VQA Store Model is Changing

On Tuesday, November 17th, the BC Wine Institute (BCWI) issued a press release that took many in the wine industry by surprise. But it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. The real surprise might be coming later.

The new rules on alcohol in BC that were implemented in April 2015 allow wine to be sold in supermarkets. As someone who grew up in Quebec, where wine and beer can be sold in supermarkets and 7-11 corner stores, this seemed like a logical move. But B.C. has always had a bizarre way of dealing with alcohol throughout the province’s history and, true to form, this recent change was no different. In Quebec (or Washington State for that matter), it is certainly convenient to be able to purchase wine with groceries but from my experience in both of those places, the wines sold there are never considered “top quality” wines. To have VQA-only wines in supermarkets here seemed at odds with what I’ve previously experienced.

Ok, so what’s the harm in trying? There’s only one way to find out if this will work and that’s to just do it. From what I’ve heard, the four Surrey locations are blasting through amazing amounts of wine and that the whole Save-On-BC-Wine thing is going to be very profitable. That means that the VQA licenses in outlying areas might be better used in more profitable locations and that is always going to be the Lower Mainland.

What shocks me about the closing of the VQA stores is how little coverage it is getting in the media. Tracy Gray of Discover Wines was on Kelowna’s CBC this morning being interviewed about the closure and was very diplomatic about the whole thing. Too diplomatic for host Chris Walker’s taste at times which seemed to inform his seemingly off-the-cuff question about whether or not Gray had been coached by the BCWI in advance of the interview. Gray, always a professional and an excellent and elloquent speaker, responded to all of the questions calmly but with an air of detachment that seemed at odds with the facts. Discover Wines, her twelve and a half year-old business and the number one VQA store for sales every year, was going to be shut down Arthur Dent-style early in the new year to make way for a hyper-profitable retail chain. Even if Gray didn’t show it outwardly, Walker understood what it is that we stand to lose: Our wine culture. The interior will lose out on those great stores filled with passionate, knowledgeable, and helpful staff members who know the wines better than anyone except the winery staff themselves. They are front-line contributors to local wine culture.

And of course this comes with a disclaimer – I used to work at a VQA store and understand how it functions differently than a regular wine store. I also currently work for a winery that sells wines to those VQA stores. Since 3/4 of them in my territory are closing, I stand to lose out on a little chunk of commission. Yes, it will be a owee. But there are bigger things at risk in the longer term.

The light media coverage so far shows me what I already knew beforehand from my own recent experience. People (the general B.C. public that buys wine) have forgotten what VQA means in the first place. It didn’t dawn on me until I worked this past summer as a wine tour guide. I was amazed at how many times that I had to explain to people from B.C. what VQA stood for and what it meant. I’ve had to explain that to people in wine shops and wine stores more and more over the years since I started in the industry. It’s like the industry just assumed that people knew what it was all about.

Here’s a bit of the backstory:

When the wine industry as we know it today was in its infancy in the 1980’s, estate wineries had an uphill battle to prove to consumers that it was fit for human consumption. Canadian wine had a bad reputation. The Vintner’s Quality Alliance was an industry-lead quality assurance DSC_5124program that acted as a “seal of approval” from the industry. The VQA logo on a bottle of wine meant that this wine was considered to be a quality product.  By 1996, the BC Wine Information Centre opened in Penticton (with wines from over 24 wineries!) and was the first stand-alone VQA store. Other stores followed effectively with a mandate to sell B.C. wine and be the defacto community resource for people to learn about their locally produced wines.

It worked. VQA wine sales shot up. Wineries opened throughout the 1990’s at a furious pace. Predictions in the early 90’s that by the end of the century, that B.C. could have at least 100 wineries! Imagine that! Of course at the time, there were only a quarter of that so it seemed like a lofty goal. The optimism in the industry then was a result of VQA and was a complete 180 from only a few years prior when Free Trade was supposed to wipe the industry out  completely.

But something happened in the intervening years. The wine industry continued to grow but not everyone was on board with VQA. Jeff Martin was noticeably absent from VQA when he started La Frenz. (For a great interview with Martin and his thoughts about VQA, check out Calli’s podcast on the subject from 2014.) Other producers followed as the need decreased for VQA to convince consumers that quality wines could be produced in B.C. Consumers knew that B.C. wines could be good already and smaller producers didn’t feel the need to pay the added cost to be a part of the program.

I can see both sides of that argument but that isn’t the point of this article. My point is that over the almost 25 years that we’ve had VQA in B.C., the vast majority of casual wine buyers still do not know what it is and likely have never set foot in a VQA store. Thus, the quietest of media uproars over the recent VQA store closures in the Okanagan.

The issue here is profits. Wineries are businesses and have to make money to survive. The Vancouver is where the customers are and most wineries’ allocations are sent to the Lower Mainland anyways. Having them in a Save-On is far more profitable there than having a nice stand-alone store in the Okanagan where people who do enjoy local wines can (and sometimes do) go right to the winery to buy them. Only time will tell if the new Save-On-BC-Wine model will work in the long run (and who it is that will actually profit the most from it) but I think it’s safe to say that wine will follow where the money is. This BCWI list of VQA stores will have few, if any, locations on it outside of the Lower Mainland in the not-so-distant future. How will that effect the wine culture in the interior of the province where most of the wine comes from and where tourists expect to find it? I guess we’ll all find out in 2016.

Cheers from wine country.

