won’t get off the highway. The big event is their Party in the Park held in July and is always a great summer BBQ beach party. As a touring region, Okanagan Falls offers diversity. Looking for rich reds, aromatic whites, top notch bistros, or stunning views? It’s all there nestled among the most narrow and geographically bizarre area of the Okanagan. 

The Similkameen Wineries Association brings the thunder at the historic Grist Mill every July with the Similkameen Barbeque King competition. Representing the majority of wineries in this unique valley just west of Oliver and Osoyoos, the Similkameen wineries often get passed by too quickly by drivers on Route 3 who are eager to get to their Osoyoos or Kootenay vacation destinations. As a touring region the Similkameen suffers from being farther away from the Okanagan (where there are more accommodations) and being on the road to the Okanagan. The more adventurous wine tourist are richly rewarded for venturing here however because the valley is filled with small, family run, boutique-style wineries that are making wines on a whole new level.

wineislandsThe Wine Islands Vintners Association represents wineries on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands making it the only association that spans two VQA Designated Viticultural Areas. There’s lots to do here and in my opinion, if the Okanagan is our Napa, the Islands are our Sonoma. Ok, the size ratio is way off but the agricultural focus is not. The Islands are not only focused on wine. There is a lot of food-related agri-tourism integrated seamlessly with wine along with ciders, mead, and other fine beverages. In an area that seems completely odd (aka not dry) for grape growing, creative wines are made here that are finally starting to develop a wider following. As a touring region, there is no way to get through this place in a day or even a week. There are too many nooks, crannies, and ferry schedules to contend with. It’s a great place to explore by following your nose, letting one thing lead to another.

In the far north of the Okanagan (where it is technically not even the Okanagan anymore) is the Shushwap Wineries, which have developed a website promoting wine tourism in their region. It’s not really a new wine region (Larch Hills has been around for years) nor are grapes completely new to the area (first vineyard was in 1907, before Oliver even existed). The northern latitude means that they must use different grapes than in the Okanagan but to me, this is what makes it interesting. As a wine touring region, the Shushwap is convenient for travellers on the Trans-Canada highway but like the Similkameen, has to work a little harder to get people off the road long enough to try their wines. It’s a different style of wine making and it’s a style that I think is unique to B.C. and worth checking out.

And then there’s Kelowna…

Although the first winery in the Okanagan was in Kelowna, it has unfortunately remained the latecomer to the regional marketing game. Confusingly, it is also the most disparate with at four smaller regions represented by associations. (Maybe they need an association of associations?) Thankfully recent years have seen a concerted effort on the part of wineries here to organize themselves into associations to attract wine tourists as that sector grows more competitive. Starting in Kelowna, the organizations loosely follow the compass.

The largest region near Kelowna actually across the lake in West Kelowna. The Westside Wine Trail represents the biggest diversity of wineries (in terms of production size) within the smallest geographical area. There are all sizes of wines from garages and quonsets to large commercial production facilities, organic producers to, well, not organic producers. Mission Hill tends to top the pyramid here as an attraction and literally sits atop of Mount Boucherie. Other wineries are tucked neatly into their vineyards on the slopes looking east. It’s difficult to imagine an organization that can represent the myriad interests of such a diverse group but the Westside Wine Trail does it and apparently quite successfully. As a touring region, everything is relatively close together just like in Naramata which makes it easy to spend the whole day there. Many wineries are also open year round.

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Kelowna’s Fab 5 Wineries represents the wineries on the benchland east of Kelowna, historically known as the K.L.O. Benches (named after the Kelowna Land and Orchard Company that subdivided the land in the late 19th century). As the name suggests, there are 5 wineries in this group which is a perfect leisurely wine touring day trip. The wineries are all small, boutique productions and many are quite fun and creative with their marketing image. As a wine touring region, it seems like a completely different world even though Kelowna is so close. The views of the valley and lake are unique and far more expansive than in any other wine region. There is a lot of history here as well since First Nations, fur trappers, pioneers, ranchers, and orchardists all recognized the beauty of this part of the Okanagan.

