Wineries Need to Give Wine Bloggers More Respect


I didn’t get to attend this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference but still somehow feel the need to ‘spread the word’ a little and Valerie has done a great job with this article. You should also read the comments below it for some added arguments pro and con as well as alternative viewpoints. Self-reflection and introspection (or navel-gazing) has, for better or worse, always been a significant part of any WBC that I’ve attended (although interestingly less so in Penticton for some reaosn) and apparently this tradition lives on in the recent conference. More than just applicable to wine blogging though, I really think it’s a bigger part of the zeitgeist – musicians have effectively been deprofessionalized slowly over the past 50 years and writers are in that boat now too. Anyone with a big digital camera can be a “professional photographer” or produce videos easily using nothing but an iPad app. People who may have real talent now have a lot of outlets for it but at what cost? I once had a winery tell me, “Thanks for the free publicity!” as I was leaving after recording a podcast and it soured my outlook on blogging and the work I was putting into creating the podcast. Why was I just giving away my skills and working long hours just to tell their story? My online presence changed soon after that as I moved from a “tell their story”-mode to a “tell it like I see it”-mode. As such, I now rarely introduce myself to new wineries anymore preferring to receive a more ‘anonymous’ public experience of the wine shop (which is what most of my readers / listeners will get) instead of getting whatever VIP treatment the winery can offer. I’m not interested in free wine, I’m interested in *wine* and at this time of my blogging / podcasting life, I will say what I want to say. If your winery has a wine that interests me, I will write about it or include it in a podcast. I can only write about my point of view. I think people who read wine blogs do so because of they know that it’s someone’s point of view and not contrived marketing. That’s where I think wine bloggers need to focus – tell your story, not theirs.

Originally posted on The Demystified Vine:

Inspired at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

I was recently at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, California, on a scholarship. During the conference, I attended a number of intensely interesting seminars, in addition to having some serious talks with industry folks about wine. I spoke with fellow bloggers, PR reps, wine writers, winery owners, and even winemakers. Throughout the conversations and seminars, I kept pondering on the relationship between wineries and wine bloggers, and that this relationship needs to be developed and intensified.


Social web network marketing diagram Brands Rousers Luis Gallardo

Now, before you jump on this, read with an open mind. This post is not being written to complain about wineries intentionally disrespecting wine bloggers. The whole point is to create awareness and dialogue of where wine blogging stands, how wine bloggers are helping wineries, and illuminate the not-entirely-functioning relationship between wineries and wine bloggers…

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Posted by on July 20, 2014 in Podcasts


Sunshine Parade 2014

20140712-121626-44186620.jpgFor those that don’t live here in wine country, you might be surprised to find out that there are other things that happen here that don’t involve wine. Shocking as that is, there are lots of fun local events that aren’t based on wine at all. Penticton has a Peach Festival and where I live in Oliver, there is a Sunshine Festival that also includes a parade. Since living in Oliver, I have attended the parade a number of times, walked in the parade twice, and 20140712-121625-44185718.jpgalways had a good time – even when it was raining. The kids get to sit there while parade people throw candy at them, various organizations put on displays, and the local fire department goes berserk hosing everyone down as they bring up the rear of the parade. It’s fun in a small town kind of way and I wouldn’t miss it.

But I’ve always thought that there has always been something missing from the parade. For a town that calls itself “The Wine Capital of Canada”, there has been very little of the wine industry represented in the parade. There are plenty of wineries and wine organizations (where’s OOWA?) that I think could be represented in some way. Like or not (there are plenty of locals who are not thrilled with the wine industry) wine is now a significant part of economic and civic life in Oliver and the south Okanagan. In 2011, Oliver had 3,543.18 acres of vineyards that represented almost 36% of the total vineyard production in BC, more than twice the size of the next region, which happened to be Osoyoos. 58% of the wine grapes grown in BC are within a 20 minute drive of Oliver in any direction. The economic impact of that is not small. For the province of BC, it’s a 2 billion dollar a year industry with 58% of it growing on the vine right here in Oliver.

20140712-121627-44187549.jpgThis year was the first that I remember seeing any particular winery represented in the parade itself. I could be wrong in this since I was walking in the parade for the past two years and did not get to see the whole thing so please correct me if I’m wrong. This year, a grand total of 2 wineries participated in the parade. Big kudos should go to Kismet Estate Winery and Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery for bringing some barrels out to party, showing some civic pride, and representing the local wine industry in our own town for perhaps the first time.

