You’ve gotta visit: vinPerdu

A new series for Wine Country BC – “You’ve Gotta Visit…” where I will feature new, exciting, and interesting wineries that you absolutely should not miss on your travels through wine country. I get asked a lot where to go for unique experiences and this series will focus on some of the new ones that I notice on my own travels though the Okanagan the rest of BC’s wine country. 2015 is showing a good crop of new wineries and as you’ll see from this first featured winery, they are really upping their game when it comes to bringing out a great experience. Hopefully I will feature a new winery each week, if not more often, so that  you can plan your trips and stop in. Tell them you heard about their winery from Luke at Winecountrybc.ca. Cheers!

IMG_0935vinPerdu Cellars is located mere minutes south of Oliver right on Highway 97 and is on the left as you drive south. They have a large sign right out front and a parking lot that is easy to get into and out of without turning around.

Why you should go

IMG_7023There’s no reason not to stop here and every reason to stop here. Convenient location? Check. (It’s right on the highway.) Beautiful tasting room? Check. Solidly built and unique wines? Big check. Amazing winery experience? Absolutely.

Assistant wine maker Catherine Coulombe and her family have really done an amazing job of creating an idyllic space geared for a real wine experience. Even though the highway is right there, you won’t even notice it because the commanding view of the vineyards really steals the show. Thanks to some amazingly effective landscaping, you won’t even hear it either! Each part of the wine shop is beautifully designed for form and function and even includes a little play table for wee-ones. It is truly a first rate example of a wine shop design that blends customer experience, functionality, and aesthetics brilliantly. All five of your senses will get a treat in this wine shop. As if the beautiful vineyard view out of the windows wasn’t enough, the wine shop is filled with beautiful artwork by Catherine’s sister, artist Nathalie Denise Coulombe.

IMG_0936The Wines

IMG_7021A focused portfolio of wine is available as of spring 2015 – Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Compass (a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon). “French style, approachable wines” is how Catherine describes the wines at vinPerdu. They were tasting quite young when I tasted them on my visit but the style is precise and very enjoyable. There are no powerful, full-throttle, tannic monsters here nor are there aromatic varieties like gewurz, riesling, or sauvignon blanc. What you will find is selection of tasty wines that will get along splendidly with just about any food you can imagine.

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What to expect

In addition to wine, the Coulombe’s have planned catered food pairings to accompany the wines on weekends and terrines available to purchase while enjoying the deck that overlooks the vineyard.

The tasting bar can accommodate 8-10 people comfortably and there is also a private tasting room for small groups. There are relaxing chairs and a shaded deck overlooking the vineyard. It’s not a small room but it isn’t big either. When so many wineries out there look and feel more like bus stations, it’s great to find a place to stop in where you can feel at home.

Have you been there? Let me know if you visit vinPerdu by leaving a comment below.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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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.)

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

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.

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

Podcast 139 – Wine Tour Companies, Part 1

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…and WE’RE BACK!!

DSC_1503Wow, it’s been a while since the last podcast. I can’t believe it’s taken this long but that’s the way the old cork crumbles. My voice is finally back in shape enough to be recorded properly without sounding like a sick duck and so here we go with a podcast series on wine tour companies and why you should use them on your next trip.

The first in the series starts with Dino from Grape Escapes Wine Tours out of Penticton. He grew up here so he’s seen it all and has a huge amount of local knowledge. He’s proud of his home and it shows.

Have you been on a tour with Grape Escapes? Have you used any tour company for a wine tour? Did you have a good time? Would you do it again? These are the things inquiring minds want to know. Leave a comment below about your experiences with a wine tour company. I’ll be posting my own thoughts on future posts about this topic.

It’s not a focus group, it’s a wine blog. However, when travelling to wine country I strongly suggest filling up your iThing with Wine Country BC podcasts so you’ll be ahead of the game when you get here.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Wine Bars and Why They Are Awesome

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As I write this (ok, type this), I’m sitting in Vino Volo, a wine bar at the Detroit airport, while I await my connecting flight to a destination farther away from my home. Somehow that was the next logical sequence to connect me to Spokane, WA which is where my car is parked. (It’s a long story which may or may not be included in a future post on the very topic that brought me to Raleigh, North Carolina in the first place…)

In any case, while staying for extra time in Raleigh, and in some of the airports that I’ve seen on the way there and back, wine bars have been included amongst the throngs of stores that now make up the typical American airport / shopping mall. They should maybe be called airport centres from now on because they seem to be a conjoining of the two buildings’ functions – the utility and security of an airport paired with the vapid retail experience reductionism of a shopping mall.

Wine bars may be the most interesting new experience to be created in the social lives of individuals since the invention of wine. The big question is, why did it take so long? The bigger question is, why can’t we have these in Canada or BC?

