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

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.

Five BC Wine Touring Secrets

20130509-213823.jpgIt’s wine touring season again! Time to squeeze up to the wine shop bar, taste a few wines, buy a blingy t-shirt with a half-case, and head to hotel lounge before dinner. Wine country touring can sometimes feel a little more rushed less vacation-like at times, but the fun is always there for you to find. Here are a few of my tips from the many seasons spend touring and living in wine country.

Here are few things to think about as you plan your trip:

Seasons

Riverstone Estate Winery

Riverstone Estate Winery

Firstly, there are seasons to wine touring. The busy season generally runs from mid-May (Victoria Day weekend) to Thanksgiving in October. The truly crazy months are July, August, but September has been punching above it’s weight class in recent years and October is remarkably busy for the Fall Wine Festival. Expect crowded wine shops at this time of year unless you know this: Wine touring secret #1: wine shops are not as busy in the mornings. You can get all the help and information you want from wine shop staff at that time and all without having to jostle for a place at the bar. If crowds and getting more than an arm-width at the bar is more for you, this is a good thing to know. Tour early, have a long lunch, then maybe head back late afternoon when it starts to slow down again. Call ahead though because sometimes smaller wineries don’t open until later in the day.

The shoulder seasons (March break to May 24 and Thanksgiving to Christmas) are also good times to get in some quality wine shop time. Again, some smaller wineries may not be open at this time of year, so check their websites or call ahead to make sure they are open.

Only middle to large production wineries (those are the ones with big parking lots) are open in the winter but it seems that there are more wineries trying out off-season hours. If you’ve ever toured in the winter, wine shop staff (who are usually owners or managers at that time) are more than happy to chat with you for as long as you want.

The biggest thing that people seem to forget is that wine production is also naturally seasonal. Wine can only be made once a year. Wineries harvest grapes in the fall and then make wine out of them. The whites are generally released the next spring while the reds will be released a year or more after that. If you are interested in fresh whites, the best time to get them is in the spring when the new vintages are released. If you decide to come to wine country in the fall, you may not be able to find your favorite Pinot Blanc or Ehrenfelser because it likely sold out in the middle of the summer. Wineries can’t just make more wine at any time like making soda pop or cookies. (I wish I was making this up: I had a customer ask me to call a winery to find out if they could make more of her favorite wine. This was in late July and she truly believed that wineries could just manufacture more on demand.)

What to not wear

Wine touring secret #2: Wear comfortable everything – shoes, shorts, shirts, hats, whatever.There are very few wineries that offer comfortable places to sit. Shoes are important and well as clothes for the heat (in the summer) or layers (for the unpredictable spring and fall). Hats are especially valuable in all seasons, especially when the sun is out. In most places the sun “shines” but in the Okanagan summer, the sun “beats down” more often than not. (At my very first job at a winery, I noticed that I was the only one sitting in the sun during a lunch break – everyone else was in the shade. I mentioned it and a coworker said, “You know, I’m kind sick of summer.” He might as well have said, “You know, I’m kind of sick of oxygen” but I learned to understand it the more I lived here. The heat and sun can be oppressive here at times.

Another thing to not wear: perfume, hairspray, or scented products beyond light deodorant. You might think that you are blending in but trust me, you would stand out less in a wine shop wearing day-glo pink unitard and a sombrero. People who work in wine shops use their noses, a lot. We smell wine everyday. We can tell when a glass is truly clean by how it smells (it shouldn’t smell at all). It’s not just the people behind the bar though; anyone who has spent a day or 2 with their noses in glasses of wine will be more tuned into that sense, and they will find it distracting as well. Interestingly, I find that synthetic odours (perfume, etc) will stand out and interfere with wines’ aromas more than natural ones (mild body odour, bouquets of flowers, etc).

Protect your wine

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

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

Mostly from the sun. The interior of a car can heat up to dangerous temperatures before you even get to tasting the reds. Wine left in a car can heat up and will “cook” in minutes. Ever wondered why the wine doesn’t taste the same when you get it home? That might be why.

There are 2, maybe 2.5 wineries in the Okanagan, that have any shaded parking at all. Kudos go to Silver Sage and Mission Hill for planting a tree or two. (Honorable mention to Cedar Creek.) The problem has more to do with the fact that trees create shade which is not what vines need – they need sun. I have personally walked through vineyard where the grapes closer to trees (i.e. in shadow part of the day) ripen weeks later than vines that are farther away (no shadows ever).

Wine touring secret #3: Bring a big, warm blanket. It seems weird in the summer, but it isn’t. Keep your wine on the floor of your vehicle (the lowest and therefore coolest part) and insulate it with the big blanket. That keeps it out of direct sunlight and gives you a chance to make it through the tasting before the temperature in the car gets to the wine. Don’t forget to use your car’s air conditioner between stops.

