Podcast 148 – Conversation with Marcia Hamm

MeI met Marcia Hamm last summer when I was working at the winery. She and I had a lot to chat about and it became obvious that we just didn’t get enough time to talk. So we kept in touch and I jumped at the chance to record a chat with her in person when she was visiting West Kelowna recently.

Marcia is busy running her own business and wine blog Joy of Wine and has recently become the manager for a new wine store in St. Albert, AB called Hicks Fine Wines which is scheduled to open mid-November (although at the time we recorded this, the plan was to open November 1). She recently appeared on Breakfast Television in Alberta talking about wine pairings – interviewed by a guy in a cowboy hat (is that really how everyone dresses in Alberta??) Selecting a wine portfolio for a new wine store is every wine lovers dream and Marcia is living it. She’s got a lot of diverse interests and is truly passionate about wine.

So sit back, relax, and grab a nice glass of red for this podcast. Cheers!


Podcast 147 – Similkameen BBQ King 2014


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.








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.



The Oral Traditions of Wine

Orality – That which characterizes speech; a culture characterized by the primacy of speech over other forms of signification. Usually opposed to literacy, orality refers to those aspects of a culture’s way of life that are attributable to its investment in the resources of spoken language. These may include formal ways of organizing thought (myth) or knowledge (magic); or they may be associated with rhetorical and other systems for fixing and transmitting sense.”

- from Key Concepts in Communications and Culture Studies by Tim O’Sullivan et al, 1994.


Rhys Pender, MW, at Clos du Soleil’s first vertical tasting.

Working in wine sales, I have noticed that much of what I do revolves around talking. Lots of talking. When I leave work after going “Blah blah blah blah” all day, I relish the time on the motorcycle heading home, where talking out loud is utterly useless and I can take pleasure from just shutting up. All the wineries and stores where I’ve worked have lots of things to read (back labels, magazines, books, rack cards) but I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to pay attention to those as much. Even those eager customers who carry notebooks around for their tasting notes are few and far between. People seem to make purchasing decisions based on the experience of tasting the wines and on the stories and descriptions told to them by their friends or wine shop person behind the bar.

I’ve included stories from friends as an influence here because I don’t want to put too much emphasis on the influence of the wine shop person, who has a vested financial interest in making sure that the wine is appealing. That’s their (my) job. While it is unlikely that a person selling wine can ever make someone purchase a wine that has a taste that repulses them, it is possible that that person can enhance the tasting experience itself enough to make it more pleasurable than it might be otherwise. Ever get home from wine trip and and find that the wine doesn’t really taste like you remember in the wine shop? There could be a few factors at work there (bottle variance, travel shock, etc) but the presentation (the stories of the wines / sales pitch) are a part of that experience and therefore somewhat influential on the perception of the wine at that moment.

This has been my experience especially when asking people to try two wine styles about which they have huge preconceived notions and would otherwise refuse to taste – oaked chardonnays and rosés. These are two different styles of wine that have had huge backlash over the recent decades and there are still people who prejudge the modern examples based on past experiences. Oaked chards will always be “vanilla wine with some grapes added” and rosés will always be sweet “Mateus” or “White Zin” (depending on the person’s age). I’ve noticed that how I introduce these particular styles of wine has everything to with how they will be perceived. I happen to enjoy both of those types of wines and perhaps my enthusiasm for them is somehow infectious. Who knows how effective I would be at selling those wines were I not to be as fond of those styles?

Andrea Robinson, Master Sommelier, wine writer, and Andreawine.com

Andrea Robinson, Master Sommelier, wine writer, at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2010

Preferences and tastes are individual. Everyone behind the wine bar has had different experiences with wine and with the wines that they are talking about. Most of them at least like wine and a lot of them (in BC at least) are selling wine for a casual summer job because they are retired or are students. Others enjoy learning about everything that wine has to offer and are focused entirely on every aspect of it from start to finish. Regardless of where the person behind the bar is coming from, everyone has a unique perspective that they use to tell the “story” of the wine at the bar. Because these kinds of interactions are essentially verbal only, I believe that wine sales is an intensely oral tradition rather than a written tradition. I think a big part of wine culture itself is also oral in nature and that most people have experienced wine this way. How many books on wine do most people read? Terry Theise’s Reading Between the Wines has never made the Times best seller list at any point but I think every wine lover should read it. Most people will have more experience talking about wine than reading it. Just like the fish that was THAT BIG, the stories can get a little convoluted.