~Luke

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.

Fab5

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

Ageing Wines – Why Bother?

Here we go – another off-shoot of my Nota Bene vertical tasting from earlier in January. This is something that I think is an extension of many other articles that I’ve been writing lately. On we go…

Why bother buying a bottle of wine and then waiting 7 years to open it? How ridiculous is that? Why do some people do it?

20140425-193555.jpgI’ve had more than a few customers guffaw at my suggestion that this or that wine can be aged for up to 10 years. The typical reply is something like, “Wine doesn’t last more than a few days in our house!” and then they look to their spouse / friend / entourage for the requisite approving laughter.

Most wine made today isn’t meant for long-term ageing. I remember a wine teacher of mine saying that 99% of all wine produced is meant for consumption within 2 years. Most of it probably will be anyway regardless of the producers’ intent.

So what is the point of ageing wine?

Mature wine tastes different. A well made wine is smoother, more complex, and full of nearly unidentifiable aromas and flavours that would not have been apparent without age. The way that I describe it to customers is that young wine has all kinds of easily identifiable flavours – black fruits, red fruits, cocoa, chocolate, vanilla, campfire smoke, etc. As the wine ages, those flavours will change, mutate, and intertwine into things like coffee, burned almonds, and maybe blueberry teacake. As the wine gets even older, the flavours become less easy to identify. They turn into something that still smells good but for some reason just doesn’t trigger a sense memory as easily. This is where the most bizarre descriptors, that some people like to make fun of, are often used. A very good taster will be able to perceive some of these aromas earlier on in the life of the wine and be able to predict what will happen as it ages.

Up until about 50 years ago, wine making technology had not yet evolved to be able to make a wine that was palatable when it was young. Only certain areas producing softer wine styles (like Beaujolais) were able to produce wines that could be consumed very young. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, mature wine was preferred in the Roman empire and it was also possible that the Greeks aged their wines as well. It was not done in bottles as we know today but rather in casks (barrels and larger vats).

DSC_3031Bottles sealed with corks became available for ageing in the 17th century but this did not become widespread even by the time of Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th century. Bottles were (and still are) difficult to transport safely without breaking so bottling at the destination was common until the early 20th century. Even still, the wines weren’t really ready to drink.

It wasn’t until the invention of certain winery techniques and technology that people were able to make wine that was ready to drink sooner. Protecting the grapes, juice, and young wine from oxygen was a new thing in the 20th century. Fine filtering was new as well. Fermenting the whole berries or even whole bunches of grapes without crushing them first made the resulting wines fruitier with less grippy tannins and therefore, easier to drink sooner. This, I think, is the New World’s biggest stylistic contribution to the world of wine.

20150123-095548.jpgOf course, that march of technology didn’t just end with that. Membrane filters, micro-oxygenation (a technique pioneered by winemaker Patrick Ducournau in Madiran, France to tame the insane amount of tannins in that appellations’s Tannat grapes), reverse-osmosis and spinning cones, yeast nutrients, and bags of tannins, acids, and colouring agents all give wineries the ability to manipulate all kinds of aspects of a wine’s flavour profile so that the wine is smooth, tasty, and easy to drink almost immediately. The result was smooth wine in no time at all. It was wine for impatient people.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that at all. We need wine in the marketplace (and to be perfectly honest, in my house) that doesn’t have to be aged. What I am interested in here is encouraging people to try saving some of those bottles that are capable of ageing because I think they are missing out on some truly amazing wine experiences. From my point of view, it’s like watching someone purchase a Ferrari who only plans to use it to get around on slow city streets and never take it above 2nd gear. Buying a top-quality, age-worthy wine and drinking it within the next 6 months is really missing out on a great experience. I encourage everyone who buys those kinds of wines to hold on to at least one of them for a little longer.

It’s not only red wines that can age. We’re very lucky here in BC to have an abundance of natural acidity that Rhys Pender MW claims other wine regions around the world would love to have. It is acidity that helps preserve whites for long-term ageing. He mentioned that as part of the 5 year vertical of Clos du Soleil that I attended a couple of years ago. The complexity of the flavours was astounding and I enjoyed every single wine in the vertical of Capella. (I very much regretted drinking my 2007 white – it wasn’t called Capella then – far too early.)

Here is a list of some BC white wines that I’ve had success with ageing, either on my own or as part of tastings or events (in no particular order).

  • Clos du Soleil Capella (aka White)
  • Tantalus Old Vines Riesling (I’m holding onto a few of these)
  • Orofino Riesling (same with this one)
  • 8th Generation Riesling (and this one)
  • (notice a trend yet??)
  • Domain Combret Chardonnay (at 16 years it should have been salad dressing at that point, but it wasn’t)
  • Painted Rock Chardonnay
  • just about anyone’s Late Harvest or Icewine (the ’93 Riesling Icewine from Lang was beautiful but still not quite ready in 2010)
  • Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc

And reds…

  • Black Hills Nota Bene
  • Clos du Soleil Signature
  • Mission Hill Oculus (and the other 1st generation of BC Meritages – Pinnacle, Osoyoos-Larose, etc)
  • Just about anything from Fairview Cellars or Kettle Valley
  • Hester Creek Cabernet Franc (and many Cab Franc – I think this is a great variety in BC for ageing.)
  • 2nd Generation Meritages (Laughing Stock Portfolio, Poplar Grove Legacy are the ones I’m familiar with)
  • Nk’Mip Syrah (always a staple at their wine maker’s dinners)
  • Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir (the ’97 in 2009 was ridiculous)
  • Painted Rock Syrah (I haven’t tried them all in a vertical yet, but if you check back here next January…hint hint)

I may have forgotten some but it’s a start. It’s not easy predicting which wines will age and which ones won’t. I’m had some go off that I thought would be sure to do well. Unless the winery has been in business longer than 10 years (which is not very many of them at this point), they won’t really know either. They can tell you what they think will happen based on what the winemaker has intended to happen, but that’s not always a sure thing either.