Here is why I love wine bars (based entirely on the 3 that I experiences on this trip);

1 – They are the ultimate ‘social’ without the media. Through common interest in wine, I met lots of people who I would otherwise have never met. During the recent ‘snowpocalypse’ in Raleigh, North Carolina, I met Emily who worked at a bank nearby and had given up trying to drive her 4×4 home after making it only 2 blocks in an hour during the worst part of the storm. She got a hotel room and enjoyed a flight of wines in the wine bar called The Wine Feed, where she had people to talk to and enjoyed an hour of her afternoon instead of sitting miserable in traffic. Our group stayed there trying glasses and flights of wines for at least a couple of hours before heading out to dinner. Granted, we had time to kill but the time went by in a flash and with some great conversation. Isn’t that why humans are social?

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2 – They are clean and cultured. This is subjective however and the word ‘cultured’ sometimes comes off as a bit snobby. Snobby they aren’t, or at lest the ones that I saw. Most of the wines topped off in dollars at about $25 and many were in the $6-15 range. Even if you know nothing about wine, staff will help you find something that you will like. If I wasn’t sure about a wine, they would immediately offer to pour me a small sample (just like in a wine shop tasting room) so that I could decide if I liked it or not before buying a glass. Try asking for a sample of beer or cocktail at any regular bar and see what happens.

3 – They are accessible. Wine bars sometimes have lots of extra information about the wines. They all have (or should have) friendly and knowledgeable staff who are passionate about wine and keen on sharing that knowledge with you. The staff that I saw all fit this description and here eminently thrilled just to be able to work with so much wine all the time.

4 – They are comfortable. Unlike bars with tall bar stools or hard wooden booths, wine bars have easy chairs, comfortable stools with back rests, and lots of space. It’s a more humane experience than having to stand at the side of a dance floor all night or leaning against a wall. Wine bars aren’t dimly lit and mysterious (or even dangerous) because otherwise you can’t see the wines properly. They are usually brightly and neutrally lit. They don’t have loud music because you can’t hear the other people at the table or bar clearly.

5 – They promote wine and relaxation. Traditional bars promote stimulation – loud music, flashy lights, drinks that are designed to get you drunk. I’ve never really understood why people go to bars to meet people when it seems that everything that happens at a bar is designed to keep people from communicating on any level at all. Loud music prevents conversation (intelligently sober or sloppy drunk) while dimmed and flashing lights prevents anyone from actually seeing anyone else properly. The florescent lights that bars turn on at the end of the night are called the ‘ugly lights’ for a reason. There’s nothing social about these places at all.

Wine is about interacting with others even if it has nothing to do with the wine itself. It’s a more honest and real experience that doesn’t allow you to hide behind any flashy lights or distractions. Yes, loud thumping music is energizing and it makes you move and have fun which is all great. Dancing is and has always been a fun social ritual and that won’t change. But what has changed is the distracting sound level of the music, which I find totally discourages any communication or socializing at all. Wine bars have brought back the social and civil.

And this airport traveler thanks them for that. Cheers!

~Luke

The True Local Experience

I’ve done something (twice now) in the last 5 months that is completely different from what I used to do. It’s not something I planned, it was on a whim. It was an idea that I found on twitter. And, I’m pretty sure, if I had not become interested in wine, I might not have ever ordered any. Twice.

Getting into the wine industry and learning about it has really opened my eyes to buying locally, supporting the independent producer, and not just buying things purely for convenience or price. I now tend to prefer the taste of wines that are unique in some way and I don’t mind if they aren’t exactly the same year to year. I’m almost drawn to buying wines that I know are only available in the wine shop. I like knowing that the fruit that I eat doesn’t have to travel half way around the world just to get to a huge supermarket. Pears aren’t in season in February, that’s why I eat the ones that my wife canned last August.

This past Christmas, I wanted to see if I could get all my shopping done without visiting a mall or a big box. Except for a trip to get things for someone else, I succeeded in avoiding the mall and never went near a big box store at all. The best special treat though was an online order that I placed for an upstart BC business that was the talk of my family’s holidays.

Enter Samantha’s Chocopops. Samantha Richard from Victoria, BC has been creating chocolate treats as a home-based business since last fall. I saw her on Twitter and was immediately taken by her avatar. It’s a photo of her holding up a plate full of her chocolates on lollipop sticks (chocopops – get it?) beautifully wrapped in cello with ribbons. It was the best business avatar I’d ever seen on twitter. So of course, I tweeted her about it.

It was only a matter of time before I placed my order for some Christmas themed chocopops and a tin of candy cane chocolate bark. I’m not a big candy cane fan but my wife and kids love them. I placed the order and stealthily picked up the box when it arrived a week later, hiding it in my office until Christmas morning when I would bring them out as a surprise after our Christmas dinner. The family loved them because they were tasty and unique. It was a hit! They’d never had anything like it before and I enjoyed telling them the story of how I found them.

I ordered again for Easter, figuring that perhaps the Easter Bunny should probably support local producers as well. The result was the same – sheer awe over the incredible look and taste of chocolate bark with mini-eggs and sprinkles. It wasn’t only the kids’ eyes that popped out of their heads, it was the adults as well.