lakeshoreThe Lakeshore Wine Route encompasses four wineries on the south side of Kelowna. The wineries operate some of the oldest continually producing vineyards in BC. CedarCreek has been operating as a winery the longest while Tantalus’s vineyards are older but has been a winery for less time. The established winery names draw visitors here because, just like Naramata, this is a road to nowhere. People have to want to come here rather than just stop off on their way to somewhere else. They have been flocking there for years which is a testament to the quality of the wines produced there. As a wine touring region, the Lakeshore wine route is geographically small and makes an excellent afternoon tour destination. Eager tourists who head there in the crisp morning will find it even better with less crowds and beautiful views of the lake in the morning.

scenicLast on the scene is the Scenic Sip, an exciting new association that includes wineries north of Kelowna in the area known as Lake Country. Like Summerland, there is a wide diversity of landscapes to see at each stop, making this an aptly named wine trail. There’s a lot of energy here from the younger wineries which pairs well with the long-established wineries like Gray Monk, who have been successfully attracting people to drive up Camp Creek Road for almost 35 years. As a wine touring region, this is the first place that people can see flying into Kelowna. You are literally mere minutes away from your first winery wine tasting coming out of the airport. The higher elevation of wineries like Gray Monk and 50th Parallel mean that there is a much grander view of Okanagan Lake than anywhere else in the valley. The lake itself is more narrow here, more steeply walled, and far more green compared to Osoyoos’s brown. Worth a day trip but it may take you a little longer to get to all of the wineries here in the summer so plan extra time.

“Emerging” regions

kamloopsNewest on the scene is the Kamloops Wine Trail. It’s so new that I haven’t actually visited this region yet. It’s absolutely on my list and I look forward to heading there. With hot summer temperatures, the Kamloops area has a lot of potential for growing grapes. It’s the winters that will make or break this region, not only in terms of viticulture but also for visitors. There has been some great social media promotion and interaction from this region. It’s also exciting to be able to see the early days of a future wine region which makes now the time to see Kamloops.

Other Regions

The wineries in the Kootenays are not yet organized into an association and perhaps it is still too soon in their development. The Fraser Valley used to have a winery association but that quietly disappeared, at least online. Perhaps a new group of winery owners will feel the need to come together and promote their region.

So have fun touring one (or many) of B.C’s wine regions. Let me know about your experiences. Please post a comment if you have any questions. Happy wine trails and cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Wine Labels in BC: How Wines are Named

There is a lot of information on wine labels. Sometimes deciphering them can be a bit of a challenge. There are strange words that don’t look like they’re in English and it’s probably because they aren’t. I vividly remember walking down the aisles of my local liquor store trying to figure out which wine to buy for dinner and having absolutely no clue about any of them. In this series of articles, I will explore the information behind the labels for wines made in BC.

In general, wines are usually named after 3 things:

  1. The grape variety or varieties used to make the wine (as in Merlot or Chardonnay)
  2. A proprietary name (i.e. a name that the winery simply made up, as in Oculus or Nota Bene)
  3. A place name, usually for the region where the grapes are grown (as in Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Champagne)

If you’ve ever been confused by the things that are written on the labels, perhaps this will help you out when you visit your local wine store or winery. Let’s start with the grape varieties first.

The Grape Variety or Varieties

IMG_6224There are thousands and thousands of grape varieties out there and the ones that we see on wine labels here in BC represents only a small portion of what’s available around the world. There are many families of grapes out there but the one that concerns us the most here is called Vitis Vinifera. Vinifera grapes are the ones that have been the most popular for making wine and some of the names of them will probably be familiar; Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and many others.

Wineries in BC have been making wine from these Vinifera varieties for only the past 25 years, although there were a few intrepid producers who planted Vinifera vines in BC before then. Some wineries make wines using only a single grape variety as the source of juice. This kind of wine usually lists that particular variety clearly on the front label like the Joie Farm Riesling on the right.

Sometimes the wine is a blend of two different varieties, such as Thornhaven’s ever-popular Sauv Blanc / Chardonnay, or Quails’ Gate’s Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris. It’s not just whites that get this treatment either. Hester Creek’s perpetual Cabernet Merlot combines the names of the 3 grapes used in the blend (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot).