In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. If you haven’t ever had an aged wine, there’s a possibility that you might not like it. If you don’t like the aroma of apples and flowers soaked in kerosene, don’t age your Riesling because that’s very likely what they will become. I’ve had aged Riesling and I absolutely love those aromas so I know that’s what I’m interested in waiting for.

So I encourage you to try, just try, to put a few bottles away of wines that you enjoy and want to see through to maturity. It takes the whole wine experience to another level.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Vertical Party – Nota Bene 05-12

DSC_7450These are the bottles from my Nota Bene vertical tasting this past weekend. I’m happy to report that there were no corked bottles and that everything was showing brilliantly. As my regular readers will know, I hate writing (and reading) wine reviews but I was asked a few times on twitter if there were any of these wines that stood out. There were, but Twitter is a difficult place to explain things that require more than a half-baked thought. With only one exception, I was also amazed at how contiguous the whole collection was and thought that this in itself merited a summary here.

If you’ve never heard of a vertical tasting, it is tasting the same wine from many different vintages on one occasion. I would suggest that it requires a minimum of at least 3 vintages to get a fair idea of the wines’ characteristics. The point is not just to have a ton of wine at a party (a nice side-effect) but rather to have lots of wine with slight variations due to the different vintages. All wines will show slight differences although I believe that larger, commercially manufactured wines are by nature designed to minimize these differences. It is an illuminating experience.

As I had worked regularly with the 4 most recent vintages of this wine for 7 months this past year, I became very familiar with its moods. I had tried every vintage here before although never all in one sitting. I’d been building and saving this collection since 2006 with the intention of having it for a special event or occasion and it seemed to me that the time was right.

Nota Bene is always made with only 3 grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. With three exceptions since 1999, they have always been in that order. 1999 and 2012 were Merlot-dominant and 2000 was Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, and then Merlot. The only outlier in this particular set was the Merlot-dominant 2012.

For me, the stand outs were the ’07 and the ’10. Here are my thoughts on all of the vintages in the order that I tasted them from oldest to youngest.

2005 – One word – yum. Still got some years left in it if you dare. I can’t because that was my last bottle but I would hold onto at least one for another year or two. It had softened beautifully without getting flabby. It was noticeably more delicate than the others and was covered by some of the more robust food items. Even still, the flavours were beautiful and complex which made this wine a joy to sip.

2006 – The one sore thumb for me was the ’06. It had far more oxidized, prune aromas than any of the other vintages. It wasn’t just that this particular bottle was off because of a failing cork, this is the consistent direction that the wine has been progressing since 2013. This is the vintage that I had the most bottles – a case – that was purchased in the infamous 47-minute online sell-out in 2008. It was brilliant in its youth, a little closed from 3-5 years old, and then it blossomed after that. But it kept blossoming and kind of went over the edge, in a way. The last 3 bottles that I’d opened over the past year indicated that it was headed for an early demise which made me concerned for the condition of the ’05 (needlessly, as it turned out). Let me clear though – it’s not that I didn’t like it, I did. Erin from Vines and Designs tweeted this as one of her 3 preferred vintages that evening. I enjoyed it as well but it stood out because of this very different flavour profile.

20150118-093305.jpg2007 – At just over 7 years of age now, the ’07 was right in that prime target area for where I think NB is most expressive. I think NB shines in the range from 6-9 years of age but that is entirely subjective on my part. It’s what I enjoy most out of it and nothing else. The aromas and flavours were complex and tannins and acidity were present but smooth and rounded. It really was the stand-out for me in this set.

2008 – This wine was the next car in the NB train that is going to get there but isn’t due to pull into the station yet. It’s showing well and is consistent with NB but hasn’t arrived yet. After 24 more hours in a decanter, it was showing beautifully.

2009 – See 2008 above. In the vertical tastings that I lead at Black Hills last year, this was usually the wine favoured by customers. But in my opinion is still only starting on its trip. Like the ’08, it showed better after 24 hours.

2010 – The ’10 was like a more youthful ’07. I thought it had the same complexity and range but was just a little more aggressive. With 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, this was the roughest wine of the 4 that we offered in the Black Hills Wine Experience Centre last summer. No other vintage of NB has ever had that much Cab Sauv. Last summer it was hidden, rough, and was rarely the vintage favoured by customers. I enjoyed its potential though and was really looking forward to trying it in this vertical. It didn’t disappoint at all. This was the only wine that I went back for seconds.

2011 – More closed than a coffee shop in Vancouver at 9pm.

The spread.

The spread.

2012 – Still has the freshness and vigour of a youthful wine but will probably loose that over the next year if it stays consistent with the previous 8 vintages of NB that I’ve experienced. This is only the second Merlot-dominated vintage so it could clear its own path away from the norm. Either way, it will be a fascinating vintage to follow. There is still a little of it left which I plan on trying tonight or tomorrow.

