History in the making

So here it is folks, a working cover of THE BOOK that has occupied my life since 2014. I am in the editing stages of it now and this cover is really only a mockup for an upcoming catalogue but I thought I’d share it with you anyway.

The book will cover a lot of BC’s historical terroir, from the geological history, the earliest days of the provinces European history, a ‘college-experiment’ with prohibition, and the beginnings of the industry itself right through to recent events. The previous concise history of BC’s wine industry was Alex Nichol’s book  “Wine and Vines of British Columbia” in 1983. (Yes, the same Alex Nichol that later  started Nichol Vineyard in Naramata.) Clearly, there have been some changes to the industry since that time, including Free Trade, Farmgate wineries, the BCWI, and the first $50 bottle of table wine in BC (know which one that was?).

The timeline for publication is late summer / fall of 2018. I’ll be posting about its progress here of course so check back often for updates. There’s a lot of interesting people and events in our province’s wine history. This book will talk about as many of them as possible.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

End of the Run

20140214-125934.jpgAnd so it goes. Another season is winding down. Time to rest, or hibernate, over the winter until waking up renewed in the spring, ready for a new season. Just hoping I don’t have any big expenses during hibernation.

Oh, you thought I was talking about the grapes? Yeah, them too. You see here in the Okanagan, it’s the end of employment season, when most little worker bees like myself are out of work. In 7 years I’ve lived in the Okanagan, I have had 1 year of full-time employment over the winter and about 3 years of part-time (3/4 time -which I thought at the time was pretty good) employment. It’s the single biggest thing that makes it very difficult to stay here. When I tell people that my music career is really supporting my wine career, the truth is I’m not really kidding. Before moving to the Okanagan, I’d heard rumblings about the “Sunshine Tax” but I thought that they were kidding. They were not. People who live here choose to live here but not because of the money, that’s for sure. Or if they have money, they didn’t get it while they were living here.

When I travelled to Winnipeg last summer, I kept meeting many people my own age who were on vacation with their young families. Aside from the joy of being able to talk to people of a similar age (that doesn’t happen often in the Okanagan), what I got out of most of those conversations was that the Okanagan was not a place where one can easily make a living. It’s a constant struggle sometimes. That was behind the genesis of the Wine Country BC’s podcasts – something to do until another opportunity arises. That’s my theory as to why blogs are so popular right now. They are something for Gen-X’s to do until they can get to do what they really want when the Boomers retire. Unfortunately, the Boomers are retiring but their shoes are being filled with the Millenials that are younger and clearly a safer long-term investment. The question now is, can I really keep things afloat by staying in the Okanagan?

Only time will tell but as things are headed towards the jobless section again this year, I’m rethinking what it takes to make a living in the wine industry here. I love talking and writing about wine. I love helping people learn about it and sharing experiences about it. Hence the outlet for me that is this very blog / website that you are reading right now. However, I’m learning that just like starting a winery, blogging (or writing) is very much like a winery – you can’t really make at any money at it and the people that are able to start it up quickly are the ones who are already generally well off anyway. I’ve seen lots of bloggers come in for free tastings and schmoozing before heading off in their BMW. Blogging is obviously not a career that would pay for such a vehicle so is is it more of a hobby for them? Maybe a pastime?

Wine, fine wine in particular, is sometimes seen as a highbrow beverage that is only appreciated by the richer classes. Certainly there is an element of that but I would argue that that is also true of other items. It used to be cellphones were only for the rich (or perpetually busy) because they were the only ones who could afford them (or needed them). Perhaps in the future, cars with gasoline engines will be only for the well-heeled. That’s not really a stretch to predict that kind of change in our world, but it’s safe to say that there will always be some form of social stratification out there for anything, including wine.

Wine is quite simply food. It is an important food culturally, nutritionally, and socially. Civilization as we know it in the western world sprang from the grapes on the vines. There’s a reason why it’s mentioned in the Bible and other similarly ancient texts. Wine production pre-dates literacy. We drink wine with others to have funny stories to tell our kids. I believe that is, in essence, the meaning of wine in a nutshell. It’s really that simple.

Blogging and podcasting have always been something that have interested me and I will continue to do so even after making my millions. Regardless of what the future holds for me, as long as there is enough fascination with the world of wine and the desire to write about it or record it, I will be posting here from wine country. As long as I have wine to drink, I will no doubt have funny stories to tell.

Cheers!

~Luke

Are Kit Wines Really Wine?