Sometimes these names get a bit long. So for those wineries interested in brevity, they can use…

Proprietary Names

IMG_6216These are wine names that have been made up out of the blue: Fandango, Legend, Old Main Red, A Noble Blend, Two Hoots, and Beleza. Usually, but not always, these wines are blended with two or more different grape varieties. Sometimes it does get a little confusing as to which ones are the grape varieties and which ones are the proprietary names. Newer wine tourists should never be afraid to ask how the wine is named because it is not always obvious, especially with rare grape varieties. A wine label with the word “symphony” on it suggests that it is a proprietary name when it could also be a wine made with the grape variety called “symphony“. On Vancouver Island there is also a winery called Symphony Vineyards but thankfully they label everything clearly by variety. It helps to look at all of the labels clearly.

Proprietary names may not be able to tell you a lot about the wine but it’s very likely that the winery has a reason for its name and perhaps a story about it. From my experience, it is easier for people to recall unique proprietary names when shopping for wine the next day. A wine called “The Fifth Element” is far more uniquely named and memorable than a “Chardonnay”.

Unique names almost invite the consumer to look into the wine. They are almost forced to examine the bottle more closely and read the back label more carefully. A merlot is a merlot is a merlot and may not garner any more attentive examination than that. A bottle with “Hypothesis” written on it will likely be examined far more thoroughly.

Place Names

Wines named after places are much more common in Europe, or as wine people like to call it, the “Old World”. The 3 examples of place names in BC wine that come to mind use the names of the towns only, but only one of them does it directly. “Calona” is a homonymic spelling of “Kelowna” and Oliver Twist Estate Winery was the first to incorporate the town name of Oliver into a winery name, among other meanings. (They cleverly promoted their use of screw caps – i.e. the twist-off, and of course alluded to the novel by Charles Dickens.) Osoyoos-Larose, a blend (not ironically) of the Groupe Taillan’s most prestigious Chateau Gruaud Larose and the town of Osoyoos, also uses the name of the town as part of the name.

20150102-222119.jpgA critical difference with all of these examples is that these are the names of the wineries and not of the wines themselves. There is no winery called “Chateau Bordeaux”. There are many chateaux (wineries) near Bordeaux (the city) that make wine and we generically refer to them as “Bordeaux” wines based on that.

It may happen here at some point in the future but it seems unlikely to be any time soon that anyone will sit back and relax with a glass of “Penticton” or “Oliver” the way that we do with a glass of Bordeaux, Chambertin, Beaujolais, or Chablis. The local town names here don’t seem right as the dominant name on the label nor do they roll off the tongue as the European names do. That kind of thing isn’t impossible in the “New World” (aka. not-Europe). If I put a glass of red wine in front of you and told you it was a Napa, what would you assume it was made with? Even for most casual wine lovers, Napa is synonymous with big, rich reds and particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. White wines from Napa (aka Chardonnay) and reds from the Willamette Valley (aka Pinot Noir) are also sewing their place names tighter to the variety or style.

A Domaine

We are pretty lucky here in BC with our labels being relatively easy to read. There aren’t too many obscure-sounding names to mispronounce or any “Chateau This” or too many “Domaines de That”. The wine industry here has grown along with a clean and modern style of branding that really seems to prefer uncluttered, easy to read labels. The same can’t be said of wine labels from the rest of the world and any cruise down a liquor store aisle will tell you that (especially in the German section). Burgundy confused me at first but I think I’m getting a handle on it now (after 10 years).

The issue here in BC is this: Will it even matter? I think it is starting to matter, perhaps more than wineries want to admit. I think that there are differences between the north and south of the Okanagan valley that is quickly becoming apparent. Could that one day be a part of the information on our wine labels? Sub-DVA’s like the forthcoming “Golden Mile Bench” are going to put a spotlight on a smaller piece of land very soon. Why can’t that happen to the Black Sage Bench or West Kelowna? Perhaps we need the divisions to build up first before we see them on labels.