For the wine-nerd record, the bottles were all opened 1-2 hours before being served. The vintages ’05-’08 were decanted, ’09 had a Nuance wine finer, and ’10 and up were not decanted at all.

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable flight in its proper setting – a dinner party featuring many foods that pair well with a meritage. We had lamb skewers, beef stew, pork ribs, and charcuterie along with an overwhelming set of accompanying tasty dishes. I’ve done vertical tastings before many times before and the clinical nature of the settings tends to focus on aspects of the wine that frankly I find irrelevant. A big part of what I enjoyed about presenting wines at Black Hills last year was that it was a more natural terroir for enjoying wine, a topic that I’ve covered previously on this blog. I’ve never been to a party where everyone sits down with 8 different pizza slices in front them, takes notes, and then compares their thoughts on each one after tasting them in silence. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to go to one.

If you haven’t done a vertical tasting at a party, I highly recommend it. Most everyone at my party were involved in the wine industry in some way but it is something that can still be enjoyed by anyone at all. Find a wine you like, save a few years’ worth of it (I suggest a minimum of 3 vintages), find some good food to pair, and away you go. It’s really not that more complicated than that and nor should it be. The point isn’t to show off your wines to your friends, it’s to share it and enjoy it all together.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Hints of Gooseberries and Baloney

There’s an old Celtic proverb that goes, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” I’m about as Celtic as won-ton soup but I’ve always found that proverb appealing for some reason. Growing up English-speaking in a French-speaking province meant that I probably had different, minority cultural views than the rest of the province. Language is very important for determining how we view the world. In the wine world, it’s not insignificant that there is no direct word in English for “Terroir”. Nor is there a word in French for “winemaker”. (The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (not the name of an episode of The Big Bang Theory) is the bigger linguistic concept, if you want to look into this kind of thing further.)

Our language certainly influences how we see the world but I think our world also influences our language. When I lived on the east coast, any liquid that fell from the sky was called “rain”. When I moved to Vancouver, I soon discovered that there were many shades of falling liquid (“showers”, “drizzle”, “downpour”, “pissing”, “deluge”, and – my favourite – “mist”) that each had their own characteristics.

So how does language enable (or hinder) us from describing the wines that we drink?

The Wine Review

People who are new to wine (and some that have been here awhile) find wine reviews kind of bizarre at best and misleading at worst. Tasting notes in magazines, websites, blogs, and apps are filled with descriptions of how the wine supposedly tastes. This wine has “hints of cherries, violets, and forest floor” while this one has “leather, earth, and cigar box notes” with a “firm structure” and much “intensity” and “smoky overtones of licorice”.

Interesting. Wine can have all that stuff in it?

It seems to be a bizarre way to communicate about wine, which itself is a difficult task. A customer at a store I used to work at (here it goes, another one of these stories that I wish I’d made up, but didn’t) that was shopping for a wine with his wife, pulled a bottle off the shelf, looked at it, and then yells across the store, “Honey! This one’s got strawberries in it!” Aside from getting some people to think that wine makers actually add these flavours to the wines (they don’t), it doesn’t actually tell anyone very much about the wine or if they’ll like it or not. One would assume that if one likes strawberries, then if it lists strawberries on the label then one should like the wine. But is that how it is meant to work? How does one communicate that kind of thing?

One of my heroes, Frank Zappa, said (allegedly) that “writing about music was like dancing about architecture.” They are two completely different modes of expression and not easy to make sense of saying the same, or even similar, ideas. I spent years writing about music at university and it was quite frustrating at times. So I decided to start writing about wine.

Perhaps I like the challenge. Perhaps I’m an idiot that really doesn’t learn? More likely is that I’m really interested in how people communicate. How do you know you will love a wine before you taste it? How can you express what you sense so that someone else can get the same reaction? Can it even be done? If it can’t, then what’s the point?

The Point

Wine people get really serious about this kind of thing sometimes. Wine reviews in magazines and blogs, favourable or not, can have a huge impact on the sales of a particular wine. Robert Parker was as powerful as he was in the wine world because of his tasting notes and final scores in the Wine Advocate. I’ve always found those final point scores to be the most divisive within the industry and consumers. Consumers seem to like them, if only as a useful shorthand when shopping. Wine industry, especially those who produce wines that have received good reviews, also love them. The rest of the industry, while not outwardly expressing their disdain, mumble quietly to themselves about it.

I’ve always had a problem with the scores simply because they are far too reductionist. As an neophyte wine drinker, I cannot say that scores didn’t influence my purchases. To see a high score or read a good review meant that if I saw the wine on the shelf, it would very likely tip it in favour of me purchasing it. I’m not sure when that changed but I do remember an incident that provoked some thought. I was searching for a Gewürztraminer from Domaine de Chaberton in Langley. They had won a top prize for it, scored big, and was on the cover of some magazine at the same time. I loved Gewürztraminer (still do) and went after it. I went to my local wine store. Not there. I went to Domaine de Charberton’s wine shop. Sold out.

I finally found it at a small wine store in Langley. It was there!! Hallelujah, I was saved! I brought a couple of bottles up to the dude at the till. I told him I’d been looking for these all day and that I was happy I’d found it. Then I asked what he thought of it. He said, “It’s good, but it doesn’t have a lot of varietal character.”

