Ageing Wines – Why Bother?

Here we go – another off-shoot of my Nota Bene vertical tasting from earlier in January. This is something that I think is an extension of many other articles that I’ve been writing lately. On we go…

Why bother buying a bottle of wine and then waiting 7 years to open it? How ridiculous is that? Why do some people do it?

20140425-193555.jpgI’ve had more than a few customers guffaw at my suggestion that this or that wine can be aged for up to 10 years. The typical reply is something like, “Wine doesn’t last more than a few days in our house!” and then they look to their spouse / friend / entourage for the requisite approving laughter.

Most wine made today isn’t meant for long-term ageing. I remember a wine teacher of mine saying that 99% of all wine produced is meant for consumption within 2 years. Most of it probably will be anyway regardless of the producers’ intent.

So what is the point of ageing wine?

Mature wine tastes different. A well made wine is smoother, more complex, and full of nearly unidentifiable aromas and flavours that would not have been apparent without age. The way that I describe it to customers is that young wine has all kinds of easily identifiable flavours – black fruits, red fruits, cocoa, chocolate, vanilla, campfire smoke, etc. As the wine ages, those flavours will change, mutate, and intertwine into things like coffee, burned almonds, and maybe blueberry teacake. As the wine gets even older, the flavours become less easy to identify. They turn into something that still smells good but for some reason just doesn’t trigger a sense memory as easily. This is where the most bizarre descriptors, that some people like to make fun of, are often used. A very good taster will be able to perceive some of these aromas earlier on in the life of the wine and be able to predict what will happen as it ages.

Up until about 50 years ago, wine making technology had not yet evolved to be able to make a wine that was palatable when it was young. Only certain areas producing softer wine styles (like Beaujolais) were able to produce wines that could be consumed very young. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, mature wine was preferred in the Roman empire and it was also possible that the Greeks aged their wines as well. It was not done in bottles as we know today but rather in casks (barrels and larger vats).

DSC_3031Bottles sealed with corks became available for ageing in the 17th century but this did not become widespread even by the time of Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th century. Bottles were (and still are) difficult to transport safely without breaking so bottling at the destination was common until the early 20th century. Even still, the wines weren’t really ready to drink.

It wasn’t until the invention of certain winery techniques and technology that people were able to make wine that was ready to drink sooner. Protecting the grapes, juice, and young wine from oxygen was a new thing in the 20th century. Fine filtering was new as well. Fermenting the whole berries or even whole bunches of grapes without crushing them first made the resulting wines fruitier with less grippy tannins and therefore, easier to drink sooner. This, I think, is the New World’s biggest stylistic contribution to the world of wine.

20150123-095548.jpgOf course, that march of technology didn’t just end with that. Membrane filters, micro-oxygenation (a technique pioneered by winemaker Patrick Ducournau in Madiran, France to tame the insane amount of tannins in that appellations’s Tannat grapes), reverse-osmosis and spinning cones, yeast nutrients, and bags of tannins, acids, and colouring agents all give wineries the ability to manipulate all kinds of aspects of a wine’s flavour profile so that the wine is smooth, tasty, and easy to drink almost immediately. The result was smooth wine in no time at all. It was wine for impatient people.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that at all. We need wine in the marketplace (and to be perfectly honest, in my house) that doesn’t have to be aged. What I am interested in here is encouraging people to try saving some of those bottles that are capable of ageing because I think they are missing out on some truly amazing wine experiences. From my point of view, it’s like watching someone purchase a Ferrari who only plans to use it to get around on slow city streets and never take it above 2nd gear. Buying a top-quality, age-worthy wine and drinking it within the next 6 months is really missing out on a great experience. I encourage everyone who buys those kinds of wines to hold on to at least one of them for a little longer.

It’s not only red wines that can age. We’re very lucky here in BC to have an abundance of natural acidity that Rhys Pender MW claims other wine regions around the world would love to have. It is acidity that helps preserve whites for long-term ageing. He mentioned that as part of the 5 year vertical of Clos du Soleil that I attended a couple of years ago. The complexity of the flavours was astounding and I enjoyed every single wine in the vertical of Capella. (I very much regretted drinking my 2007 white – it wasn’t called Capella then – far too early.)

Here is a list of some BC white wines that I’ve had success with ageing, either on my own or as part of tastings or events (in no particular order).

  • Clos du Soleil Capella (aka White)
  • Tantalus Old Vines Riesling (I’m holding onto a few of these)
  • Orofino Riesling (same with this one)
  • 8th Generation Riesling (and this one)
  • (notice a trend yet??)
  • Domain Combret Chardonnay (at 16 years it should have been salad dressing at that point, but it wasn’t)
  • Painted Rock Chardonnay
  • just about anyone’s Late Harvest or Icewine (the ’93 Riesling Icewine from Lang was beautiful but still not quite ready in 2010)
  • Road 13 Sparkling Chenin Blanc

And reds…

  • Black Hills Nota Bene
  • Clos du Soleil Signature
  • Mission Hill Oculus (and the other 1st generation of BC Meritages – Pinnacle, Osoyoos-Larose, etc)
  • Just about anything from Fairview Cellars or Kettle Valley
  • Hester Creek Cabernet Franc (and many Cab Franc – I think this is a great variety in BC for ageing.)
  • 2nd Generation Meritages (Laughing Stock Portfolio, Poplar Grove Legacy are the ones I’m familiar with)
  • Nk’Mip Syrah (always a staple at their wine maker’s dinners)
  • Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir (the ’97 in 2009 was ridiculous)
  • Painted Rock Syrah (I haven’t tried them all in a vertical yet, but if you check back here next January…hint hint)

I may have forgotten some but it’s a start. It’s not easy predicting which wines will age and which ones won’t. I’m had some go off that I thought would be sure to do well. Unless the winery has been in business longer than 10 years (which is not very many of them at this point), they won’t really know either. They can tell you what they think will happen based on what the winemaker has intended to happen, but that’s not always a sure thing either.