Next time you pop a cork, think of the place where it came from. Enjoy your glass of Osoyoos (Syrah)!

~Luke

 

The Morning After, One Month On

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So here I am now on the other side of something that I’ve been looking forward to since the summer of 2010, when it was wistful just an idea among the small delegation from BC that attended WBC10 in Walla Walla, Washington. I first attended based on the recomendation and encouragement of a fellow BC-blogger who had attended a WBC previously and repeatedly told me that it was soooooo much fun. (Thank you Kathleen Rake…)

Being that this one was on home turf, I knew that it was going to be a considerably different experience. Gone from this conference would be the sense of adventure that comes from exploring a new wine region along with the likelihood that I would suddenly find a new wine or style that I’d never tried before. Faces were more familiar than not but I still got to meet a lot of new people and connect with others that I’d only ever interacted with online. For the speed-tastings, I had met, worked with, or interviewed every one of the winery personnel who were pouring the samples. That’s the luck of the draw for the speed-tastings because where you sit in the room determines which wineries you get to taste and perhaps there were plenty there who I may not have met or tried their wines previously. So the adventure of tasting new wines from a new place was not there for me this time, but I wasn’t really expecting that from this conference anyway.

20130701-222612.jpgWhat I was really hoping to see was how the industry here was received by all of the conference attendees who had never tried BC wine before. Overall, I am very proud of the BC wine industry in showing how well that we can come together as an industry to show the adventurous, eager-to-learn, wine bloggers from all over North America what a great place this is to make wine. As proof, this conference was rated by its attendees as the best Wine Bloggers Conference yet!

It was also a new experience for me because I was asked to present a session on podcasting along with Melissa Voth-Mchugh (photography) and Monique Soltani (video) for session called “Videography, Photography, and Podcasting.” I’ve taught music for 2 decades and have helped others learn about wine for 7 years or so but never has anyone asked me to show them about podcasting or even recording. It seems strange but putting into words (or in this case, a PowerPoint presentation) something that I’ve just done since I was 16. My dad had a home recording studio since I can remember and I started making use of it myself when I was old enough. So it’s always been just something that I’ve done and not really shared with anyone else before. I love new experiences like that for, the challenge alone, and for that I am extremely grateful.

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If you haven’t yet heard the podcasts that we recorded that day, please check them out here and here. Both groups were very interested in podcasting and I hope that they can begin to create their own at some point in the future. I was truly amazed at how far some people in the podcast group had traveled to come to the conference. As I edited the audio from those sessions, I found that I really enjoyed listening to all of the accents from all around North America. I was also really happy to see that the session on “Videography, Photography and Podcasting” was one of the highest rated sessions at the conference.

I’m also grateful for getting to meet new people and try new things. I chatted about Pinot Noir with Dan Sullivan, winemaker at Rosehall Run in Prince Edward County. I tasted through 8 South African Chenin Blancs and was part of the first group of people outside of the 4 members of the wine making team in France to taste a deadly new Gamay blend from Georges Duboeuf. I tasted wines from Uruguay for the first time. I learned about Nomacorc’s amazing synthetics corks. There was so much information there that I felt drunk on that rather than any amounts of wine that I had the opportunity to taste. That in itself makes the Wine Bloggers Conference worth every penny for me. It’s an almost adventurous thirst for knowledge that seems to be a common denominator among many of the attendees and this conference in particular straddled that line extremely well.

20130701-222943.jpgOne of the most special experiences for however was getting to experience the new wine caves at Seven Stones Winery in Cawston for the Friday evening excursion. I had heard about its planning for at least a year or more before it actually began construction. I remember vividly standing in the cold of January on the dirt at the bottom of where the barrel lift is now, looking up through the trusses that were going to support the concrete forms at George’s house. I’ve never been able to look up at someone’s house from 25 feet below the ground and the perspective was amazing. It was a truly special occasion for me to be present at the first function to be held there and I’m so glad that I was there in person.