There’s a game that I used to play at summer camps called Telephone. We would all sit in a line or circle and the leader would whisper a phrase to the person at the head of the line, who would then turn around and whisper that to the next person. The message would get whispered from person to person all the way through the line until the last person who would say out loud what they heard. Without fail the original message of “Swimming in the lake is fun!” would mutate into “Weasels like to bake pies!” and everyone would laugh hysterically.

Just like that camp game, the message that people hear can sometimes get muddled. Oral communication is tricky that way, especially coming out of an age where oral communication has been relatively rare. Sure, we’ve all been talking the whole time but can we all listen with the attentiveness before technology (recordings) allowed us to hear things repeated back verbatim? But that’s an article for a whole other kind of blog…

Technology and social media is bringing back a kind of oral tradition (called Secondary orality by Walter Ong) which perhaps explains some of the appeal of platforms like Twitter and Facebook. On these platforms, ‘facts’ are debatably not the same as ‘facts’ that we would read in a newspaper article or peer-reviewed published work. (Of course, what constitutes a ‘fact’ is another argument altogether.)


Roie Manoff behind the bar at Silkscarf Winery in Summerland.

People remember stories that they hear (such as from wine shop sales people) and think that they are ‘facts’. I saw a tweet the other day from someone who had had the ‘facts’ somewhat turned-around from the ‘facts’ as I think I know it. It was a photo of a bottle of Merlot and the tweet mentioned something about the Merlot coming from the oldest vines in the Okanagan. As it happens, I used to work at the winery where that particular Merlot came from and that particular bottle was definitely not from the oldest vines in the Okanagan. That winery made two Merlots and the tweet featured the lesser priced version of the two (which was blended from across unknown number of vineyards of any possible age).

The problem isn’t with the customer getting their facts straight. Perhaps they heard them talking about the other, more expensive Merlot and got them confused. But the less than truthful information could have mutated well before that, confused in the mind of the person who happened to be telling them the story – i.e. the wine shop person who sold them the wine. Wine shop people are told to tell “the story” of the wine, which comes from the viticulturist / wine maker to the wine shop sales personnel (through any number of communications or marketing managers). Just like in that camp game of telephone, ‘the story’ can be easily and inadvertently altered at the beginning with more changes happening over the course of the summer as the same story gets told over and over again by the same person.

There is also the issue of where that ‘story’ comes from. Was it from the wine maker? Winery owner? The communications manager? PR person? Director of Sales? Wine shop manager? They all have a reason to include or exclude certain facts for various reasons. Some wine makers are secretive while others are openly candid. Who’s version of the story will be ‘the story’? Will it really impact how the customer appreciates the wine?

From my experience, it absolutely will. Anyone who has had a bad experience in a wine shop or with a particular wine will not only have trouble trying that winery’s wines again but will also have their own story to tell. I explored that recently in a post about expectations in the wine shop wherein that oral storytelling tradition has been integrated into the megaphone of social media platforms. In that case, do the ‘facts’ really even matter all that much?

Perhaps all sales, not just in the wine shop, are part of a tradition of orality. I find it fascinating how this aspect of our human nature (humans have been an oral species far longer than a literate one) is present in a culture based around an age-old beverage like wine.

Cheers from wine country!

The Golden Mile Bench gets closer to reality

cropped-dsc_3061.jpgThe news came down this week that the BC Wine Authority has approved the application for the Golden Mile Bench Sub-Geographical Indication (or Sub-GI) which will be the first of its kind in BC.