In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. If you haven’t ever had an aged wine, there’s a possibility that you might not like it. If you don’t like the aroma of apples and flowers soaked in kerosene, don’t age your Riesling because that’s very likely what they will become. I’ve had aged Riesling and I absolutely love those aromas so I know that’s what I’m interested in waiting for.

So I encourage you to try, just try, to put a few bottles away of wines that you enjoy and want to see through to maturity. It takes the whole wine experience to another level.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Clos du Soleil in the UK

Contributed image

Contributed image

It’s so nice to see that we here in the colonies are able to rise to royal occasions and recently Clos du Soleil from the Similkameen Valley has had the opportunity for pouring wine at such an event. The event in question is the official re-opening of Canada House in London, England where where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presided over the opening ceremonies.

Spencer Massie

Spencer Massie

“An absolute honour”, said winery Founder Spencer Massie in a press release from London, “my fellow Director’s Winemaker Mike Clark, Les LeQuelenec, Peter Lee and our closely knit team of partners and staff are elated that we are here and able to showcase what Canada, BC specifically, can do.” (You can read the full press release here.)

The wine being showcased is the 2013 Capella, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that is Clos du Soleil’s flagship white. Capella and other wines from Clos du Soleil have been featured numerous times on Wine Country BC podcasts and posts, notably in a podcast of the 5-year vertical tasting in 2013 that featured the first 5 vintages of Capella and Signature.

This is not the first boutique BC wine to get the royal treatment. Township 7’s Chardonnay 2007 was served at a dinner with the Queen and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in July 2010. However the resulting media around this event may be a little wider reaching in terms of visibility for Clos du Soleil within the realm of English wine media. Perhaps one of the guests has a cousin that works at Berry Bros & Rudd or a friend that works at Decanter?

Historically of course, acceptance and popularity of a wine in England represented success for the wine producer world-wide. While England may not necessarily be the largest wine consumer anymore, they are still a dominant player in the trade. Through respected publications like Decanter and writers like Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, they are also one of the most influential forces world-wide for opinionmongering. Essentially, they’ve got opinions and they’re very good at getting people to read them.

Getting a BC wine on their radar means that BC wine will be on the radar of most wine students and people in the wine trade around the globe regardless of their ability to actually try the wine. Meyer Family Vineyards started distributing with Ellis of Richmond in London a few years ago and suddenly their label appeared in the recent edition of the World Atlas of Wine. Coincidence? Maybe, but like Tantalus in Kelowna (who has been featured in the Atlas over multiple editions) they’re now on the radar of wine lovers around the world because of it and that’s not a bad thing at all. This could prove to be a similar turning point for Clos du Soleil as well.

This could be very big indeed. Congratulations to Clos du Soleil! Cheers from the colonies in wine country!

~Luke

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A Finished Product

20141108-193943.jpgWhen is a wine truly finished?

These are the crazy things that I think about while I’m driving along highway 97. It’s amazing I haven’t had a serious accident lately.

What I mean is this: When a car rolls off the assembly line at Toyota, it’s finished and ready to be used. It’s the same with any other manufactured product. In the art world, when a painter is finished a painting, it’s done. It’s a finished work of art that won’t change noticeably over time. A book is an author’s finished work. A photograph is a photographer’s. A sculptor’s final work can last hundreds of years as statues.

When a chef finishes a dish, it must be enjoyed at a particular time. Wait too long and the food gets cold or worse. There’s a short amount a time for the finished product but at least it is finished and in a presentable state.

So when is a bottle of wine a finished work? When it’s in the bottle? Just bottled? After 6 months? 6 years? Wine makers are artists of a sort as well (some of them really act like it sometimes) and it must be more than a little daunting to know that the wines that that they make will be received completely differently based on when someone opens the bottle. How many times have you bought a wine from a winery only to hear them say, “Save this one for about a year before opening it.” You won’t hear that after buying a bottle of beer, or a cola at 7-11.

There is no real definitive time when a bottle of wine is actually finished. Like a chef’s meal, it won’t last forever but some wines are capable of lasting for years.

IMG_0814Music is another art form that seems like it should have a more finished product but it isn’t. When is a piece of music finished the way that the song’s composer wants it to be? In Bach’s time, was the manuscript the finished work of art? Nobody can hear a manuscript – it needs to be played by a musician. So is that first performance the finished piece? Or is it the tenth? We’ve had commercially available recordings for only the past century so. Are the recordings the final product? Which recordings? The original vinyl version of Sgt. Pepper’s, the CD version, or the mp3 from iTunes?

What’s the Point?

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s why wine is considered to be a grand metaphor for humanity. People change and evolve over time the same way that wine does. No, we don’t lose our acidity and tannins, but we have moods and changing situations that make us react to various stimuli in different ways from day to day. We are ever evolving until the day we die. There is no definitively finished or completed human, there is always room for change of some kind (improvement, education, enlightenment, etc). The variations can be small, subtle, and barely noticeable, but over time will become obvious.

We see the changes in children more quickly because they are young and their growth (physical and intellectual) is immediately apparent. One day they can’t talk, the next day they can say words, and the next day they can tell you why they should be able to climb onto the roof of their playhouse when they were told in no uncertain terms not to do that.

20150123-095548.jpgThis whole idea is a direct result of my recent 8-year Nota Bene vertical. As I opened the bottles, some wines were aged beautifully – complex, aromatic, and smooth – while others were clearly on the young side. They were all Nota Bene but which was the real finished product? To me, the ’07 stood out but the ’05 was pretty good too. The ’12 was still showing it’s youth but was also a great tasting wine, albeit at a different stage of its life. I was concerned that some of them would be too austere for drinking this early but I needn’t have worried about it.

Just like a young child, the ’12 had changed noticeably over the past 10 months. When I first tasted the ’12 last April as part of staff training at Black Hills, it was not very complex, lacked a little structure, but was strangely smoother than previous vintages at the same age, which I ascribed to the dominance of Merlot in the blend for this vintage. Over the next 7 months, I smelled or tasted it daily for nearly 5 days each week and noticed how it changed month to month. Some of it was based on my own tasting but some of it was also based on customers’ reactions, which itself was widely variable. I had one customer say that he preferred his Nota Bene to be super-mature and was only now drinking his ’02’s! Many indicated that 5 years was about they most they could handle, more because they just couldn’t wait more than that to open it. I have a sneaking suspicion that the vast majority of the customers from last summer will have gone through all of their wines by the time next summer rolls around.