PLOOFFFFFFFFffffffffffffffffffff….   <<That’s the blogging approximation of the sound of an air mattress deflating slowly.>>

Aside from being a gargantuanly stupid sales job on his part, this dude brought me a dose of reality about my situation. I had gone nuts over trying to find a bottle of wine based on a review, medal, or point score and this guy’s disagreement deflated it in one shot. It made me think about what I was doing searching for this bottle of wine that I hoped would be awesome based on something that was communicated to me (in this case, in a magazine). Was the wine really as good as the magazine said it would be?

Well, I liked it. “Varietal character”? Check, all there. Lovely Gew in all the ways that I liked it at the time.

The end result of this was twofold: First, I never went back to that store. Second, I started to question all of the wine reviews that I read. I started to read them more for entertainment, for a giggle at the extravagant vocabulary and erudite turns of phrase (ha, that one was pretty “erudite” eh?), than to actually learn about the wines themselves. Because to me, it didn’t matter anymore. I wasn’t going to chase after the wines that got the reviews any more than I was going to see a movie that had the best reviews. To this day, I have never sipped on a glass of wine and thought, “Hmm, that’s a 91.” Nor have I read a book, eaten food, smelled a flower, or saw a beautiful woman walking down the street and assigned a point score to the experience. To reduce a wine or any human sensory experience down to a two digit number is ridiculous.

Get on with it

Whenever I get a little ‘too serious’ about wine tasting notes, I think back to this article about a potato chip connoisseur from The Onion that kind of pushes the reset button for me. I look for wines that I think I will enjoy based on recommendations from store staff or friends, tasting samples, and my own intuition. I have lots of wine friends and I’ve come to understand their tastes in wine. One of them prefers fuller, richer styles of whites and hates overly acidic wines. Another can’t stand BC Sauvignon Blanc, finding it too saline for her tastes. Another likes to be more adventurous and loves complex wines with lots of different flavours. Sometimes I can calibrate my recommendations to or from them based on this knowledge. I know that I have made purchases based on what my friends have told me about a wine. It’s not a conscious thing but I’ve found it interesting that I even do this. I know that effective communication is a huge element of working in a successful winery wine shop (or any retail store). Quickly and effectively communicating about the product is key when making the sale.

The point is that this interaction with my friends (or customers) is something that is more useful than words in a magazine wine review or a point score. Is there even a word in English for this kind of interaction or relationship? Can we ascribe a word to it now that we know it may exists? I can see it is how I am, therefore I should be able to have a word for it. (I’ll work on that and get back to you.)

When assigning value to a wine ultimately comes down to basic person-to-person communication, everything else seems kind of pointless.

Cheers to 2015

DSC_6342Rather than spend time looking back at all the things that happened in 2014 with another “Year in Review”-thing, why don’t we spend a little time looking forward? I like to head towards goal rather than dwell on the past. We can’t predict what the weather or the actual vintage will be like in 2015 but we can look at some of the human-related issues in our industry. In the world of BC wine, this could be a good news year.

Some things to look out for:

1 – Wine in supermarkets

When I first moved to BC, I remember hearing ads for hydroponic nutrients on the radio. Yet with our liberal attitudes towards “recreational herbs”, BC will introduce wine sales in supermarkets beginning in April. Of course, in keeping with our history of maintaining tight controls over everything (or at least, appearing to be in control), it can’t just be any wine at all – it will be BC wine only! Hurray! Not just cheap European plonk for $4 /bottles like I remember from Quebec.

There is a lot of speculation about this topic but most of it is really not that easy to predict. How will VQA stores be affected? Will it be profitable for store to sell only BC wine? What will customers ultimately think of it? Is it good for BC wine? Does it comply with our international trade agreements? Wine industry lawyer Mark Hicken doesn’t think so. It could very well all come crashing down as a big failure if it is not profitable.

Throughout 2014 we’ve been enjoying some of the new “benefits” of that the government has bestowed upon us, such as selling wine at farmer’s markets – something attendees of the Penticton Farmer’s Market has been dreaming about for years. We’ll have to simply wait and see how it pans out.

2 – Terroir BC vs. VQA

Painted Rock Estate Winery as viewed from the lookout on Hwy 97.

Painted Rock Estate Winery as viewed from the lookout on Hwy 97.

A new organization was created late last summer that will certainly be making themselves more known in 2015. Terroir BC is an association of wineries that craft wines entirely from grapes grown in BC. The name was coined by Michelle Rempel (MP for Calgary Centre-North – see below) along with John Skinner of Painted Rock and a group of other winery owners. Mrs. Rempel announced the group and outlined some of their philosophy in a facebook message in early September. It is less a statement than a manifesto from an MP with a solid understanding of wine and the wine industry.

Will this be a rival for VQA? Will it create customer confusion or will it settle BC’s QWPSR matter of once and for all? The disparity between corporations that produce “Cellared in Canada” and, well, everyone else is growing and the needs are different. Commercial wineries used to be the driving force in the industry here and still represent the vast majority of total production but are now the minority (there are 5) compared to the much larger number of independent estate wineries that only use BC-grown grapes from a designated viticultural area. When one group dominates an organization (VQA, BC Wine Authority, Wine Festival Society, etc.) they tailor it to suite their own agenda, causing rifts between members in the process. This is not something that most BC wine consumers are generally aware of unless it has come up in conversation while trying to find a bottle of La Frenz in a VQA store.

