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!

~Luke

 

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.

Discuss.

Cheers from wine country,

~Luke

 

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!

~Luke

 

 

Festival of the Grape – Still Room for wineries

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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.

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Recapping Garagiste North 2014

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

~Luke

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- 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. 

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.

Tasting Fees and the Resulting Online Comments

Tasting fees, and the online comments that result from them, are becoming an “issue” here in wine country. Each year it seems more wineries start to realize how much wine they give away and how much customers are coming to expect (or vociferously demand) free wine to taste. I’d like to just go over a few things that I’ve noticed lately, both as a consumer and as a professional currently working at a winery that happens to charge for tastings.

I currently work at a wine shop that happens to charge tasting fees. There are 3 different tasting options at 3 different prices and the fees pay for the wines and the wine professionals to pour it for you, tell you about the wines, and answer any of your questions. This all happens while you sit relaxed at your own table just like in a restaurant. The total amount of wine poured for one of the options is 12 ounces (6 wines @ 2 ounces each).

The previous winery I worked for did not charge for tastings at all. The tasting room had a much higher volume of customers and it was logistically difficult to charge tasting fees with the wine shop layout that we had. Standing up at the 20-foot-long bar, customers could taste 5 or 6 of the 10 wines we offered and the pours were much smaller – about 3/4 of an ounce (3 ounces of wine total). When asked if there was a tasting fee, I usually just asked them to smile. They also offered other special experiences that did cost money and customers had lots of choices.

Both of these scenarios are perfectly acceptable and effective, but very different, experiences. In general, wineries over the years that I’ve visited have generally been more than generous with their wine samples. Wine isn’t inexpensive and going into a wine shop and getting free samples has been a real treat that I’m always grateful for. It’s not like I can expect to get samples of any menu item at a restaurant or anything so I appreciate it when I can try things that I’ve never had the opportunity to try before. That makes it a special occasion especially if it includes a variety that I’ve never had previously. I have paid for tastings as well and it’s never bothered me personally wether or not that fee is taken off the price of a bottle or not. As I see it, it’s just business and wineries are businesses that have to make ends meet too. Providing that experience can become a costly endeavour especially if the winery has lofty goals when it comes to creating their vision of a perfect experience. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that when you visit a wine shop, you are looking for an experience rather than to simply buy a  bottle of wine. With a few small exceptions, you can pretty well buy any wines you want at a liquor or VQA store so what’s the big deal about buying it at the winery?

I believe that it’s the experience. It’s always about the experience. It’s an experience to buy wine at a winery. That’s why people go.

A lot of businesses (and some wineries) take the approach of “the customer is always right”. They bend over backwards to meet the stated (and sometimes anticipated) needs of the customer. Honestly, I’ve worked at a winery where I’m pretty sure if the customer demanded a cigar and hooker, the winery would do what it could to supply one or both in a timely manner. It’s a mentality that comes from the hospitality industry, where every step is taken to make sure that the guest (not a customer, a guest) has the best time possible no matter what.

Other wineries take the opposite approach and make absolutely no effort to make the customer feel comfortable or welcomed in any way. Taste the wines, buy your wine, thanks for coming, good-bye, who’s next? No real experience, little chit-chat, or chance to learn about the wines in any meaningful way means that the customer’s experience is shallow and truncated at best. Unless the wine is unbelievably amazing and universally praised, very few people will come away from a visit like that enticed to buy the wines, share their experiences, or recommend others visit the same winery. There are more than a few of those kinds of wineries and I’ve been to a lot of them. Honestly, they don’t bother me personally but it makes me annoyed that some great wine is going to be overlooked because of an awful wine shop experience. It’s the winery’s loss because they are leaving money on the table that way and not taking advantage of a potentially great opportunity with their customers.

Most wineries in BC right now are somewhere between both of these extremes. Some wineries (large and small) are all about service and creating an experience of some kind. Others (again, large and small) care less for that. I can think of two wineries of vastly different sizes offhand that both get a resounding “SUCK” for their wine shop experience. When a winery doesn’t meet my expectations, I move on. When I am asked to name wineries that I like, I name the ones that I’ve enjoyed and I simply leave out the ones that I don’t enjoy. It’s that simple. There’s almost no point in slamming a winery because all wineries make something that is special to somebody and who am I to rag on that? I don’t have the same taste in wine as Calli or Amber – they might love a winery that I’m not a fan of. Does that mean it’s not good wine? It’s just not for me, that’s all. I don’t like Mars bars – I’m more of a Snickers guy. So what?

What I don’t do is pour negative comments out onto the internet for all the world to see. If a winery has a tasting fee that I wasn’t expecting, I can choose to pay it or I don’t. I have that choice of my own free will because I am an adult. If I pay and the wines suck, I move on. Voicing negative comments online is pretty much like a toddler screaming that they want ice cream. It’s annoying to listen to and no amount of screaming is really going to get you what you want. Yes, tasting fees at some wineries can be an “owey”. Boo hoo. You are (or you should be legally) adults if you’re able to drink wine so start acting like it. Wineries don’t owe you anything anymore than a restaurant owes you a free tasting of each course before you decide to order it or not. And if all you can afford is a Honda, don’t try to test drive a Ferrari and complain about it being too expensive. It just makes you look like an idiot.