This will be my final blog post on the Penticton Wine Bloggers Conference although another podcast is not out of the question since I still have a small amount of audio that remains unedited at this time. Thanks to everyone who participated, organized, and otherwise took part in the Penticton WBC13 and to the great gang of podcasting peeps from my session.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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Podcast 138 – A Conversation with The Demystified Vine

20130618-223952.jpgThe Demystified Vine, aka Valerie Stride, has been writing about wine on her blog The Demystified Vine.com which in celebrating its first blogiversary in July. She’s been working her way through the WSET courses in Vancouver, works at Liberty Wine Merchants in Vancouver, and works as the ‘in-house sommelier’ for Clos Du Soleil among other wine pursuits. It is immediately evident when speaking with her that wine has clearly become her passion in life.

In this podcast, she shares her thoughts on what she’s learned about wine, what BC wine has to offer the world, and how a sommelier can legitimately enjoy a glass of white zinfandel.

Podcast 136 – WBC13 Podcast Breakout Session Group 1

20130614-140553.jpgThis is the first group of bloggers that attended my breakout session on Saturday morning, June 8th, 2013 in Penticton to learn how to podcast. We had only a short amount of time to learn a few skills about producing a short podcast from the ground up and here is the result – a great conversation featuring a small group and one particularly tasty bottle of wine, generously supplied by Jordan Winery.

It was a completely new experience for me to talk about podcasting, which is something that I’ve been doing now since 2009. I had a great time and enjoyed meeting, chatting, and podcasting with people from all over North America. This is truly the most international podcast that I’ve ever done and I had a blast. Thank you all for coming to see how fun wine podcasting can be!

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Thanks to Allan Wright at Zephyr Adventures for asking me to present a session on podcasting and to Lisa Mattson from Jordan Winery for moderating, guiding the sessions so smoothly, and supplying a stunning bottle of Jordan’s latest Cabernet Sauvignon at the last minute for my podcast breakout sessions. Thanks also to my fellow co-presenters Melissa Voth McHugh and Monique Soltani for sharing the great fun on a Saturday morning!

Click below to listen to the podcast right here:

You can also listen to this podcast on iTunes.

People you will hear on this podcast:

Melinda Augustina from the He Said / She Said Wine Blog
Leilani Carara from The Wine Deviant
Joanne DiGeso
Brent Gushowaty from BCPinotnoir.com
Byron Marlowe @professormerlot
Cindy Rynning from Grape Experiences.com
Amy Gross from Vinesleuth.com
Valerie Stride from The Demystified Vine

A few extra notes to those intrepid podcasters who attended my session – I didn’t really have enough time to cover everything that I usually do to prepare for a podcast recording, but there are a few more tips that I didn’t get a chance to mention;

A big important one is to take a quick photo of your setup each and every time. It will help you remember what everything looked like so that when you get a great sounding recording, you can see how you did it.

Also, if you’re going to use a handheld audio recorder, use only the best (and unfortunately really, expensive) batteries like Energizer Ultimate Lithium. They are worth every penny and won’t run out in the middle of a recording. They will still get drained if your recorder is left on (or gets switched on accidentally) and then packed away after a Wine Bloggers Conference (a completely random example that I may or may not have experienced recently…) so always check to make sure and use an AC plug whenever you can.

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The Count Down Begins – Where the action is

The countdown is on to the 6th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, BC. This is where the BC industry in the Okanagan valley can really show the world what they can do.

If you have been following the BC Wine 101 podcasts featuring many of the wine regions in the Okanagan Valley, then you will notice that there may be a few regions missing. I am very much hoping to get Naramata involved in the coming weeks and that will likely be the very last podcast in that series. The idea was to get this series completed before the Wine Bloggers Conference and then leave it at that for now.

For people who have been following the wine industry in BC over the last decade or two, you will notice that some of the more historic wineries and locations are not included in this series. Venerable estates like Summerhill, Cedar Creek, and St. Hubertus, or the “Fab 5 Wineries” east of Kelowna are not included. Neither are the northern wineries like Gray Monk, Arrowleaf, or Larch Hills. There are a few reasons for this and I’d like to address them for the record because I’ve never wanted to deliberately exclude any winery on this podcast/blog and it’s important to me.