Have a Designated Driver

This should be stupidly obvious by now. Since most tourists aren’t comfortable spitting wine (which is totally acceptable – that’s what the pro’s do), you need to have someone drive you safely where you’re going. If you are doing multiple days, take turns being the DD. Many wineries have added special perks for the DD of a group.

Wine touring secret #4: Buy a wine for the DD at every winery you visit. It’s a great way to say thanks and also keeps them involved in the touring experience. I’ve seen DD’s wander around the wine shop and miss out on some of the great conversation at the bar. Also, there’s no harm in just smelling the wine and you can learn a lot about a wine that way.

The other option is to book a trip with one of the valley’s many wine tour companies. Most will take you around to wherever you want to go and even have some great ideas on wineries that you may not have heard about. (Well, not you personally, because as an avid Wine Country BC.ca reader / listener you are already most likely ‘in the know’…) Look for a podcast featuring interviews with local wine tour operators coming soon.

Eat something between wineries

Here’s a shocker: Wine makes you hungry. At my WSET classes years ago, only a visit to my favorite sushi restaurant right before my class could keep me going through the 2 hours of tasting and talking about wine each week. Even that was no guarantee however. Wine, for whatever reason, stimulates our digestive system and we react accordingly. Plus, eating between wineries refreshes your palate and can really extend your wine tasting day.

Wine touring secret #5: There are some great local bakeries, delis, and coffee shops in all of the towns from Osoyoos to Lake Country. Non of them have paid me for advertising though, so you’ll have to search for them yourself. Pick up an assorted selection of eats for the day – breads, fruits, and cheeses can go a long way. Bring a bag or a picnic basket to use or just store them under that big warm blanket next to the wine. You will be much happier that way, even if you go for meals at winery restaurants. Snacks between wineries also helps to cleanse your palate so you can try even more wine. That’s how the pro-wine tourists like myself build up endurance. Practice makes perfect.

So there you go, wine touring secrets from someone who has done my fair share of touring for over a decade. Leave a comment if you have any other tricks or secrets that you’d like to share.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Podcast 97 – BS Rosé

This week, we focus on something that a great many ‘serious’ wine lovers seem to disregard: Rosé. It’s almost a bad word among a certain generation of wine lovers who won’t touch the stuff.

THAT IS GREAT!! Please keep ignoring it!

Keep assuming that it’s all simple, sweet, girly wines and pay no mind to it at all. Without you wanting to buy it, demand will stay low and prices will match it accordingly.

For the rest of us who know about how good r-o-s-é’s from BC can be, here’s an awesome one from Bartier-Scholefield (produced at the Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland) that Nick and I tried recently. Cheers!

Podcast 95 – Light Up the Vines Part 2

My coverage of Summerland’s Light Up the Vines festival continues with this podcast. I had the amazing opportunity to interview someone who is normally the one that interviews other people – amazing people in the world of wine and music – Terry David Mulligan, host of Tasting Room Radio and Hollywood and Wines, joins me for a chat about music, wine, and broadcasting advice. He has just released his memoirs, “Mulligan’s Stew” and was eager to chat and share his experiences about music, wine, and what it takes to grow grapes in Naramata.

Also featured this week is a cavalcade of cameos from returning Wine Country BC Podcast guests as we roll down Bottleneck Drive, including Joyce Wegner from Wineries Refined of BC (Podcast 90 and 51), Kim Lawton from the Similkameen Wineries Association (Podcast 83), Allison Markin from All She Wrote (Podcast 83), and Chytra Brown from Savour Magazine (Podcast 51). And making his podcast debut this week is Brian Glaum, president of the BC Wine Appreciation Society, who is also welcome to stop by the Wine Country BC studios for a full podcast next time he’s in the Okanagan. (Sorry, dropped a hint there…)

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Podcast 94 – Light up the Vines Part 1

Summerland is a lovely town north of Penticton. I lived in Summerland briefly for my first season in the Okanagan Valley and I thoroughly enjoyed it there. Every fall they have a Festival of Lights and this year they sweetened the deal with an artisan’s market and a Light Up the Vines winery shuttle bus tour that wandered through most of the wineries around town.

There were also a few people promoting their new books and we will hear from two of them today. We will hear from Ricardo Scebba about his new cookbook “That’s Amore” which is full of recipes from his restaurant near Lake Country. He makes no secrets about his cooking and this book has some truly outstanding recipes. (He’s also great at doing impressions of the movie Spinal Tap – ask him next time you go to his restaurant – He might give you a discount.*)

I also had the chance to speak with Judie Steeves about her cookbook called “Jude’s Kitchen.” It’s a huge book of recipes based on local ingredients that has some expert wine pairing for each recipe. You’ll have to listen to find out who the expert is but as a hint, he’s been on the Wine Country BC podcast before!

And finally, I couldn’t help but get a word in with Peter Young of Okanagan Wineland Dressings who makes one of my favorite salad dressings of all time. Many of his products are available in local wine shops and delis throughout the Okanagan Valley.

*Or he might charge you double. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.