I’ve started to seek out other local businesses whenever I can. When I need a quick lunch in Penticton, instead of going to a big fast-food place, I’ll head to Burger 55, where I can get burgers with cilantro, roasted garlic, sprouts, or any of the other 50 or so options on the ordering clipboards. When we don’t have wine for dinner, my wife likes cider, which we get from Orchard Hill in Oliver or Wards in Kelowna. And it’s not just food. I bought a pair of riding gloves for my motorcycle at a local leather shop, Harleywood Leather in Okanagan Falls.

Is it cheaper to buy local? Not always. Is the quality better? I like to think so but it’s hard to generalize about that. I tend to think that small producers of whatever product out there will want to sell things that will stand out somehow. If they can’t beat the big boxes with lower prices, they can certainly beat them on quality and customer service so a successful local business will likely focus on those aspects.

The biggest thing about buying local is that it adds another level to the whole experience. If I’d bought a couple big chocolate Easter bunnies for $3 each from some big retailer instead of ordering from Samantha’s Chocopops, would the experience have been the same? Hardly. I would never have had a twitter conversation or email exchange with London Drugs the way I did with Samantha’s Chocopops. I wouldn’t have much of a story to tell about where the chocolates came from, or who made them, or any of the story about how I first heard about them.

It’s those experiences that I think people are drawn to when they tour wine country and that’s what I think I’ve transferred over to my non-wine-buying life. Everyday, I meet people traveling through wine country buying wines here and there. They could certainly get most of the same bottles in the aisles of a liquor store, but this time they are here, in wine country. Why? I think that it’s for the experience of bringing home a bottle, opening it up at dinner, and telling their dinner companions about what a great time they have at “Local Winery A.” Maybe they did a tour and this was a special wine that was only available in the wine shop? Maybe they saw the tanks where this wine was made? Maybe they saw the actual vines where the grapes were grown? That’s a far more memorable and interesting experience than wandering around a liquor store looking for a wine.

Isn’t that what makes life that much more interesting?

Podcast 129 – BCWine 101 Oliver Osoyoos

Riverstone Estate Winery, north of the town of Oliver.

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

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

There’s a reason that the town of Oliver calls itself “The Wine Capital of Canada” and you’ll know why when you see it. There are vineyards everywhere here. But there are other crops here – cherry, peach, and apple orchards, tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, and more. It is a farming community and, for BC at least, it’s a large, high density one. For wine grapes, it’s the quality and consistency to grow grapes that are more difficult or impossible to grow elsewhere that draws wineries from other regions in BC to proudly proclaim that the grapes for this or that wine come from “the Golden Mile” or “the Black Sage Bench” or simply, “Oliver.”

Back Camera

Looking south from White Lake Road. The Golden Mile is on the right side of the valley, Black Sage Road on the left.

Map courtesy of Wine Tripper – BC Edition available on iTunes.

A little disclaimer about this region: I live here. Although it’s pretty safe to assume that I will have something personal to disclose about every wine region in this series, the fact is that I live and drive through this area everyday and have for over 5 years now and have worked at wineries here for most of that time. I run into winemakers picking out bananas at the supermarket. My kids go to school with their kids. It’s a community built around wine, farming, and central air-conditioning. The summers here can get very hot.

Which is why grapes, and those who grow them, love this region. Some of the best vineyard land in the country is located here. In this podcast, Tim Martinuk, president of the Oliver-Osoyoos Winery Association, talks about what makes this area worthy of the name, the Wine Capital of Canada.

The wineries of the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association and the South Okanagan.

OOWA Member Wineries

Adega on 45th Black Hills Burrowing Owl
Cassini Cellars Castoro de Oro Church & State
Covert Farms Desert Hills Fairview Cellars
Gehringer Brothers Hester Creek Hidden Chapel
Inniskillin Intersection Jackson-Triggs
Moon Curser Nk’Mip Cellars Oliver Twist
Platinum Bench Quinta Ferreira River Stone
Road 13 Rustico Silver Sage
Stoneboat Tinhorn Creek Young & Wyse

Other wineries in the South Okanagan area:

La Stella Winery Le Vieux Pin Winery Platinum Bench Winery
Looking north from Burrowing Owl Vineyards on the Black Sage bench.

Looking north from Burrowing Owl Vineyards on the Black Sage bench.

Overlooking the town of Oliver from Hester Creek Estate Winery's vineyards on the Golden Mile bench.

Overlooking the town of Oliver from Hester Creek Estate Winery’s vineyards on the Golden Mile bench.

Fall colors in a vineyard near the town of Oliver.

Fall colors in a vineyard near the town of Oliver.

Sunset from Nk'Mip Cellars looking northwest over Osoyoos Lake.

Sunset from Nk’Mip Cellars looking northwest over Osoyoos Lake.