Nota Bene has a reputation for age-worthiness but the wine culture here seems to endorse early drinking rather than holding on to wines for to a more mature state. To be fair, most wines aren’t meant for long-term ageing but if the wine culture drinks everything young, then why bother?

IMG_0805Let me be clear here – I think that there is nothing wrong with drinking age-worthy wines young. It’s all a matter of taste and whatever each person wants to find from that ‘finished product’ is a personal choice. The gentlemen that bought a recent vintage of Oculus to open “tonight at the camp site” obviously knew what he was getting into and choose that wine for that reason. (If I could choose to do that with a bottle that was $90 at the time, maybe I might do that more often as well…) That ’12 Nota Bene did taste quite amazing last summer in August. It also tasted beautiful 3 full days after my vertical party, so it does have some staying power. I am interested in exploring the idea of what exactly that ‘finished product’ is, if it even exists at all.

This is part of its nebulous nature and is what keeps us interested in it. Famous wine people like Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, and Robert Parker probably all still love wine even after spending a lifetime putting it under a microscope. What other beverage can claim this? It is unlikely that there will ever be as many publications about tea or connoisseurs of root beer. (Perhaps a flawed exampled – have you tried the one at Burger 55?? Damn…)

Get on with it

I suggest that wine is not ever a ‘finished’ product like cheese or a car or a can of cola. Wine’s evolutionary nature combined with our own makes for endless possible points for intersection. Person A can taste a wine on Day X and hate it while Person B might love it. If Person A had waited a few years until Day Y, it may have been the best wine they’d ever tastes, maybe even their ‘epiphany wine’.

As if wine making isn’t already full of variables, the elusive ‘finished product’ seems to take it all to another level. The unpredictable nature of it all seems to be part of the attraction. Here’s to hoping that this never changes.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

On Subtlety

20150116-104654.jpgSubtlety is like a complex joke. You either get it or you don’t. Some people are incredibly perceptive of minute variations and changes of colours, textures, timing, or some other quality while other people can’t see the difference.

If you drive a car going to work, do you think about the weight transfer to your tires going around corner? Professional race car drivers do but most people probably don’t in the course of their daily drive. Most pro sports players, especially the big stars, are able to move in complex ways or perceive small movements in their games at a level far beyond what the armchair athletes watching on TV are capable of noticing. They’ve trained for it.

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Watching the game with Desert Hills Gamay.

I started curling a few years ago and it has always amazed me just how tiny, small variations in anything to do with the game play can cause huge difference in results. From throwing the rocks (weight, direction, spin – called ‘handle’ in curling’) to sweeping (when, how hard), one subtle difference in any variable can effect where the rock will stop. On top of then there’s all the strategies of play to consider. To be even a moderately acceptable curler (not even a pro), one has to be aware of, understand the reasons for, and be able to execute the technique for throwing rocks and sweeping. Curling is entirely a game of subtleties that are very difficult to see on television.

Um, so like, what does this have to do with wine?

Has technology has blunted our senses to a point where we are able to perceive less? I don’t think so. People are different and have always been different even before our current electronic age of smart phones and stupid people talking on them while driving. I think that digital technology is limited and that humans can perceive way more than digital technology can dish out. I think that’s why we’re starting to see vinyl records back on the market. As far as full, nuanced sound goes, vinyl can’t be beat.

It is my belief that different people have different thresholds of perception. Some people can see more details, hear different sounds, and smell more scents than other people. We are all human and humans are all different, although nobody should be judged better because of their skills. If you can’t hear a difference between vinyl and a 128kps MP3 on your iPod then don’t worry about it – you don’t need to buy a new record player. However, for some people it does matter a lot because they can perceive a difference between vinyl and MP3 and to them it is as clear as night and day. I also believe that anyone can learn to perceive anything if given the right guidance.

$5 wine and $50 wine

What’s the difference between a $5 Merlot and a $50 Merlot.

$45.

No, I mean in terms of taste. Is there a difference in taste between the two different price points?

There should be. Hopefully the $50 wine was produced from grapes grown in a high quality, low-yielding vineyard that has unique terroir and is vinified and handled with care using quality tanks and barrels. Ageing this wine in a cellar will change it slightly, smoothing the texture, integrating the many complex aromas and flavours.

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Not Beethoven’s 5th Symphony

The $5 wine was probably mass-produced from grapes grown in many vineyards anywhere (because it doesn’t matter), fermented in massive tanks, pumped through many different processes, and bottled within the year. Ageing the wine is not needed because it’s shelf life is limited to about 3 years. The wine will taste good, smooth, and pleasing but may not have a lot of different flavors or aromas.

These are both generalizations and there are a million shades of grey between the two extremes. There is also the potential for some amazing upsets on both ends of the spectrum – $50 wines that are awful or $5 wines that are beautifully complex. That’s what makes wine hunting fun. It depends on what you are looking for in a wine and how much you can perceive about it.

As I said before, I believe that anyone can really learn to perceive anything if they know what to look for. I find that as I learned about wine, the more I started to look for certain things. I really liked wines that had tannins and that had more than 2 or 3 different flavors and aromas. I wanted wines that had lots of different things going on. I wanted to be challenged with every sip.

Not everyone wants that and sometimes I just good to have a simple glass of wine without anything complicated. I think of music the same way.

Brilliance of the 5th

My music history teacher in university for my second year was an animated fellow. He was an excellent tenor who truly loved music and was oddly good at communicating that to us, his students. (I say ‘oddly’ because many music teachers were either great teachers or great musicians but rarely both.) When it came time to cover the beginnings of the Romantic era of music (the 19th Century) Beethoven occupied a huge space in the syllabus. I can’t recall any single composer that was so important in the history of western music that we studied more than Beethoven. When we started studying the 5th Symphony, I learned why that was.