Firstly, the Wine Bloggers Conference is coming to Penticton and the wine regions in BC Wine 101 are the ones that are closer to Penticton than anything else. There is a pre-conference excursion that will visit Tantalus and other wineries in that area, but the bulk of the action is going to be focused on these southern Okanagan wine regions. Having been to 2 conferences previously, there is only so far that we can go for an excursion and the organizers have set those limits for a reason.

Secondly, regional representation wasn’t there. The fact is that when I wanted to chat with someone about the wineries of the Similkameen, Okanagan Falls, or any of the featured regions, there were organizations in place to receive those requests. There were people who had been hired or contracted to act on behalf of the wineries in those regions. Did that make a difference to the organizers of the conference? I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. I know that I found it generally quite easy to get interviews and chat about the wine regions.

And thirdly, (and most shocking in a way, especially for people like me who have followed the industry closely for years) the wine industry is no longer centred about Kelowna. The real action is in the south. A quick glance at the Lt. Governor’s Award winners from its decade-long existence will show that the most northern winning winery in 2012 was Thornhaven in Summerland. Maybe it’s just the recent vintages, but earlier awards always had strong showings from Sandhill, Cedar Creek, and other grand estates in the Kelowna area. Maybe that’s a sign of things to come? Who knows?

When I started this series, I was hoping that I would be able to get all of the wineries in the Okanagan represented on record for that they do best. It just wasn’t possible within the small scope (and no budget) of my podcast and that really got me thinking about how this industry has changed. I still want to talk about the wineries on Camp Creek road and the glorious rieslings near Kelowna. I want to chat biodynamics, Leed certification, and Pinot Noir until the cows come home. The story of BC wine really begins with a lot of these properties and I really believe that the story of BC Wine 101 begins here.

But the question of representation remains and not just for media oeno-nerds like me. When the subject of sub-appellations really starts to build (and it will), who will be there to represent the regions that may have some of the most unique terroir out there? My guess is that it will be in the south.

Podcast 130 – BCWine 101 The Similkameen Winery Association

The view from Seven Stones Winery south of Cawston.

20130218-203437.jpgWelcome to BC Wine 101, where I will focus in on a different wine region in each episode for anyone who is interested in learning about BC wine, including the wine bloggers who will be traveling to Penticton for the Wine Bloggers Conference coming up in June.

You can listen online here or download our podcast on iTunes.

The Similkameen Valley is beautiful, and not in an easily identifiable, normal way. There’s something about this valley that is almost other-worldly.

Looking south from the northern edge of Clos du Soleil's vineyards.

Looking south from the northern edge of Clos du Soleil’s vineyards.

I actually find it distracting to drive through it. The mountains are so shapely and imposing that I cannot take my eyes off them, in any season. This becomes a problem when I’m the only one in the car and must concentrate on keeping the wheels on the winding roads. (Except in Cawston, in the middle of the Similkameen’s vineyard area, where there is probably the longest, straightest stretch of road anywhere in BC’s interior.)

It’s difficult to really explain the place that the Similkameen Valley occupies in terms of BC’s wine industry. The terroir is not as studied as the South Okanagan and the reputation does not precede it like the Naramata Bench. Just like the wineries of the Columbia Gorge AVA from last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, the Similkameen Valley is the little region that is often overshadowed by the more renowned neighbor and only people in-the-know understand that there is an amazing party going on there with wines that will blow you away.

The Similkameen also happens to be the home of one of my all-time favorite wine and food events – The Similkameen BBQ King Championship. I’ve recorded a podcast at each of the last two events (check out 2011 or 2012‘s posts and podcasts) and each time, the beautiful location of the historic Grist Mill heritage site, the amazing collection of local wines, and the Okanagan and Similkameen’s top chefs competing for bragging rights makes for an unbelievable event you won’t soon forget.

Even driving through the Similkameen is unforgettable. Imagine what the wines taste like from this unique place.

Joining me in this podcast are Similkameen Winery Association Chair George Hanson and Marketing Director Kim Lawton.