To be fair, I’m not sure where the fault really lies with the separation between local civic pride and the industry that surrounds it, but I know it takes two to tango. It’s easy to sit in a winery office out in the middle of nowhere and feel far removed from the local town and its people. Most interactions and transactions occur with people who are not from here or who are in other regions altogether (sales agents, licensees, club members, etc). There can be very little connection to the local world from the winery’s end other than a few staff members, like myself, happen to live in town. Do the festival organizers seek out participants in the parade? I don’t know. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems that these are really two different worlds that just happen to share the same postal code.

As someone who lives in Oliver, Wine Capital of Canada, and is also part of the wine industry, that’s a shame.







Posted by on July 12, 2014 in Events, Rants


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Podcast 145 – It’s BBQ King Time again!

20120821-120101.jpgIt’s that time of year again! Time for the talented chef’s of the Okanagan and Similkameen to get their grills fired up down at the Grist Mill in Keremeos for the Similkameen BBQ King Championship. In my completely humble and totally unbiased opinion, this is still the best wine and culinary event of the year. It’s got wine. It’s got great food. It’s got wine. It’s got competition. It’s got wine. It’s got prizes. And there’s wine.

2013-Sim-BBQ-King-Logo-282x300Sorry, lost my train of thought there for a second.

If you have never been, it is truly a real Similkameen experience. The member wineries in the Similkameen Wineries Association are all artisanal producers and know how to throw a party like no other. Having the chef’s compete with a black box of ingredients only adds to the excitement of the evening. (Chef’s aren’t competitive, are they?) It’s a great treat to be able to get samples of the wines paired with truly creative food that you’ll never find on a restaurant menu. The food accurately shows the skills and talents of the chefs involved. It’s like watching jazz musicians improvise at the top of their game. Unbelievable.

If you’d like more recaps from previous years, check out my posts from 2012 and 2011 recaps and an interview with George Hanson and Kim Lawton from the Similkameen Wineries Association with a preview of the 2013 event.

This podcast has got interviews and sounds from the 2013 event and will give you an idea about the kinds of food and wine that will no doubt be a part of this festival.

Cheers from wine country!

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Posted by on July 5, 2014 in Events, Podcasts


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Podcast 144 – The Merits of VQA

20140625-212951-77391705.jpgOk, this is a big one. Calli, while studying at UBC last semester, created a podcast for a course called Land and Food Systems. She interviewed two people (with opposing views) about the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (or VQA) and presented it in the form of a podcast. The people that she interviewed were Harry McWatters and Jeff Martin!! I could not believe it when she told me and couldn’t wait to hear the final result. It has spectacular arguments from both sides and for wine nerds like myself, there has always been a fair amount of controversy within the wine community about the merits and use of VQA and I can’t even imagine two other people in BC wine more qualified to discuss this topic.

Cheers from wine country!



Posted by on July 2, 2014 in Podcasts


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Quick Fab 5 Trip

Having to take my motorcycle to Kelowna for a little work at the local Honda Powerhouse dealer, I found myself in town with a beautiful afternoon and no real need to be home at any particular time. That is a rare combination in my world and so I took up the opportunity to visit a couple of wineries that I had as yet never visited.

If you have previously used Kelowna as your base for wine touring, as I had done on my very first wine trip here in 2003, you have my condolenscenes. While the urbanites among you might feel more at home with the amenities and traffic patterns of the Okanagan largest city, I prefer to enjoy scenic drives between wineries rather than stop and go traffic. Along with the urban locations, there was never (until recently) a clear touring route, organized winery associations, or even a good winery map to make planning my day a little easier. My first winery visit in the Okanagan in 2003 was to Gray Monk followed by Calona (pre-downtown revitalization, when it really looked like it was in the skids) and the Mission Hill and Quail’s Gate. That took the entire day and it was a long one. Since that experience, I tried to keep my touring based out of Penticton.

In the decade since then, other more southerly wine regions have slowly been getting themselves organized with various tourism winery associations and generic marketing bodies. They have their own websites, host their own events, and (crucially) publish their own maps and wine routes. Naramata was really the first to figure this out with the Naramata Bench Winery Association. People knew about ‘brand Naramata’ long before any other and would regularly make that a destination. When I worked at the VQA store in Penticton, I had customers almost everyday who were unsure where to go but would decide to visit on Naramata rather than OK Falls, Oliver / Osoyoos, or the Similkameen (if they even knew it existed at that time) because it was easily recognizable.