Over the last few years, with the rise of websites like Trip Advisor, I’ve witnessed customers demand (almost shouting at us) to taste our wine for free. If they do pay for a tasting, it’s very likely that they’ll write scathing comments about how rude the staff were because the tasting “wasn’t worth it” or that the experience was “tainted” somehow by the tasting fees. Of course, this negative experience will ruin the taste of the wine and so even the best wine in the world will never make up for the fact that this customer isn’t going to get what they expect out of the experience. My cynical side says that these customers just want free wine but I know that there are people out there who just don’t want to take a chance on a wine that they are not familiar with and I think that’s valid. However the comments that are posted online (pro or con) are generally not very constructive, so what’s the point?

There is no point to this kind of criticizing but the problem isn’t just with the customer. It takes two to tango. What are a customer’s expectations when visiting a winery’s wine shop? If the expectations are met, then the customer has a good time. If not, they have a bad time. The wineries that disappoint are the ones where the customer’s expectations (realistic or not) are not met and the problem that wineries have is how to make sure that they meet the most customer’s expectations effectively. That’s not an easy task because it is pretty well impossible to please all of the people all of the time.

If you are going to go wine touring, I strongly suggest that you be open to many different experiences. Each winery is really a representation of the person in charge (winery owners, wine makers, etc) and because everyone is different, so will the wineries’ experiences be. If all wine shops were the same, wine touring would be boring and predictable. If all wines were exactly the same, it would also be boring. It would be like cola. Nobody goes cola touring because cola in Kelowna is exactly the same as cola in Miami. The “hints of caramel” wouldn’t be hints – they’d be bludgeons and they’d be the same all over the world from bottle to bottle with no variation at all.

Wine isn’t boring like cola and I think most wine lovers enjoy the excitement of those differences and variations, even if there are tasting fees. And if your experience just doesn’t add up to your expectations, just tell your friends in person. Nothing constructive will come from posting your own ignorance online.

~Luke

5 Years of Wine Country BC

WCBClogo20120924-232640.jpgHard to believe it’s been 5 years since I started Wine Country BC. Technically the website was registered in July and the first article published July 26th but the first podcast wasn’t released until Sept 8th. I usually consider sometime in August to be the official non-specific blogiversary which, interestingly, I’ve never ever celebrated before or even cared to.

So why now?

Well, as you’ll notice, I’m not actually celebrating. Celebrating something means doing something festive to mark the occasion. Currently the only thing happening is writing this post. That’s not celebrating. That’s just Sunday evening. Nothing special there.

"I drank WHAT???"

“I drank WHAT???”

So much has changed in the BC wine world since 2009. There are a lot more wineries, especially in the south. There are a lot more better-looking wineries that have taken the time to design their wine shops with some amount of care. There are a lot more industry associations (“generic marketing bodies” we call them, sometimes, mostly behind their backs). Currently there is the possibility of BC’s first sub-region – the Golden Mile Bench – which I think will have a fascinating effect on wine lovers (seeking to discover what makes the sub-region so special) and on winery managements (seeking to make their wines special with a new marketing opportunity). Just like wine itself, only time will tell its true value.

There will be more podcasts. There will be more articles, news, rants, and touring information. There will be more tips and tricks, things to look for, and wines to seek out on your travels.

But there will also be some changes. Cosmetic, some of them, but also structural such as a fresh new look to the website. Nothing big but hopefully useful to all you BC wine-lovin’ folks who have been so faithful to this site over the years. A guiding principle in creating this site was to connect people with wine country when they could not be here. I’ve always tried to put up information and stories that I would have wanted to read before I moved here from the coast. Most people visit the Okanagan in the summer and only the die-hards (or fool-hardy) visit in the winter. (The really nuts among us stay here all year…) But there’s a lot that happens between visits and I hope I’ve been able to fill in the blanks a little bit for you with some great new features and content.

So thank you all for reading, listening and sharing your wine country experiences with me for the past 5 years. It’s been a blast!

Cheers from wine country.

~Luke

Podcast 146 – Wine Tour Companies Part 3

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Ok, there’s been a lot of articles lately so let’s get back to the podcasts.

Anyone who has toured the Naramata Bench in the summertime will recognize the name Top Cat Tours. Their buses are almost synonymous with wine touring in Penticton. As one of the oldest wine touring companies in the Okanagan starting in 2001, they certainly have connections and offer a full range of experiences all over the south Okanagan. Tour packages include Summerland, Naramata, Okanagan Falls, a “South” tour to the Golden Mile in Oliver, and the “Cross-over” tour of both Summerland and Naramata. Lunches are generally included and there’s always lots of space to put your newly acquired bottles as you go.

In this podcast, I speak with David Brooks, long-time driver for Top Cat and an all-around fun guy who offers his experiences, tips for touring, and how to talk shop with a volcanologist while wine touring.