There are Wines and then there are Kit Wines

I’ve had more than a few conversations recently about wines made from fresh grapes (production wines made at a winery) and wines made from kits (kit wines). There have been somewhat disparaging remarks from both sides about the other and I wanted to offer my thoughts on this topic.

We in BC, while hearing about the local wine industry here for the better part of 2 decades now, have also had the ability to make our own wine fairly easily at u-brews (or u-vins, call them what you will). We’ve been lucky in that respect as some other provinces do not allow businesses like that at all. Kits in those provinces (like ones that rhyme with ‘banitoba’) have to be made at home only instead of at a u-brew where the kit will be made professionally and with far more consistency than could possibly be done at home.

But, is it really ‘wine’?

My first wine job in the ‘wine’ industry was at one of these u-brews, first as a production guy and then as customer service / assistant manager. It was supposedly the second largest one in the lower mainland and could comfortably cruise at producing 120 wine 6-week kits per week. It was not uncommon to see 170 kits on the order form in a given week either. We had capacity and well-designed production layout that used every cubic inch of space in that store right up to the ceiling. We fermented on the highest shelf where it was warmer, racked to the shelf below, racked again and fined to carboys from there, and then filtered to .45 microns with a mobile cartridge filter machine. Then it was ready for the customers to bottle.

There were also added conveniences for customers that included 4 bottling stations, 2 bottle washing machines (a 30- and 60-bottle washers), and pressurized filling station for beer, ciders, and sparkling wines. When it was busy, it was really hopping. Customers had a great time with conversations between the stations and many bottles were shared and traded. It was great fun for me, especially when I got into sales, because most of the customers seemed to be as interested in wine as I was.

Up to a point.

All of the customers there generally enjoyed ‘wine’ (as a general concept) to some degree. Some were more adventurous than others but for the most part, ‘wine’ played a significant part in their daily (or at least weekly) lives. They probably all had wine glasses at home and were familiar with using a corkscrew on a regular basis. ‘Wine’ was not a foreboding or mysterious beverage that was inaccessible to them.

By 2005, I had begun to take my wine studying seriously and made the decision to enter the wine industry somehow. Working at the u-brew was my entrance which coincided with studying the first 3 levels of WSET. I had only really been drinking ‘wine’ regularly since 2000, sharing kits with my father-in-law and buying wines now and then from our local store when finances allowed. The more wines that we purchased, the more that I noticed a difference between kit wines and production wines.

So what’s the difference with kit wine and ‘regular’ wine?

In my mind, they are two different drinks in the same way that fresh-squeezed, not-from-concentrate, premium orange juice is different than orange Kool-Aid. Both are orange colored, refreshing juice drinks but are meant for different uses. Kool-Aid is more geared towards kids and is, if you’re into the drink crystal thing, a great drink to have on a hot day in the summer. I have many memories drinking it as a kid during the summers.

Premium orange juice is more expensive, is far more nutritious (although really it doesn’t take much to beat out Kool-Aid), healthier, and more natural than drink crystals could ever be. It tastes wildly different than the drink crystal version and yet both have “orange” as the flavor listed on the package. Premium orange juice tastes great in the morning with breakfast. Drink-crystal juice is great on hot days in the summer. 2 different uses, same “orange” on the package.

That’s the difference that I see between kit wines and production wines. One of them is made straight from the fruit and the other is highly processed. One isn’t inherently better than the other in any measurable qualitative way (there’s no accounting for taste), they’re just different. Which is why I would like to see kit wines labeled as something else other than as “wine” – maybe “wine product” (like cheese slices are labeled “cheese product” instead of as “cheese”).

Of course there are people (from both sides) who strongly prefer one over the other and will vocally proclaim the superiority of their ‘wine’ of choice. I’ve had great wines and duds from both kits and production wineries. In my mind, whatever it is that gets corks popping and wine glasses clinking, bring it to the table and let’s all enjoy.

For myself, I know what the kit wine world is fully capable of and at one point it was part of my life. Things have changed for me though now and I prefer production wines over kits. It’s not a financial thing – I still don’t make much more than I did then (see “Generation X”) – but I prefer things that are less processed. Wine kits have had a lot more processing than production wines, which I believe reduces their health benefits somewhat (although I haven’t researched that – feel free to find some sources for me if you’d like).

The bickering back and forth between camps is not constructive. I believe that if wine glasses are on the table, then both sides should be thanked for bringing ‘wine’ to the table. Kit wines offer an accessible way of getting into the world of wine.

Cheers to whatever is in your glass tonight.

~Luke