20140627-115104-42664076.jpgRecently though, Tourism Kelowna has finally gotten it right although I really don’t know why it took so long. Somewhere I picked up a copy of their latest map and was impressed to see that all of the regions wineries were represented. Clearly broken down into regions that make day-tripping easy to plan (good for tourists and locals), this map is easy to read and accurately mapped (always a criticism of mine). A PDF copy is available for download from their website as well.

Back to the trip in question – I had some wine to pick up at Tantalus and wanted to get some Ward’s cider from The View so I thought that I would fill in the blanks and visit Spierhead and Sperling. I was familiar with wines from both wineries (we featured the first vintage of Spierhead’s Vanguard on a previous podcast) but had never visited IRL. After packing the Ward’s into my panniers, I headed up the hill towards Spierhead. And unpaved driveway awaited me there which, still as a new motorcyclist, had me on guard the whole way up. Once there though I was taken by the presentation – the wine shop and entryway were beautifully done up and obviously well taken care of. The wine shop itself was small but appropriate and bright, and I was welcomed right away. I try to limit my tastings to only one or two wines per winery while on my motorcycle and spit everything as well so I choose the try the Riesling and the Rosé. I couldn’t say no when offered to try the Pinot Noir however and that is what I ended up leaving with.

20140627-115105-42665132.jpgI believe the quality of the Pinots and the Rieslings are going to be the varieties that will make the biggest splash in the boutique-level wineries (which is most of them) around Kelowna. Gray Monk figured this out long ago and Tantalus has focused on it intensely in the past few years. The View, Camelot, Cedar Creek, St. Hubertus, and Summerhill all have serious Rieslings. Wineries like Ancient Hill and 50th Parallel are taking Pinot Noir to an exciting new level. Correct me if you think I’m wrong but I think boutique wine tourists like to taste wines that are produced from grapes that are grown in the same general area as the winery itself. The extreme example of this is Vancouver Island where I generally avoid all wines that are produced from Okanagan fruit when visiting them. I’m not interested in travelling the whole day to taste wines that are made from fruit grown down the road from my house. I want to taste wines made from the place that I’m visiting. In this case, I want to taste what the Pinots (or Rieslings, or whatevers) are like in Kelowna.

After Spierhead, I headed down the hill to stop into Sperling’s beautiful wine shop. Sperling’s wine shop is a step back in time – it is rustic, beautifully appointed in antiques, and has no AC. I appreciated the shaded parking though, which is a rarity in the Okanagan. I tasted the Riesling (of course), the Foch Reserve (I’d never tried it), and the two sweeties – a LH Gewurztraminer and a Pinot Blanc Icewine – which were both fabulous. Cautious of the space I had left in my panniers, I bought the LH Gewurztraminer.

20140627-115106-42666122.jpgOnward to Tantalus, a winery that I have been familiar with for some time and the feature of a previous podcast interview with winemaker David Patterson. I’ve been smitten by their Old Vines Riesling for years now and consider it to be one of the true grand cru wines of the Okanagan valley. This was a quick visit this time – no tasting since I was getting tired and still had to ride a couple of hours to get home. And of course I needed all of the concentration I could muster to keep my Honda upright all the way up one of the longest, inclined, curved, gravel driveways in the Okanagan. Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not complaining about it because I absolutely understand its value for a winery that is as concerned about energy use and environmental impact as Tantalus is. Adding pavement on their sloped driveway would increase the speed of rain water run-off and therefore increase soil erosion. I include it here as a mere point of fact so that others who may be considering wine touring on a motorcycle have a little bit of knowledge about what to expect.

Overall, this side of Kelowna is easy enough and fun to run around on a motorcycle or in a car. The wineries are diverse enough in style – from the antique styling of Sperling to the uber-modern Tantalus – to keep it interesting. I find it fascinating that each winery’s portfolios are starting to show some of the same varieties. To me that shows that there is a focus developing among the producers and that will ultimately lead to a proper demonstration of the terroir. I think we’re still years away from that, but it’s neat to think that we could be witnessing its genesis.

Cheers from wine country!