What this means is that for the first time, the large region that is the Okanagan Valley will now have a smaller region within its boundary. Subdivision of a GI has never happened before in BC and is a first step in the direction that many in the wine industry already acknowledge – that there are many distinct sub-regions within the Okanagan and some of them are unique enough to produce wines with distinctive and recognizable qualities. The Golden Mile Bench is going to be the first to recognized and will hopefully pave the way for some of the other distinct regions. Hopefully those will include the Black Sage Bench, Kelowna’s south-east bench, and perhaps even the Naramata Bench. I’ve always found that Gewürztraminer from wineries in West Kelowna taste very different from Gewurz’s elsewhere. Now whether or not the grapes are actually grown there is another story.

This is where these Sub-GI’s will become contentious among wineries. Will a wine made from grapes grown in a Sub-GI become inherently more valuable because it is from a smaller delineated area? How will that affect the prices of wines from other regions? Will a winery in Naramata really want to promote the fact that their best Syrah isn’t actually grown on the Naramata Bench at all, but rather is grown somewhere else in the Okanagan? The fact is that the Oliver / Osoyoos area accounts for over 50% of the grapes produced in the province according to stats compiled by the BC Wine Institute in 2011. A lot of wineries located elsewhere in BC get their grapes from the Oliver / Osoyoos area (most notably for red wine) but is that something that they want their customers to know?

Truthfully, I’m not interested in tasting a wine from a winery on Vancouver Island made from grapes grown in the Okanagan any more than tasting wine in France made with Italian grapes. I’m pretty sure that most other wine lovers are with me on that although how small to draw that terroirtorial line is unclear. It may be a bit unsettling to the wineries currently in production right now, especially those that have chosen to focus their portfolios on grapes or styles that are not appropriate for their actual location (quite a few of them from my experience). When more sub-GI’s make it into legislation, there will be some significant shifting of the BC wine industry’s tectonic plates as wineries seek to take advantage of these newly distinguished regions. Recently I’ve seen a couple smaller wineries around Kelowna dispense with their big Syrahs and Meritages (grown nowhere near their wineries) in favour of Pinot Noir and Rieslings grown in their contiguous vineyards. Both of those grapes are not only appropriate for their growing region, but are also proving to be distinctive in their own right, perhaps even warranting their own (possibly grape-specific) sub-GI.

Another problem is with wineries and vineyards already located off on their own in geologically unique, but remote, areas. Where will they fit in? Wineries like River Stone, which shares a fence with Wild Goose’s Mystic River vineyard, but are otherwise on their own north of Oliver or Anarchist Mountain, Andrew and Terry Meyer Stone’s vineyard east of Osoyoos, will like likely not be included in any potential future sub-GI because of their distance from other vineyards. Will they loose out because of this in the long run? There is nothing that links their vineyards geologically (a major factor in drawing the boundary for the Golden Mile Bench) to any of the larger vineyard areas nearby. Ironically Culmina Estate Winery, located right in the middle of the Golden Mile Bench and a leader in the application for the Sub-GI, has had their own Margaret’s Bench vineyard (located further up the mountain) excluded from the Golden Mile Bench Sub-GI. They will only be able to label wines from that vineyard as BC VQA Okanagan Valley.

The novelty of something new will drive the gold-rush mentality at the beginning but ultimately it will be up to each region to qualify and publicise its distinctiveness from the whole. In other words, the wineries that slap the new BC VQA Golden Mile Bench on their labels will not have to work very hard to sell those bottles as consumers will likely clamour for their first wines from the new appellation. The marketing potential for a new Sub-GI is huge. This will be big news with wine consumers, tourists, and within the wine industry itself who may then begin to push for other Sub-GI’s elsewhere. Sandra Oldfield and Sara Triggs, both involved in the organization of the Golden Mile Bench application, were very clear in a recent webinar on the subject that they are more than willing to share what they know about the Sub-GI application process to other regions.

Whatever happens with other regions within the Okanagan, the big picture is pretty clear; We are still only in the beginning stages of learning what grapes grow where to make the best wine. It will not be an easy progression and there will be as much (dis)agreement about everything as there ever has been in the past. The point is that things are progressing and that the industry isn’t where it was 5, 10, or 20 years ago. Read some of John Schreiner’s older editions and see what I mean. Wine changes and evolves over time and so to will the BC wine industry. The new Golden Mile Bench Sub-GI is really the beginning of the next chapter.