3 – Free My Grapes

welcome-grapeThe Free My Grapes movement started quietly but built steadily until bill C-311 was passed in Parliament. As it appears that provincial liquor monopolies are not about to let go of any of the revenue-grabbing powers, this law is being applied sporadically at best and completely ignorantly at worst. When Newfoundland charged FedEx over wine shipments earlier in the year, it became clear that the provinces weren’t going to let this stuff go. Eve Adams (MP for Mississauga-Brampton South) added fuel to the fire with her bizarre letter to wineries inviting them to submit their wines in something called the “Great Canadian Parliamentary Wine Competition” to be held in Ontario. Only a few BC wineries were contacted. Some wine makers tweeted copies of the letter in question, rightfully using the occasion to illustrate that because of the LCBO’s garrison-like measures of blocking all wine imports into Ontario, they could not even legally enter into such a competition.

The Free My Grapes campaign won’t end any time soon and nor should it. The more wine consumers across the country voice their concerns, the more that some kind of change will happen. The problem is that the most vocal provinces are the producing provinces like BC and the ones that need to raise their voices don’t seem to care. Somehow Ontarians still accept buying beer in cold, freaky warehouse-outlets called, imaginatively, “The Beer Store”, while the LCBO cash-cow keeps milking them for all they’re worth. How has this system even survived into the 21st century? I though BC was slow to change, but Ontario, really now…

Until we, as Canadian citizens, can purchase wines from wineries located within our own country, this is will always be an issue. Anything involving legislation change is a slow process for sure so look for this to continue well past 2015.

4 – Oil Prices and Americans

What happens in Alberta, doesn’t stay in Alberta. When the Canadian dollar started heading north of the American dollar a few years ago, wine shops saw less Americans than ever. It’s easy to think that we in the Okanagan are immune to these kinds of economic variances and most of the time, we are. I vividly remember a wine shop manager say, “Downturn? What downturn?” in 2009.

If eventually this leads to cheaper gas prices (assuming all of the oil companies can work together and carefully lower it slowly at the same rate – come on, we all know they do it), then we may see an increase in the car traffic on the 97. It’s not that helpful though if everyone in Calgary is trying to save money for the first time in a while. While the economy in Alberta might be taking a hit, the Canadian dollar is making the Okanagan a more appealing place for Americans to go. Some in the industry (like the BCWI) have been looking ahead to that for a while now with initiatives to get BC wine sold in Washington State.

5 – Federal Election

eclogoPolitics and wine don’t go well together. I have at least one uncle and a couple cousins with whom discussion of any political conversation must be completely off the table at any family gathering. However, a federal election is looming for Canada in 2015 and many are clearly looking for a change because they aren’t diggin’ the current administration and the dude at the top.

What does this have to do with BC wine? Well, there is a power-trio of Tories who are, shall we say, from a ‘younger’ demographic (compared to the typical image of politicians) and who have been instrumental in backing the local wine industry here. Ron Cannan (MP for Kelowna-Lake Country) got the ball rolling with his early stance on the Free My Grapes movement. Dan Albas (MP for Okanagan Coquihalla) created Bill C-311 which changed the laws around importing wine between provinces in 2013. Michelle Rempel (MP for Calgary Centre-North and Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification) is behind the recent Terroir BC initiative (see above), is a WSET Diploma candidate (like myself), and is quickly becoming my new Canadian political hero. Can this trio, and the progressive nature of amending the wine laws, potentially continue with a new government? <<Cue the mystery music here.>>

So…

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From Similkameen BBQ King 2014 (can’t remember who took this photo – if this is yours, please tell me!)

Whatever happens this year, I hope that it will be full of great memories for you in BC’s wine country. I plan to write about it even more so please check in here or follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy new year from wine country!

~Luke

How can a wine be DRY??

**I realize that this article might seem a bit pedestrian for the typical wine-savvy Wine Country BC reader or podcast listener. I write things like this so that these topics can get discussed more often. Sometimes wine knowledgeable people need to be reminded that some things that seem simple are not always obvious to the average person. Also, you might be able to share this kind of thing with friends who may want to learn more about wine.**

There are a couple of things that I’ve noticed that people have trouble understanding about wine. I know this because I am one of those people. Or at least, I was. It’s come up a lot over the past couple of years over the course of my daily work routine at wineries and wine stores. Everyone has their own unique way of learning and understanding the world around them and their own way of communicating about it. Therefore all customers have their own unique ways of explaining how they’ve learned about wine and describing what they like or dislike.

This means that everyone comes to the tasting bar with a different set of parameters about what they like in a wine and what they expect. Pair that with the different experiences and skill levels of whoever the staff is behind the bar and the possibilities of miscommunication or reinforcement of errors is huge. The flavour of oak in wine is one thing that I think many casual wine lovers are somewhat negligent about. (I’ve had customers who state in no uncertain terms that they can’t stand oaked wines praise the lovely cocoa and vanilla aromas in the merlot that I’d just poured for them…) This isn’t as common as the one thing that I’ve noticed that seems to be all over the place in terms of understanding about wine; Dryness in wine.

I always used to wonder why a wine was considered DRY when it was most obviously NOT DRY. Wine is a liquid. Liquids are WET. WET is the opposite of DRY. Right?

Well, no.

Ok, so when I drink a wine and my mouth feels DRY after I swallow it, then that’s a DRY WINE, right?

Again, no. 

Does it have something to do with “after taste”?