IMG_0812Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is probably the single-most widely known piece of music that isn’t in a Star Wars movie. The theme of the first movement can be mimed in front of anyone and they will know what symphony it is. Even people who don’t know ‘classical’ music generally know the 5th Symphony’s first movement. It can even be typed – da da da daaaaa – and people will understand it.

This is part of its brilliance. My teacher’s theory about why this particular piece was so popular (not even recently – it’s been popular almost since its first performance, which is an interesting story, but not for a wine blog) revolves around its simplicity – it sounds simple (and loud and fun) but there are so many details for people to look for if they want to. If they don’t, it’s also awesome, bombastic music to hear an orchestra bash out for about 10 minutes. Its brilliance is that it appeals to many different people on many different levels.

The entire first movement (and parts of the other movements) use this four-note phrase as a motif. What can one person do with a motif like that? Tons. Oodles. Buckets. It is a simple motif that can be expanded upon in a million different ways. It’s so simple but complicated at the same time. The theme gets treated differently in very subtle ways over the course of the first movement and ends up a little different at the end. How is it different? You’ll have to listen to find out. That same 4-note theme can be heard in each of the other movements of the symphony as well. Listen carefully…

Come on dude, this a WINE blog. Get on with it.

The best wines are the same. They will not be obscured by details so as to seem forbidding or needlessly complex. Sometimes complexity itself doesn’t taste very good. Instead, they will be able to appeal to a wide group of people who can appreciate it at all levels. People who want to get all kinds of subtle flavors and want to challenge their palate will be able to do that. People who want something that simply tastes great will also get that.

Sometimes a wine needs to be aged for this aspect to be appreciated. That’s why some people age their wines. That’s why I (try) to age some of mine. Sometimes, I want to be challenged with those subtleties that usually only come with bottle age. Other times, I just want an inexpensive, tasty wine that probably won’t be very complex. And that’s awesome too. I like the wine to match the occasion. Nota Bene doesn’t make sense for pizza on Tuesday but it does for a special dinner party.

There’s always a range of subtleties for people who want whatever they want to perceive. From simple to complex, CPE Bach to Beethoven, AC/DC to Tool, or Two-buck Chuck to Petrus, the range of subtleties itself makes life that much more interesting. Enjoy the nuances and subtleties that wine has to offer. There’s a lot out there.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Vertical Party – Nota Bene 05-12

DSC_7450These are the bottles from my Nota Bene vertical tasting this past weekend. I’m happy to report that there were no corked bottles and that everything was showing brilliantly. As my regular readers will know, I hate writing (and reading) wine reviews but I was asked a few times on twitter if there were any of these wines that stood out. There were, but Twitter is a difficult place to explain things that require more than a half-baked thought. With only one exception, I was also amazed at how contiguous the whole collection was and thought that this in itself merited a summary here.

If you’ve never heard of a vertical tasting, it is tasting the same wine from many different vintages on one occasion. I would suggest that it requires a minimum of at least 3 vintages to get a fair idea of the wines’ characteristics. The point is not just to have a ton of wine at a party (a nice side-effect) but rather to have lots of wine with slight variations due to the different vintages. All wines will show slight differences although I believe that larger, commercially manufactured wines are by nature designed to minimize these differences. It is an illuminating experience.

As I had worked regularly with the 4 most recent vintages of this wine for 7 months this past year, I became very familiar with its moods. I had tried every vintage here before although never all in one sitting. I’d been building and saving this collection since 2006 with the intention of having it for a special event or occasion and it seemed to me that the time was right.

Nota Bene is always made with only 3 grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. With three exceptions since 1999, they have always been in that order. 1999 and 2012 were Merlot-dominant and 2000 was Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, and then Merlot. The only outlier in this particular set was the Merlot-dominant 2012.

For me, the stand outs were the ’07 and the ’10. Here are my thoughts on all of the vintages in the order that I tasted them from oldest to youngest.

2005 – One word – yum. Still got some years left in it if you dare. I can’t because that was my last bottle but I would hold onto at least one for another year or two. It had softened beautifully without getting flabby. It was noticeably more delicate than the others and was covered by some of the more robust food items. Even still, the flavours were beautiful and complex which made this wine a joy to sip.

2006 – The one sore thumb for me was the ’06. It had far more oxidized, prune aromas than any of the other vintages. It wasn’t just that this particular bottle was off because of a failing cork, this is the consistent direction that the wine has been progressing since 2013. This is the vintage that I had the most bottles – a case – that was purchased in the infamous 47-minute online sell-out in 2008. It was brilliant in its youth, a little closed from 3-5 years old, and then it blossomed after that. But it kept blossoming and kind of went over the edge, in a way. The last 3 bottles that I’d opened over the past year indicated that it was headed for an early demise which made me concerned for the condition of the ’05 (needlessly, as it turned out). Let me clear though – it’s not that I didn’t like it, I did. Erin from Vines and Designs tweeted this as one of her 3 preferred vintages that evening. I enjoyed it as well but it stood out because of this very different flavour profile.

20150118-093305.jpg2007 – At just over 7 years of age now, the ’07 was right in that prime target area for where I think NB is most expressive. I think NB shines in the range from 6-9 years of age but that is entirely subjective on my part. It’s what I enjoy most out of it and nothing else. The aromas and flavours were complex and tannins and acidity were present but smooth and rounded. It really was the stand-out for me in this set.

2008 – This wine was the next car in the NB train that is going to get there but isn’t due to pull into the station yet. It’s showing well and is consistent with NB but hasn’t arrived yet. After 24 more hours in a decanter, it was showing beautifully.

2009 – See 2008 above. In the vertical tastings that I lead at Black Hills last year, this was usually the wine favoured by customers. But in my opinion is still only starting on its trip. Like the ’08, it showed better after 24 hours.

2010 – The ’10 was like a more youthful ’07. I thought it had the same complexity and range but was just a little more aggressive. With 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, this was the roughest wine of the 4 that we offered in the Black Hills Wine Experience Centre last summer. No other vintage of NB has ever had that much Cab Sauv. Last summer it was hidden, rough, and was rarely the vintage favoured by customers. I enjoyed its potential though and was really looking forward to trying it in this vertical. It didn’t disappoint at all. This was the only wine that I went back for seconds.