Posted by on June 29, 2014 in Rants, Touring Info, Winery Visits


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Podcast 143 – Courcelettes’ Trivium in the Similkameen

20140625-100901.jpg20140625-100924.jpgThis week’s podcast is all about the new wineries in the Similkameen valley, which seems to be where my motorcycle takes me frequently for some reason. It also features a new winery from the Similkameen Valley called Courcelettes. It’s the Baessler family’s vineyard and winery, which is named after their home town of Courcelettes, Switzerland. They are not new to the BC wine world and if you’ve been a fan of the Pinot Blanc from Clos du Soleil over the past few years, you should really be keeping your eye out for Courcelettes’ wines in stores. Click over to their website for more information about their wines and history.


Charlie Baessler

Charlie gave me this wonderful bottle of their Trivium and that’s the wine that Calli and I are tasting in this podcast. I also bought a bottle of their red blend called Menhir with the intention of using it for a podcast or video but somehow it got imbibed for dinner with friends and, well, that’s how it goes.
Since recording this podcast, I noticed that they have their own ‘official’ highway sign up on Route 3 going through Cawston. Just to give you an idea as to where it is, it’s in the same neck of the woods as Eau Vivre but on the other side of the highway. Their website says that they are open from Thursday to Monday 11-5 so try stopping in on your next travel through the Sim. I know that’s where I’ll be heading as soon as I can.

Cheers from wine country!


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Posted by on June 26, 2014 in Podcasts


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Podcast 142 – The Nomacorc Revolution, Part 2

20140425-193418.jpg… Continued from “The Nomacorc Revolution, Part 1

So was I convinced? Did they really manage to change my outlook on synthetic corks?? Get a hint with this podcast Calli and I recorded;

In short, yes. They did. Here’s why.

Before this trip, I wasn’t convinced that there was really even a need for synthetic corks. Natural corks are renewable and natural and honestly, I like things to be as natural as possible. Cork-tainted wine doesn’t really bother me that much – I just consider it to be one of those little things in life that are annoying but aren’t worth creating a complicated solution to a simple problem. What I learned on this trip was that cork is still good, but the problems with it (cork taint and variability) can be solved with minimal environmental impact while retaining the ceremony of removing a cork from a bottle. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve done it in a way that gives the wine maker a measurable method of controlling the amount of oxygen flow into the wine after it has been bottled, which has never been done before in the history of wine making. For that reason, I believe this is revolutionary.

Screw caps have never really appealed to me for a whole lot of reasons including the strip-mining of the bauxite which is necessary to produce the aluminium. But the biggest reason is that for years it seemed to me that there was a concerted effort by the industry to get wine writers to talk about screw caps. While I totally acknowledge that this is essentially Nomacorc’s tack as well, the ridiculous way that some wine writers casually slipped in references to the de facto superiority of screw caps just got stupid. Articles would begin with things like, “Now that summer is here, it’s time to start thinking about fresh summer wines. For me, that means a screw cap.” REALLY?? The closure somehow makes a wine more palatable for this writer because it’s a twisty? Like the summer heat in the Okanagan has made using a cork screw that much more intolerable because they’ll have to use a TOOL paired with EFFORT just to get a their wine? Whatever.

20140623-235513.jpgI got sick of reading things like that in the wine media and screw caps have never been good in my books largely for that reason. (It was also partly responsible for getting me interested in starting this blog so sometimes good things can happen…) Other closure “solutions” like Zorks and Vinoloks have amounted to little more than footnotes as far as the BC wine industry in concerned. Again, they seem to be complicated solutions to simple problems and both of these examples seem to be out of touch with the realities of the world and the environment. One has even more plastic and the other is glass (or crystal) at a time when many wineries are trying to reduce the amount of glass that they use through lighter thin-walled glass bottles or keg programs like FreshTAP to reduce environmental impact.

This reality about responsibility to the environment is evidently not far from the minds of the people at Nomacorc who, throughout all of the presentations, were always keenly aware that not only is this the world in which they must operate and sell their product but also the world in which they must live. The European heritage of Nomacorc (through Belgian founder Gert Noël and current CEO Lars Von Kantzow) has really fostered an environmental awareness that permeates all aspects of their operation from product development to manufacturing and transportation. While promotion of that aspect by Nomacorc did come dangerously close at times to green washing, their own promotional literature also noted that a wine’s closure represent “less than 1% of a wine’s total carbon footprint.” In addition, Nomacorc is also not even selling their product to the ultimate end user – wine consumers – who usually aren’t even aware what kind of cork closure a wine bottle has until they peel away the foil. Ultimately, they have little to gain or loose by touting their environmentalism but I personally give them credit for being up front about it. Part of what I don’t like about plastic has to do with environmental concerns but if all companies acted like Nomacorc with their sense of responsibility, we wouldn’t have things like this.