No. That is a term that comes from beer ads in the ’80’s and doesn’t make sense for wine. In the wine world, we call it “finish”. Wines can have a short or long finish. But maybe that’s for another article…

When a wine is said to be DRY, that means that there is no sugar in it. It’s that simple. Dry wine is wine that has no perceivable sweetness in it.

Grape juice has lots of sugar in it and tastes sweet. Wine is made by fermentation when yeast will eat the sugar and turn it into alcohol. Eventually, the yeast will eat all the sugar and the wine will be considered to be DRY. At its most basic level, wine is simply grape juice with the sugar completely removed.

Residual Sugar

Sometimes, the wine maker will not want a wine to be completely dry and will opt instead for a wine that has a little bit of sugar left over. This is called “residual sugar” and means that the wine will have some amount of sugar that wasn’t fermented by the yeast. The wine maker may have filtered the yeast out of the wine before it had a chance to eat all the sugar. Alternatively, the wine maker may have added sugar back into the wine after it had been fermented completely dry so that the finished wine has more sugar than it would have had if it were DRY.

A wine that has a little sugar in it may not actually seem to be sweet but may instead appear to be very smooth in texture. A wine with a proper balance of residual sugar and acidity will feel very smooth when you drink it. An imbalanced wine will either be cloyingly sweet (too much sugar) or tart and sour (too much acidity). Some styles of wine are much better with a little sugar (Gewürztraminer here in BC springs to mind) while others are best when completely dry (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon). Most all wines will likely contain at least a tiny amount of sugar since not all of the sugar present in grapes is fermentable.

So DRY wines have no sugar in them, what are wines called when they do have a little sugar?

They are called (creatively) OFF-DRY. Usually off-dry wines won’t appear very sweet at all, if they are done right. They should simply taste smooth. It’s almost more of a texture difference between DRY and OFF-DRY wines. Off-dry wines are great with foods that have a spicy edge to them – Cajun catfish, Thai sauces, southern barbecue, etc. The sugar will offset the heat of the spice and make a wonderful combination.

There are more levels of sweetness in wines that range from DRY, and OFF-DRY. The continuum goes something like this:

  • DRY – least amount of residual sugar
  • OFF-DRY – a little bit of sugar, hardly noticeable to most people
  • MEDIUM – noticeably sweet at this level, great with the really spicy dishes, as an aperitif, or with light desserts
  • SWEET – the sweet stuff – dessert wines, Ports, Madeiras, Sauternes, Late-Harvest wines
  • LUSCIOUS – no other wines are sweeter than this – Icewine, high quality Tokaj

Some grape varieties are great at specific sugar levels but there are some grapes that are marvellous at all sugar levels from bone dry to lusciously sweet. Riesling and Chenin Blanc are two of those grape varieties that we have here in BC that can be made at all residual sugar levels. Riesling’s home is Germany and Alsace but there are many fine examples in BC; Gehringer Brothers (they make 5 different Rieslings at various sugar levels), Tantalus, 8th Generation, and Wild Goose all spring to mind. Chenin Blanc is rarer here but it be made brilliantly at all sugar levels in the Loire Valley and in South Africa.

Balance

This is where the concept of Balance becomes important. Balance refers to the amount of residual sugar and acidity being perceived in balance when tasting a wine. If a wine has tons of sugar (such as in an Icewine) then it must also have tons of acidity to balance it, otherwise the wine will taste cloyingly sweet like syrup. (Every kid growing up in Quebec has, at least once, tried to drink maple syrup. FYI, it’s not as good as you’d think, probably because there is no acid to balance it.) Likewise, a wine with a huge amount of acidity will taste sour and unpleasant if it isn’t balanced with some amount of sugar. When the two elements of sugar and acidity are in balance, the wine will have a smooth texture and be quite pleasing to a lot of people.

Of course there are different styles of wine that make use of tipping that balance to one side or the other. Some wines need to be crisp and refreshing. These wines will be balanced more towards the acidic side of the spectrum. Some people prefer these types of wines while others will find them not enjoyable at all, preferring the sweeter, smoother style. At some point, it simply comes down to personal preference. People who are very wine knowledgeable seem to deride the sweeter styles of wines in favour of the drier style perhaps because of ‘tradition’ or perhaps because sweeter wines are more appealing to the masses and are therefore written off as being ‘simple’. Even within that community, it still boils down to personal preference. For myself, I enjoy a sweeter wine with spicy food or even without food (which I rarely do unless the wine is sweeter) but I do love those very crisp, high-acid wines with meals because I think it pairs better with food.

Most of the time I’ve noticed that to most people balanced wine is like a movie musical soundtrack – nobody notices it at the time but it makes the experience better. A wine without a balance between acidity and sugar is like a movie without any music at all – just kind of awkward and you’re left wondering why you’re sitting in the dark watching a big flash light projecting pictures on a wall. If a wine is good and you like the way it tastes, then it’s good for you. Enjoy!

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

(If you have any questions about wine that you’d like me to tackle at some point, please leave me a comment here or send me a note at winecountrybc(at)yahoo.com, and I will try to answer your question as best I can.)

Off-Season Wine Touring

No crowds means lots of time to learn about the wines.

No crowds means lots of time to learn about the wines.

Touring off-season is awesome. Here’s why.

  • Lots of winery action to see (in the fall during harvest).
  • No crowds.
  • Special wine tastings.
  • No crowds.
  • Undivided attention of the wine shop staff.
  • Beautiful scenery (colours in the fall, snowy vineyards in the winter)

Sometimes there’s other treats to be had, especially if there’s a regional festival or promotion going on such as OOWA’s Winter in Wine Country or Summerland’s Light Up the Vines.

This biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone looking to tour wine country in the off-season is this:

Call first.

Like, with an actual phone. Call the winery and find out if they are open and what their hours are. Do not rely on Google, websites (wineries are notoriously slow at updating their own sites), app or blog (including this one) to tell you what the current hours are for any winery.  (I had a customer complain to me the other day that Google told her that we were open until 6pm. I told her that we had changed our hours and that we were now open only until 4pm. She then asked why it was listed on Google as being open until 6. I calmly explained that we can’t control Google’s content but in my mind, I face-palmed.) Use the phone and talk to a human.

I used to create a list of wineries that were open in the off-season and some of them are still generally open throughout the year. I’ve stopped trying to update the list since it becomes a crazy case of tracking down information that just isn’t easily available. The general rule of thumb is that the bigger the winery, the more likely it is to be open year-round. They will also be closer to larger towns and on main routes like Highway 97. Some of them may have restricted their hours (again, call first, don’t Google) for the off-season and likely have reduced staff as well. Always book ahead if you’re thinking of arriving with a big group (more than 6).

Wine Availability

It’s important to know that not all wines will be available. If you are looking for that fresh and lovely aromatic white wine in the late fall, chances are pretty good that it will have sold out long ago at the winery. Likewise touring in the early spring might mean that the next vintage of your favourite big red won’t be released until mid-July. Some wineries have set schedules for releasing their wines because they know how their wines react in production and plan accordingly. Others release their wines as soon as the previous vintage has sold out. Very few wineries release their wines only when the wine is deemed ready by the wine maker or winery owner. These last two scenarios mean that any particular wine could very likely be released at any time of the year. The best thing is to follow the winery’s website or through social media in advance of your trip and actually ask them directly.

A new experience

Plan on taking your time. I’ve had some of the best experiences in wine shops in the off-season both as a customer and as a wine shop sales person because I wasn’t in a rush. I’ve had many great conversations and learned a ton of information about wine at these times. I remember going to visit a winery for the first time in July and feeling irritated that there were so many other people around. I didn’t get have even half of the experience that I’d hoped for. It wasn’t the winery’s fault, it was mine because I expected to have an experience that was just not possible at that time of year. I still avoid going to wineries in the height of summer if I can. I also see very little industry visiting the wineries during the summer where I’ve worked.

Be considerate of their time

Also note, if you are going to call your favourite small winery and get them out to open their wine shop for you, you’d better be in the mood for making a big purchase. And just so we’re clear, 4 bottles of wine is not a big purchase at most small wineries. It may be big for some but it’s hardly worth opening up a wine shop for only a few bottles. You should be willing to purchase upwards of a half-case minimum (6 bottles) but a full case is more like it. This precludes the whole ‘shopping around’ experience that is much easier to do in the summer. I recommend only visiting wineries that you are at least somewhat familiar with and know that you enjoy their wines. Nothing is more annoying to a winery owner as opening up a wine shop, talking about and maybe pouring wines for a half-hour only to have the people say thanks and leave. Do your research first and be ready to load up the car. Buy a bottle at a VQA or private liquor store first to see if you like the wine before making the call to the winery.

Have a great time touring wine country in the winter. Don’t forget your camera – it’s pretty here all the time! Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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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Chef Meets BC Grape

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Just like “The Lake” that I wrote about last month, this event is another one that I’d really like to attend but won’t be able to. It’s a great series of wine events called “Chef Meets BC Grape” presented by the Arts Club Theater starting on September 17th. There’s a lot of local names (well, local for me because I live in the Okanagan) on the list of events and it all kicks off this Wednesday with a Signature Tasting event at the Vancouver Convention Centre East. 90 BC wineries will be represented at this tasting. That’s 90 wineries folks – in one room! So there’s a lot to try and a great way to check out some of their new releases, especially if you didn’t get to visit the Okanagan this past summer. The full list of wineries in attendance is available at the Arts Club website.

But it’s not just all wine. The whole point of these events is to put BC food together with BC wine. This is why I’m really annoyed that I can be there because I think this is brilliant. There will be some favourite Okanagan restaurants represented that night (such as Miradoro, Liquidity, and more) and to have them all in one place is simply amazing to me. (Somebody, please tweet this with a unique hashtag – or mention me @winecountrybc – so that I can follow it on Twitter.)

Food gets more of the focus the next evening with the Uncorked Kitchen Party. It’s presented by the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association and features the big guns from the winery restaurant scene where I live in Oliver. Chef Brock Bowes (Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl), Chef Jeff Van Geest (Miradoro) and Chef Jenna Pillon (Terrafina) will all be there along with 10 wineries from here in the south. It’s an amazing line up of wine and culinary talent that we have here in the Okanagan and we’re more than happy to share them with you. Please enjoy and have a great time!

The full schedule of events is as follows:

Signature Tasting
Wednesday, Sept. 17th, 7 – 9:30pm
$85 – Vancouver Convention Centre East

Uncorked Kitchen Party
Thursday, Sept. 18, 7 – 10pm
$95 – Westside Grand, 1928 W Broadway, 2nd floor

Mission Hill Family Estate Dinner
Tuesday, Sept. 23, 6 – 9pm
$160 – Bistro Pastis

Visit the Arts Club Theatre website for more information and to purchase tickets.