2011 – More closed than a coffee shop in Vancouver at 9pm.

The spread.

The spread.

2012 – Still has the freshness and vigour of a youthful wine but will probably loose that over the next year if it stays consistent with the previous 8 vintages of NB that I’ve experienced. This is only the second Merlot-dominated vintage so it could clear its own path away from the norm. Either way, it will be a fascinating vintage to follow. There is still a little of it left which I plan on trying tonight or tomorrow.

For the wine-nerd record, the bottles were all opened 1-2 hours before being served. The vintages ’05-’08 were decanted, ’09 had a Nuance wine finer, and ’10 and up were not decanted at all.

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable flight in its proper setting – a dinner party featuring many foods that pair well with a meritage. We had lamb skewers, beef stew, pork ribs, and charcuterie along with an overwhelming set of accompanying tasty dishes. I’ve done vertical tastings before many times before and the clinical nature of the settings tends to focus on aspects of the wine that frankly I find irrelevant. A big part of what I enjoyed about presenting wines at Black Hills last year was that it was a more natural terroir for enjoying wine, a topic that I’ve covered previously on this blog. I’ve never been to a party where everyone sits down with 8 different pizza slices in front them, takes notes, and then compares their thoughts on each one after tasting them in silence. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to go to one.

If you haven’t done a vertical tasting at a party, I highly recommend it. Most everyone at my party were involved in the wine industry in some way but it is something that can still be enjoyed by anyone at all. Find a wine you like, save a few years’ worth of it (I suggest a minimum of 3 vintages), find some good food to pair, and away you go. It’s really not that more complicated than that and nor should it be. The point isn’t to show off your wines to your friends, it’s to share it and enjoy it all together.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

What do you mean “Oak”?

IMG_0524Wine production can involve the use of things made with oak. Barrels, tuns, staves, chips, and even sawdust. While it seems obvious that some wines have an ‘oaky’ taste to them, a lot of wine tourists that I’ve met over the years seem to have differing understandings of what makes a wine ‘oaky’.

Not all wines that touch oak are going to taste ‘oaky’.

Oak in wine making is infinitely variable, like a spice. Too much salt will make food taste bad while too little won’t bring anything out. The trick is to get it just right. The best chefs in the world are the ones that not only know how to work that balance, but also share similar tastes to what you prefer in food. (That’s one of the major reasons I’ve resisted doing wine reviews on this site. Who’s to say that the wines I love should be equally loved by everyone?)

So what do wine people mean when they talk about ‘oak’ flavours? What makes some people cringe from ‘oaky’ wines?

Wish I’d made this up…

On more than one occasion I’ve had people tell me outright that they don’t like oaky wines. Almost exactly 100% of the time, it’s just moments before I’m about to pour a small sample of a wine called Chardonnay in their glass. I then ask what kind of wines they prefer and they say things like, “Well, reds mostly, like Syrah.”

(You can see why I really love my job. It gives me all kinds of things to talk about and at least once a week there’s a solid, robust facepalm, complete with the follow-through.)

So, while not always the case throughout the world, in BC I can safely say that all reds are oaked. They have all seen oak in some way (more on this later) even though they may not taste overly ‘oaky’. An unoaked-red wine is actually pretty harsh.

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Anthony Buchanan taking a sample at Eau Vivre in Cawston.

As a cellar hand at one winery, I had the awesome task (it was really cool) of testing the wines each morning during fermentation which involved recording the specific gravity to make sure that fermentation was progressing. Each test also involved a sensory evaluation – tasting the juice as it progressed into wine. It was the highlight of my day. I would walk briskly (scamper, actually) from tank to tank and barrel to barrel with my wine thief filling up my graduated cylinder with a sample, take the measurement, and then pour off a little into my glass to see how the wine was behaving that day. Each barrel and tank had a different temperament and it was an amazing experience to follow their journey from grape juice to wine. Barrel-fermented whites were the most interesting with sweet, rounded flavours while tank-fermented whites developed a lean, brisk, and refreshing quality.

Taste testing the reds was a completely different story. While the whites evolved delicately from a sweet juice to a beautiful wine, the reds evolved from a sweet juice to a acerbic, moribund liquid that made me cringe more and more as it progressed. In short, it was hideous. That’s when I realized that red wines really, really needed the softening effects of oak to simply be palatable. In that cellar I was working with Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Perhaps there are some reds that are a little easier to take when younger (perhaps Gamay?) but for those varieties, it was a little rough.

How oak gets into wine

It really isn’t obvious that a wine can be “oaked” (i.e. treated with oak) in many different ways. These methods vary considerably in cost from very expensive to very cheap. Usually it goes that the better the wine’s intended quality, then the more costly the wine’s production methods will be, resulting in a more expensive wine. A high quality $45 Merlot will likely see new barrels and have some quality pumps and equipment to pump it in and out along with proper environment controls (temperature, humidity, etc) in the barrel cellar. An $8 Merlot will likely have had sawdust poured into its (probably very large) tank which is then filtered quickly after a couple of months.

Um, did you say “sawdust”? Ewe…

That’s right. Barrels aren’t the only way to get that oak flavour into a wine. That’s the cheapest way but it’s certainly not the only other way. Home wine making kits use this method quite often. It’s inexpensive, efficiently quick, and the results are pretty smooth all things considered.

Oak chips (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Oak chips (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Other legal ways of imparting oak flavours into wine (in ascending order of cost): oak chips (about the size of a finger nail, they come in big bags), oak chunks (fist-sized), oak staves (leg-sized, comes in massive meter-wide tea bags), and finally barrels. New barrels are the most costly and some wineries only use them once before selling them or otherwise disposing of them. Some will use them for 3 fills (a fill can be anything from 3 weeks to 3 years) and while others will use them until they haemorrhage and cease to be able to hold a liquid of any kind anymore. Older barrels (after 3-5 fills) won’t impart many of the oak flavours to the wine anymore and are considered to be ‘neutral’ unless they are reconditioned. Barrels can be shaved (a cooper can open them and plane off a layer of wood on the inside) or have fresh oak planks installed on plastic stems inside the barrel. Shaving isn’t easy or very effective and adding staves decreases the capacity of the barrel but both can extend the life of a barrel and save the winery a lot of money.