20140623-235522.jpgSo to recap – Nomacorc effectively calmed my environmental fears regarding plastic usage and screw caps have become annoying for a the reasons described above. So what about the different effects on the wines themselves? Shouldn’t this really be all about how the wines age and evolve?

The winery where I work received an older vintage of a bottle of white that we sell. It was from the 2008 vintage and is a white suavignon blanc / semillon blend. We are currently selling the 2013 vintage but we were just about to switch from the 2012 to the 2013. With three vintages there to compare, we tried a sample of each so that we could see how this wine had changed.

In short, it had changed but not in an evolutionary way. There was still fruit on it, but very little else. It was boring. It wasn’t designed to be aged and is best enjoyed within the first 2-3 years from vintage. Anything beyond that is not beneficial. It is the wine equivalent of a faded photograph where you can still tell what the image is, but the colors have all faded and it no longer shows the vibrancy of the time. In sealing the wine completely from the oxygen that will allow the wine to evolve, screw caps have, in my opinion, only really managed to keep one element of the aging process at bay while other factors that cause wine to change as it ages remain unchecked. It just didn’t seem natural.

So screwcaps don’t let a wine age naturally like cork since it does not allow any oxygen into the bottle, but cork is problematic for consistency and quality and lets in completely unpredictable amounts of oxygen into the bottle. It would seem to me like Nomacorc kinda hits it all with their engineered corks that allow a wine maker to effectively control the oxygen rate that gets into the wine after it has been bottled. To me, this is REVOLUTIONARY! They can now tailor their wines to age in consistent and predictable ways even after the bottle has been sold to the consumer.

Perhaps I should step back a little here. Humans throughout the centuries have learned how to make wine through various accidents. Wine itself was probably discovered by accident. Someone screwed up and left a bin of grapes out somewhere and it naturally started fermenting on its own. (Grape skins have yeast cells on them naturally.) Most every style of wine (such as ice wine, sparkling wine, Port, or Madeira) are direct results of someone screwing something up. They’ve all contributed to humans learning about grapes and what makes them into wine of these different styles. As soon that we learn to control a particular variable (grape ripeness, skin contact, yeast, oxygen, etc), we can then learn to refine those accidents into spectacular wines. As soon as yeast was discovered to the be the organism responsible for fermentation (not only for wine but other things like bread, yogurt, beer, etc) humans learned to control and manipulate it to suit their needs. Different yeast strains were cultured to be more consistent, stronger, or impart certain flavors to the wines. Winemakers could control that process much more than they could before, when fermentation itself was still mysterious.

Oxygen is tightly controlled by winemakers throughout the whole wine making process at every step from grapes (using CO2 and potasium metabisulfite) until bottling the wine. After that, there was no control at all and wines were at the mercy of the natural cork (again – inconsistent oxygen transfer and potentially ruinous to the wine) and or screw cap (delicate, iron-clad barrier to oxygen resulting in “faded photograph” wines if aged).

With Nomacorc’s engineered corks with predictable oxygen transfer rates, wine makers can now predictably control the amount of oxygen their wines receive post-bottling. In my opinion, this is truly revolutionary and the main reason why I am happy to see an engineered cork in the bottle after I’ve just peeled the foil. Nomacorc did change my perception about engineered cork closures and I am convinced that they are actually onto something that goes beyond the seemingly simple task of plugging up bottles of wine. There is still more work to be done, they haven’t got it perfect yet, but they’re very close and I believe they’re on the right track.

20140623-235530.jpgBC Wineries that use NomacorcsIf there are others, please let me know…
Adega on 45th
Backyard Vineyards
Columbia Gardens
Fort Berens
Gold Hill
Krause Berry Farms
La Frenz
Little Straw Winery
Silk Scarf
Silver Sage
Township 7
Vigneti Zanatta

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Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Podcasts, Wine Knowledge


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