Cheers to exciting times in wine country!



Where does your wine REALLY come from?

It’s not a new story but seems to be getting some steam on social media these day. I can’t say that I’ve ever really agreed with much of what Anthony Gismondi has written about BC wine but I can say that I’ve learned a lot about wine in general from reading his columns over the years. This article however really hits it and I think it really represents the future of VQA in BC. We need to certify that those grapes come from where they are stated. The words “Naramata Bench” on a label means absolutely *nothing* legally and the grapes for a wine labelled as such can come from anywhere (although most likely the Oliver / Osoyoos area, especially for reds).

While some regions might argue that it doesn’t really matter where the grapes come from, many wine lovers such as myself will argue that it matters quite a lot. If, like myself, you’ve ever been offered a sample of a Syrah from a winery on Vancouver Island, you’ll know how important it is that wines come from *a place* and that honestly representing that on a label should not be belittled. Syrah cannot be grown on Vancouver Island so why, after travelling all that way, would I really want to try a wine made from grapes grown in the Okanagan Valley? When I travel to Creston or Kamloops next year, I want to taste what they have to offer from grapes grown there and not what they’ve imported from another region.

It’s time for wineries to truly represent where the grapes are grown on the label. It’s going to become law anyway so you might as well start now so it’s less of a shock to your customers when you have to. 

Check out the article here.


Cheers from wine country,



2014 Vintage

IMG_0789The grapes for the 2014 vintage are being harvested, slowly, as I type this. It’s been a pretty good year and people that I’ve spoken to are generally optimistic about the prospects for 2014. In fact, it could be the one we’ve been waiting for.

I should start this whole thing but saying that no winery will ever tell you that there is anything but a ‘good’, ‘great’, or ‘exceptional’ vintage. No winery will ever tell you, “You know, 2010 was just an awful vintage. Don’t buy anything from that year.” Nor will they agree with you when you say it to them. The code word that they use for vintages where the weather was generally less than cooperative is ‘challenging’ – as in, “It was a challenging vintage.” They bottom line is that they have to produce wine each year regardless of whether or not it was a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ vintage. The wines may be a little different year to year, but that’s ok. There’s a saying in the industry that the absolute best vintage of all is the one that they’re trying to sell you.

I think that it’s really not up to the wineries to qualify a vintage as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and truth be told, they probably won’t want to qualify them. It really is up to the wine media to do that. They will taste a huge variety of wines from multiple vintages as the go about doing their work covering the industry and will make assertions based on their experiences. The only thing that a winery will be able to adequately give you an impression of is the ease at which the grapes were harvested in the fall. A vintage will be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for them depending on how much control they had over the harvest for that year. Could they bring in each variety of grapes at the optimal time of the wine maker’s choosing? Or were they forced into harvesting a particular variety early or later because of inclement weather, slow ripening, or otherwise less-than-ideal conditions? Wineries have a finite number of tank space available and most of them need to use each tank more than once in a season, often counting on some varieties to ripen at different times. If the Pinot Gris and the Merlot are ripe and ready at the same time (late springs followed by hot summers might do that) when in a ‘normal’ year they would be ready weeks apart, both varieties could be optimally ready to harvesting at the same time which means that the winery might not have enough tanks. So does the wine maker pick the Gris a bit early and risk holding the Merlot on the vine longer so that they can use that same tank? Or would that sacrifice the quality too much and alter the resulting wine beyond what they were planning? Hard to say. Are the wines going to suffer that badly? I think it really depends on how the winery and wine make can handle the rigours of the harvest. A ‘good’ vintage for them is one where they make the decisions without being forced into anything.