It is important to know that when barrels are made, the inside of the barrels is heated over a fire to make the wood more flexible but also to ‘toast’ the wood (essentially, charring it). Wineries can specify how ‘toasted’ they want their barrels from untoasted to heavy toast. Most wineries I’ve worked at have used a light to medium+ range of toast on their barrels. Wood chips, staves, and planks are also toasted to some degree as well to simulate the effect of toasting a barrel.

Those oaky flavours

So what are the flavours that oak can impart to a wine? What makes a wine taste “oaky”?

stavesThe are probably tons of simultaneous chemical reactions that take place within a barrel of wine, some of which we actually know about but I’m guessing like everything else in wine, many other interactions that we don’t know about. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine (which I have been known to call “The Condescendium” on occasion but is nevertheless an excellent wine resource), lactones, phenolic aldehydes and other volatile phenols contribute a wide range of flavours from coconut, vanilla, cloves, and smoky aromas. Caramel aromas can also be imparted to the wine, a result of the wood-toasting process when the barrels were made.

I find that white and red wines react differently when oaked. Chardonnay is the probably the best know / most hated variety that is associated with oak flavours, which really explains people’s prejudice against it. (Honestly, the world changes folks – not all rosés and Rieslings are sweet and not all Chardonnays are butter-popcorn and vanilla. Please get over it.) When properly made, an oaked Chardonnay is absolutely lovely. I can’t imagine having cedar-planked salmon, the rock star of Pacific Northwest cuisine, without an oaked Chardonnay.

So while Chardonnay usually takes one for the oak team, most wine shop customers are generally unconcerned (or unaware) that the other wines that they’ve had have also seen some oak time as well. Perhaps it was in neutral barrels or perhaps a portion of it was fermented in barrel and blended back later, but there was some oak used in the production of those wines. Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Pinot Gris can all subtly benefit from a little wood time which probably go completely unnoticed by the “I hate oaked wine” crowd.

Get on with it

The most amazing smell in wine making is filling a brand new barrel with red wine. I distinctly remember my first barrel work day in the cellar – filling 20 barrels with freshly fermented Merlot. The whole place smelled amazing. I’d never experienced anything like it. It was unbelievable.

The point of this article though was really to draw attention to the fact that oak and wine go together very well. There’s a reason why wine makers have been using it for centuries. There is also a ton of more information about oak (French vs. American oak, why oak and not pine?, differences between chips and barrels, etc) that I did not include here otherwise this post would have gone on forever. (Perhaps a part two is required?)

So enjoy the wine for what it is. Please don’t prejudge a wine simply because it might be oaked. I know that you don’t do that because it’s obvious that you are cool, knowledgeable, Wine Country BC readers and listeners, and that I’m probably preaching to the choir here. Even still, let me know what you think. Oak? No oak? Have some winemakers gone too far with their use of oak? Bring it.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Wine Labels in BC: How Wines are Named

There is a lot of information on wine labels. Sometimes deciphering them can be a bit of a challenge. There are strange words that don’t look like they’re in English and it’s probably because they aren’t. I vividly remember walking down the aisles of my local liquor store trying to figure out which wine to buy for dinner and having absolutely no clue about any of them. In this series of articles, I will explore the information behind the labels for wines made in BC.

In general, wines are usually named after 3 things:

  1. The grape variety or varieties used to make the wine (as in Merlot or Chardonnay)
  2. A proprietary name (i.e. a name that the winery simply made up, as in Oculus or Nota Bene)
  3. A place name, usually for the region where the grapes are grown (as in Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Champagne)

If you’ve ever been confused by the things that are written on the labels, perhaps this will help you out when you visit your local wine store or winery. Let’s start with the grape varieties first.

The Grape Variety or Varieties

IMG_6224There are thousands and thousands of grape varieties out there and the ones that we see on wine labels here in BC represents only a small portion of what’s available around the world. There are many families of grapes out there but the one that concerns us the most here is called Vitis Vinifera. Vinifera grapes are the ones that have been the most popular for making wine and some of the names of them will probably be familiar; Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and many others.

Wineries in BC have been making wine from these Vinifera varieties for only the past 25 years, although there were a few intrepid producers who planted Vinifera vines in BC before then. Some wineries make wines using only a single grape variety as the source of juice. This kind of wine usually lists that particular variety clearly on the front label like the Joie Farm Riesling on the right.

Sometimes the wine is a blend of two different varieties, such as Thornhaven’s ever-popular Sauv Blanc / Chardonnay, or Quails’ Gate’s Chasselas Pinot Blanc Pinot Gris. It’s not just whites that get this treatment either. Hester Creek’s perpetual Cabernet Merlot combines the names of the 3 grapes used in the blend (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot).

Sometimes these names get a bit long. So for those wineries interested in brevity, they can use…

Proprietary Names

IMG_6216These are wine names that have been made up out of the blue: Fandango, Legend, Old Main Red, A Noble Blend, Two Hoots, and Beleza. Usually, but not always, these wines are blended with two or more different grape varieties. Sometimes it does get a little confusing as to which ones are the grape varieties and which ones are the proprietary names. Newer wine tourists should never be afraid to ask how the wine is named because it is not always obvious, especially with rare grape varieties. A wine label with the word “symphony” on it suggests that it is a proprietary name when it could also be a wine made with the grape variety called “symphony“. On Vancouver Island there is also a winery called Symphony Vineyards but thankfully they label everything clearly by variety. It helps to look at all of the labels clearly.

Proprietary names may not be able to tell you a lot about the wine but it’s very likely that the winery has a reason for its name and perhaps a story about it. From my experience, it is easier for people to recall unique proprietary names when shopping for wine the next day. A wine called “The Fifth Element” is far more uniquely named and memorable than a “Chardonnay”.