The Similkameen river from the patio of Forbidden Fruit Winery.

The Similkameen river from the patio of Forbidden Fruit Winery.

Wineries of the Similkameen Winery Association:

Cerelia Clos du Soleil Eau Vivre
Forbidden Fruit Orofino Robin Ridge
Rustic Roots Seven Stones Sage Bush Winery

Other Wineries in the Similkameen Valley:

St. Laszlo

Crowsnest Vineyards Herder Vineyards Little Farm Winery
Wine shop breezeway at Orofino, and winery built with straw bales.

Wine shop breezeway at Orofino, and winery built with straw bales.

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Vineyards in the Similkameen.

Welcome 2013 – Sharing Our Best

20130103-121007.jpgHappy New Year BC Wine lovers! I hope your holidays were all grand and filled with some great BC wines. I tweeted a few of the ones that I had over the holidays and saw quite a few others do the same. It’s a good time to pull out some of the more interesting bottles from the cellar and see how they’re doing. I love searching through the rack a little more when I know that I can share a special bottle with friends and family.

I think most true wine lovers are like that. At least, I haven’t met very many truly greedy wine lovers who actively hoard their most interesting wines. It’s almost part of ‘wine culture’ to be generous with sharing the bounty of one’s wine cellar, within appropriate contexts of course. If I’m visiting a friend’s place for a pizza and movie night, I don’t expect the friend to be bringing out a decades-old Bordeaux. A $10 red would be more appropriate. However, if I’m visiting after traveling across the country to be there for a visit, a $10 wine might seem a little out of place, especially if it’s been years between visits. When people travel a lot to visit me, they get the good stuff. Always.

20130103-120852.jpgIn June of 2013 the Wine Bloggers Conference will be attracting more than 200 of the most social-media-savy, wine-knowledgeable, wine-loving, online loud-mouths in North America to Penticton. Some of them will be traveling here from far away. At the last conference in Portland, I met people from southern California, Florida, Virginia, and Toronto. They all made the trek to Portland to see and taste the wines of the Northwest and to get inspiration for their future writing or online content. It was a lot of wine people coming for a party and the local wineries and organizations, like King Estate (who created a website specifically for the conference and presented a dinner) and the Oregon Wine Board (who presented a tasting and various dinners throughout the region at local wineries), really stepped up to bring us their best wines and experiences. I will forever remember my experience at Phelps Creek Vineyards in the Columbia Gorge AVA for many reasons. I know that I if I see any of the wines from the wineries who were present that wonderful evening (Cathedral Ridge, Viento Wines, Naked Winery, and The Pines), I will be putting them in my shopping cart first.

20130103-120934.jpgThat’s the kind of lasting experiences that I hope BC wineries can bring out for the coming conference in June. There’s only 5 short months to go now which will pass by more quickly than we think.

For my part, I’m planning on a series of podcasts on each wine sub-region in BC featuring interviews with representatives from as many local winery associations as I can get. It’s a kind of “Introduction to BC Wine” for those bloggers coming to visit as well as an audio document on BC’s wine industry at the beginning of 2013. My philosophy when starting this podcast was not only to present new and exciting wines and wineries that I thought needed more recognition, but also to document the industry at this point in time. When many of the wineries are still directly owned and operated by their founders, why wouldn’t I try to record their thoughts on the industry’s genesis?

As it is a new year, there will also be some changes to the location of the Wine Country BC Podcast. WordPress has been great as a way of starting up as a blog, but for podcasting, there are other, more efficient, ways of syndication that don’t require me to manually enter code and update a feed at 2am after editing sound for 5 hours. I’m a big believer that the best ways are usually the most efficient ways and I can no longer continue operating with the current method.

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As I’ve been tweeting, I am also in the middle of recording a new album of instrumental music, including a new version of the song Cruise Control (the theme to the Wine Country BC podcast). There are also a few other projects that will be announced into the spring which will be of interest to wine lovers in the Penticton area and online.

Lots of stuff happening here in Wine Country. Thanks for listening and reading. All the best for 2013. Cheers from wine country!

~Luke