I also believe that we are at a relatively new plateau for BC wine. We seem to have reached a new level now in our history that there are very few wineries producing seriously flawed, consistently undrinkable wines. There are still a few out there and of course everyone has their own tastes and preferences but by and large, the industry is not where it was 10 or even 5 years ago when it was still risky to open bottles from new or inexperienced producers even in ‘good’ vintages. I believe that even if we’d had an absolutely perfect vintage in 1998 (a random year – I have no idea what that year was really like) would the people involved with the industry here at that time have known what to do with it to make mazing wines? From grapes of amazing quality, one can make amazing wines or crappy wines. With crappy grapes, one can only make crappy wines. The quality can only go down. Wine knowledge in the aggregate has increased immensely and quickly over the past decade. I would argue that the industry here knows more about what to do in all kinds of vintages to keep the quality of the wines as high as they can possibly be.

Get on with it. What was 2014 like?

Everyone likes talking about the weather and it’s a big part of how the grapes mature so here’s a little recap of what happened in 2014. Keep in mind that as someone who commutes on a motorcycle to work, I believe that I’m more aware than the typical car driver on how the weather was throughout the summer. I’ve put gas in my car only once since April. Just saying.

IMG_0790While every vingeron can tell you the exact date of key happenings in their vineyards (bud break, flowering, fruit set, veraison, etc.), I can not. Nor do I believe that it will be of much interest for this article. I can say that the weather through the spring here in the south Okanagan was up and down – rainy or sunny but generally warm all around. It was not predictable and in my experience living here, it never really is. So it’s pretty well par for the course. I do remember hearing that bud break and flowering were all on the early side of normal but in all my years of being here and working in vineyards and wineries, nobody has ever been able to tell me what ‘normal’ was.

June, July, and the first part of August was hot and dry. From mid-May to the beginning of August, I was on the motorcycle every day except one due to the exception weather. (My rule this summer was that if I can get to work dry, I’ll take the bike. I donned my rain gear only once to get home.) The grapes progressed quickly and things needed to slow down a little. Fortunately, August happened.

August in the Okanagan has always been the dependable month. If you were going to plan a family beach trip, August was the only month where that was pretty well guaranteed. I’ve had outdoor music gigs cancelled, curtailed or disrupted by the weather in most months except for August. It was always predictable – August starts with the letter “A” and so does the word “Awesome”.

Not this year.

Things cooled off – a little. (Of course, this is relative. If it’s been 40 degrees for 3 days, 33 feels ‘cool’.) Clouds shaded the sun and brought rain (drizzle, downpour, showers, etc.) more than once. The temperature was lower and we had a series of big storms blow through. No hail or anything to damage crops but enough to blow all kinds of motorcycle-damaging debris across the roads. These kinds of climactic temper tantrums were usually an extension of spring blowing into summer (like in June and July of 2010 and 2011) but not good old, predictable August. The grapes did slow down a little bit but with with some wineries in the south harvesting reds in mid-September, it’s clear that this year’s harvest is starting up earlier than previous years so those sugar levels must be pretty good.

Of course, perspective is everything and this is really what I saw as I drove to the Black Sage Bench from Oliver each day. It’s very likely that my impressions would be different if I drove to Okanagan Falls everyday or worked in Naramata or Kelowna. Perhaps people who work there could add their impressions in the comments section below.

At this point, if the weather stays dry and relatively warm until the end of October, we could be in a for a potentially fantastic year for all wines – white and red. With our northern latitude here in BC, we don’t often get the chance to harvest when we want. And as I mentioned earlier, if the vignerons are able to choose their harvest time based on quality and taste and are not forced into making logistical decisions because of the weather, we could be in for a banner year. In fact, from the wineries that I’ve visited and the people that I’ve spoken to so far this fall, this could be one of the best vintages in the past decade. And with a lot more experience under our belt as an industry and the knowledge on how to handle it, this could be one of the best vintages in the history of BC wine.

Cheers from wine country!




Festival of the Grape – Still Room for wineries


If you have a winery in BC, there is still time to be a part of this year’s Festival of the Grape! I am the Wine Chair for this year’s Festival of the Grape Committee and have noticed that there are still a few spaces left in the tasting tents. So I thought I’d put the word out this way. If you are interested in pouring your wines at this fabulous and extremely well attended wine festival, please send me an email right away. This year’s Festival is Sunday, October 5th and the wine tent is open from 1-5 pm. It’s a huge amount of fun for everyone and a great family friendly event.