Unique names almost invite the consumer to look into the wine. They are almost forced to examine the bottle more closely and read the back label more carefully. A merlot is a merlot is a merlot and may not garner any more attentive examination than that. A bottle with “Hypothesis” written on it will likely be examined far more thoroughly.

Place Names

Wines named after places are much more common in Europe, or as wine people like to call it, the “Old World”. The 3 examples of place names in BC wine that come to mind use the names of the towns only, but only one of them does it directly. “Calona” is a homonymic spelling of “Kelowna” and Oliver Twist Estate Winery was the first to incorporate the town name of Oliver into a winery name, among other meanings. (They cleverly promoted their use of screw caps – i.e. the twist-off, and of course alluded to the novel by Charles Dickens.) Osoyoos-Larose, a blend (not ironically) of the Groupe Taillan’s most prestigious Chateau Gruaud Larose and the town of Osoyoos, also uses the name of the town as part of the name.

20150102-222119.jpgA critical difference with all of these examples is that these are the names of the wineries and not of the wines themselves. There is no winery called “Chateau Bordeaux”. There are many chateaux (wineries) near Bordeaux (the city) that make wine and we generically refer to them as “Bordeaux” wines based on that.

It may happen here at some point in the future but it seems unlikely to be any time soon that anyone will sit back and relax with a glass of “Penticton” or “Oliver” the way that we do with a glass of Bordeaux, Chambertin, Beaujolais, or Chablis. The local town names here don’t seem right as the dominant name on the label nor do they roll off the tongue as the European names do. That kind of thing isn’t impossible in the “New World” (aka. not-Europe). If I put a glass of red wine in front of you and told you it was a Napa, what would you assume it was made with? Even for most casual wine lovers, Napa is synonymous with big, rich reds and particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. White wines from Napa (aka Chardonnay) and reds from the Willamette Valley (aka Pinot Noir) are also sewing their place names tighter to the variety or style.

A Domaine

We are pretty lucky here in BC with our labels being relatively easy to read. There aren’t too many obscure-sounding names to mispronounce or any “Chateau This” or too many “Domaines de That”. The wine industry here has grown along with a clean and modern style of branding that really seems to prefer uncluttered, easy to read labels. The same can’t be said of wine labels from the rest of the world and any cruise down a liquor store aisle will tell you that (especially in the German section). Burgundy confused me at first but I think I’m getting a handle on it now (after 10 years).

The issue here in BC is this: Will it even matter? I think it is starting to matter, perhaps more than wineries want to admit. I think that there are differences between the north and south of the Okanagan valley that is quickly becoming apparent. Could that one day be a part of the information on our wine labels? Sub-DVA’s like the forthcoming “Golden Mile Bench” are going to put a spotlight on a smaller piece of land very soon. Why can’t that happen to the Black Sage Bench or West Kelowna? Perhaps we need the divisions to build up first before we see them on labels.

Next time you pop a cork, think of the place where it came from. Enjoy your glass of Osoyoos (Syrah)!

~Luke

 

Hints of Gooseberries and Baloney

There’s an old Celtic proverb that goes, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” I’m about as Celtic as won-ton soup but I’ve always found that proverb appealing for some reason. Growing up English-speaking in a French-speaking province meant that I probably had different, minority cultural views than the rest of the province. Language is very important for determining how we view the world. In the wine world, it’s not insignificant that there is no direct word in English for “Terroir”. Nor is there a word in French for “winemaker”. (The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (not the name of an episode of The Big Bang Theory) is the bigger linguistic concept, if you want to look into this kind of thing further.)

Our language certainly influences how we see the world but I think our world also influences our language. When I lived on the east coast, any liquid that fell from the sky was called “rain”. When I moved to Vancouver, I soon discovered that there were many shades of falling liquid (“showers”, “drizzle”, “downpour”, “pissing”, “deluge”, and – my favourite – “mist”) that each had their own characteristics.

So how does language enable (or hinder) us from describing the wines that we drink?

The Wine Review

People who are new to wine (and some that have been here awhile) find wine reviews kind of bizarre at best and misleading at worst. Tasting notes in magazines, websites, blogs, and apps are filled with descriptions of how the wine supposedly tastes. This wine has “hints of cherries, violets, and forest floor” while this one has “leather, earth, and cigar box notes” with a “firm structure” and much “intensity” and “smoky overtones of licorice”.

Interesting. Wine can have all that stuff in it?

It seems to be a bizarre way to communicate about wine, which itself is a difficult task. A customer at a store I used to work at (here it goes, another one of these stories that I wish I’d made up, but didn’t) that was shopping for a wine with his wife, pulled a bottle off the shelf, looked at it, and then yells across the store, “Honey! This one’s got strawberries in it!” Aside from getting some people to think that wine makers actually add these flavours to the wines (they don’t), it doesn’t actually tell anyone very much about the wine or if they’ll like it or not. One would assume that if one likes strawberries, then if it lists strawberries on the label then one should like the wine. But is that how it is meant to work? How does one communicate that kind of thing?

One of my heroes, Frank Zappa, said (allegedly) that “writing about music was like dancing about architecture.” They are two completely different modes of expression and not easy to make sense of saying the same, or even similar, ideas. I spent years writing about music at university and it was quite frustrating at times. So I decided to start writing about wine.

Perhaps I like the challenge. Perhaps I’m an idiot that really doesn’t learn? More likely is that I’m really interested in how people communicate. How do you know you will love a wine before you taste it? How can you express what you sense so that someone else can get the same reaction? Can it even be done? If it can’t, then what’s the point?

The Point

Wine people get really serious about this kind of thing sometimes. Wine reviews in magazines and blogs, favourable or not, can have a huge impact on the sales of a particular wine. Robert Parker was as powerful as he was in the wine world because of his tasting notes and final scores in the Wine Advocate. I’ve always found those final point scores to be the most divisive within the industry and consumers. Consumers seem to like them, if only as a useful shorthand when shopping. Wine industry, especially those who produce wines that have received good reviews, also love them. The rest of the industry, while not outwardly expressing their disdain, mumble quietly to themselves about it.