We are also in need of volunteers to help make the Festival run smoothly. There are some great perks for becoming a volunteer at the Festival so if you are available, please consider helping out. See below for information.



Recapping Garagiste North 2014



Lisa Elgert from Cana Vines

It seems that with each passing year that I live in the Okanagan, the number and quality of festivals of some kind rises dramatically. Of course there are the seasonal wine festivals from the Okanagan Wine Festival Society, the perpetually popular Festival of the Grape in Oliver, and there have been 3 Oyster Festivals in Osoyoos since its inception in 2012. Last year’s Okanagan Food and Wine Film Festival did not continue into 2014 but happily I hear that it will be moving to the spring of 2015. There are annual events that don’t have the word “festival” in the name such as my favourite Similkameen BBQ King Championship and marathons that get you, let’s be honest, Most Definitely corked. But there’s a new player in town on the festival scene and if any more events happen as well as this one did, then you will really want to pay attention to this one in the future.


The gang at VinPerdu

It’s called The Garagiste North, the Small Guys Wine Festival. Yes, it sort of sounds like it has height restrictions but rest assured that anyone over 5’3″ of any gender is more than welcome to take part if they produce under 2000 cases of wine annually. These people are focused on their 1 or 2 barrels that they make every year. It’s not about quantity but quality and with that comes a whole lot of fun because what’s obvious about these people is that they truly love what they do.


Dan, Jennifer, and Terry

Jennifer Schell and Terry Meyer-Stone are the evil-genius types behind Garagiste North. Meyer Family Vineyards provided the stunning lawn space in front of their wine shop. Gregor’s Gourmet was on hand busily serving up amazing food constantly for the entire afternoon. (Honestly Greg, everyone noticed you both working away constantly all afternoon with no break at all. You deserve a huge thanks for that!) Aidan Mayes and Mandy Cole provided the music. I had my Garagiste mug shot taken (just like the ones that they used to promote the festival) and there were t-shirts and water for sale. Everything was easy to find and very well organized.


Dan and Carol Scott from Lariana Cellars

Then there was the wine. And then there were the stories that went with the wine.

20140919-093134.jpg“This is from the only barrel that we made last year…”

“No, you won’t find this in Vancouver…”

“We haven’t released this wine yet because it’s not finished…”

“Um, well, , we don’t have a wine shop. It’s more of a two-car garage…”

The best part of the day was the wine, which is really what everyone was there to taste anyway. Getting the opportunity just to taste these rare and hard-to-find wines was the draw and the people who attended the festival seemed to enjoy the diversity and range of styles that each winery presented. While most had small portfolios of wines, there were some that had only one or two available. (VinPerdu had only a barrel sample of Cabernet Franc.) Even with all that diversity of styles and wines, I found some interesting things that united the wineries that I spoke with.

Andrew Stone of Anarchist Mountain Vineyards, before drinking his Chardonnay...

Andrew Stone of Anarchist Mountain Vineyards, before drinking his Chardonnay…

... and after.

… and after.

While all the wine makers took their craft seriously, none of them took it too seriously. It was obvious they were having fun and even veterans of the scene (winemakers who work ‘day jobs’ at larger wineries) seemed to enjoy pouring these wines more than at other, bigger tasting events. Perhaps it was the casual nature of the event, but I don’t think so. I’ve been lucky to have chatted and tasted wines with more than a few of these wine makers previously and shining the spotlight on them with a festival like this seemed to bring out the best in all of them. They all seemed very proud to be there as a small wine producer and rightly so. They love what they do and it shows.


Ted and Lorraine Kane from River Stone.

As for the wines themselves, I did not see any unanimity of varieties or styles amongst the produces there that day. With the strong sense of individuality that it takes just to be a small independent wine maker, I wasn’t really expecting to either. Generally I did find that there were more single-variety wines than blends however and that the blended wines were usually very creative and tasty. There were more than a few Viogniers around and Pinot Noir was a popular choice among red varieties, perhaps because it’s a challenge to produce a great Pinot Noir. There were whites that were both dry and off-dry and more than a few rosés which were popular on this fine, sunny day.

Some of the stand out wines for me: (listed alphabetically)

Anarchist Mountain Chardonnay – We reviewed the first vintage on this on a previous podcast and it received mixed reviews from my industry friends involved that evening. The version I tasted was the follow-up vintage and Andrew Stone told me that he had much more control over this vintage than the one that we’d tasted. It was a real stand out for this variety today. I heard other people mentioning it as something not to miss that day so it wasn’t just me. I like a Chard that has shows the primary fruit flavours but doesn’t cover it with oak. It was complex, yummy (a technical wine term), and I loved it. Hello cedar planked salmon.

"No pictures, please!"

“No pictures, please!”

Black Cloud Altostratus Pinot Noir – Quickly becoming the most sought after Pinot Noir in BC, this is Brad Cooper and Audralee Daum’s label that focuses entirely on Pinot Noir. The rosé Red Sky was lovely the but the Altostratus takes it for me. It’s a focused and chewy Pinot that jumps out of the glass, grabs your tongue by the taste buds and yells, “You want some duck with that??” Yes. Yes I do.

Carson Pinot Co. Pinot Noir – My mom raved about this one all the way home, describing it as smooth and silky. For some reason, I never got to try it so you’ll have to just believe my mom on this one. If anyone offers this wine to you at a party, just say, “Thank you.”

Jesce and Charlie from Corcelletes

Jesce and Charlie from Corcelletes

Corcelletes Rosé – It’s made from Zweigelt!! And you know I’m a sucker for Zweigelt. I’ve featured their Trivium in a recent podcast and have been intrigued (ok, enthralled) by the wine making and viticultural talents of the Baessler family since they started growing the Grower’s Series Pinot Blanc from Clos du Soleil some years ago. So Corcelletes has been on my radar for a while and it’s time it was on yours as well.

Lariana Cellars Viognier – What can I say? I love a good Viognier and this one had it all – complex and intense aromas, soft texture, and a long finish. With Senka Tennant as the consulting wine maker and a future vintage of Carmenere due for release sometime next year, this is a serious winery to follow online. I think I bought my Viognier at a VQA store so they shouldn’t be that hard to find.

VinPerdu Cellars Cabernet Franc (barrel sample) – I’m a sucker for Cabernet Franc. I’m also a sucker for barrel samples. So already this winery is a good fit for me. The sample was young and a bit hidden but showed some good fruit and structure that will bring it out of its shell in the next year or so. If they bottle this wine in the spring, it could be available by this time next year but that depends on how the wine progresses and what their plans are for it. As noted in this previous post, their new winery is right on the highway south of Oliver.

Scott Stefishen from Money Pit Wines

Scott Stefishen from Money Pit Wines

Aidan Mayes and Mandy Cole

Aidan Mayes and Mandy Cole

At larger tastings, these wineries often get overlooked in favour of the big names and their huge displays with professional sales teams. I imagine that it is probably much more difficult for small wineries to even participate in an event like the WestJet tasting or Vancouver Wine Festival since that would mean pouring samples of wine that could amount to a large percentage of their entire production, which would make it hardly worth it.

Overall, this proved to be exactly what the t-shirts proclaimed – it was “the coolest wine festival ever.” I really hope this can start to bring more attention to the smaller producers out there because there really are some amazing wines. Garagiste North has the real potential to be an exciting launch pad for some great BC wine in the future.

Cheers from wine country!



- I heard a rumour that this festival might go on the road to other, more urban, locations in the future. (Just your eyes on the street, that’s all I am.)

- Also note that I did have my sound recorder there that day and recorded some interviews. However, the microphone misbehaved – OK, I set it wrong, my bad – and so the sound quality is unfortunately not up to standard for a Wine Country BC podcast. Unless I can discover some new audio processing tricks of which I was hitherto unaware, I’m pretty sure that I can’t make a podcast out of it.