I’ve always had a problem with the scores simply because they are far too reductionist. As an neophyte wine drinker, I cannot say that scores didn’t influence my purchases. To see a high score or read a good review meant that if I saw the wine on the shelf, it would very likely tip it in favour of me purchasing it. I’m not sure when that changed but I do remember an incident that provoked some thought. I was searching for a Gewürztraminer from Domaine de Chaberton in Langley. They had won a top prize for it, scored big, and was on the cover of some magazine at the same time. I loved Gewürztraminer (still do) and went after it. I went to my local wine store. Not there. I went to Domaine de Charberton’s wine shop. Sold out.

I finally found it at a small wine store in Langley. It was there!! Hallelujah, I was saved! I brought a couple of bottles up to the dude at the till. I told him I’d been looking for these all day and that I was happy I’d found it. Then I asked what he thought of it. He said, “It’s good, but it doesn’t have a lot of varietal character.”

PLOOFFFFFFFFffffffffffffffffffff….   <<That’s the blogging approximation of the sound of an air mattress deflating slowly.>>

Aside from being a gargantuanly stupid sales job on his part, this dude brought me a dose of reality about my situation. I had gone nuts over trying to find a bottle of wine based on a review, medal, or point score and this guy’s disagreement deflated it in one shot. It made me think about what I was doing searching for this bottle of wine that I hoped would be awesome based on something that was communicated to me (in this case, in a magazine). Was the wine really as good as the magazine said it would be?

Well, I liked it. “Varietal character”? Check, all there. Lovely Gew in all the ways that I liked it at the time.

The end result of this was twofold: First, I never went back to that store. Second, I started to question all of the wine reviews that I read. I started to read them more for entertainment, for a giggle at the extravagant vocabulary and erudite turns of phrase (ha, that one was pretty “erudite” eh?), than to actually learn about the wines themselves. Because to me, it didn’t matter anymore. I wasn’t going to chase after the wines that got the reviews any more than I was going to see a movie that had the best reviews. To this day, I have never sipped on a glass of wine and thought, “Hmm, that’s a 91.” Nor have I read a book, eaten food, smelled a flower, or saw a beautiful woman walking down the street and assigned a point score to the experience. To reduce a wine or any human sensory experience down to a two digit number is ridiculous.

Get on with it

Whenever I get a little ‘too serious’ about wine tasting notes, I think back to this article about a potato chip connoisseur from The Onion that kind of pushes the reset button for me. I look for wines that I think I will enjoy based on recommendations from store staff or friends, tasting samples, and my own intuition. I have lots of wine friends and I’ve come to understand their tastes in wine. One of them prefers fuller, richer styles of whites and hates overly acidic wines. Another can’t stand BC Sauvignon Blanc, finding it too saline for her tastes. Another likes to be more adventurous and loves complex wines with lots of different flavours. Sometimes I can calibrate my recommendations to or from them based on this knowledge. I know that I have made purchases based on what my friends have told me about a wine. It’s not a conscious thing but I’ve found it interesting that I even do this. I know that effective communication is a huge element of working in a successful winery wine shop (or any retail store). Quickly and effectively communicating about the product is key when making the sale.

The point is that this interaction with my friends (or customers) is something that is more useful than words in a magazine wine review or a point score. Is there even a word in English for this kind of interaction or relationship? Can we ascribe a word to it now that we know it may exists? I can see it is how I am, therefore I should be able to have a word for it. (I’ll work on that and get back to you.)

When assigning value to a wine ultimately comes down to basic person-to-person communication, everything else seems kind of pointless.

Cheers to 2015

DSC_6342Rather than spend time looking back at all the things that happened in 2014 with another “Year in Review”-thing, why don’t we spend a little time looking forward? I like to head towards goal rather than dwell on the past. We can’t predict what the weather or the actual vintage will be like in 2015 but we can look at some of the human-related issues in our industry. In the world of BC wine, this could be a good news year.

Some things to look out for:

1 – Wine in supermarkets

When I first moved to BC, I remember hearing ads for hydroponic nutrients on the radio. Yet with our liberal attitudes towards “recreational herbs”, BC will introduce wine sales in supermarkets beginning in April. Of course, in keeping with our history of maintaining tight controls over everything (or at least, appearing to be in control), it can’t just be any wine at all – it will be BC wine only! Hurray! Not just cheap European plonk for $4 /bottles like I remember from Quebec.

There is a lot of speculation about this topic but most of it is really not that easy to predict. How will VQA stores be affected? Will it be profitable for store to sell only BC wine? What will customers ultimately think of it? Is it good for BC wine? Does it comply with our international trade agreements? Wine industry lawyer Mark Hicken doesn’t think so. It could very well all come crashing down as a big failure if it is not profitable.

Throughout 2014 we’ve been enjoying some of the new “benefits” of that the government has bestowed upon us, such as selling wine at farmer’s markets – something attendees of the Penticton Farmer’s Market has been dreaming about for years. We’ll have to simply wait and see how it pans out.

2 – Terroir BC vs. VQA

Painted Rock Estate Winery as viewed from the lookout on Hwy 97.

Painted Rock Estate Winery as viewed from the lookout on Hwy 97.

A new organization was created late last summer that will certainly be making themselves more known in 2015. Terroir BC is an association of wineries that craft wines entirely from grapes grown in BC. The name was coined by Michelle Rempel (MP for Calgary Centre-North – see below) along with John Skinner of Painted Rock and a group of other winery owners. Mrs. Rempel announced the group and outlined some of their philosophy in a facebook message in early September. It is less a statement than a manifesto from an MP with a solid understanding of wine and the wine industry.

Will this be a rival for VQA? Will it create customer confusion or will it settle BC’s QWPSR matter of once and for all? The disparity between corporations that produce “Cellared in Canada” and, well, everyone else is growing and the needs are different. Commercial wineries used to be the driving force in the industry here and still represent the vast majority of total production but are now the minority (there are 5) compared to the much larger number of independent estate wineries that only use BC-grown grapes from a designated viticultural area. When one group dominates an organization (VQA, BC Wine Authority, Wine Festival Society, etc.) they tailor it to suite their own agenda, causing rifts between members in the process. This is not something that most BC wine consumers are generally aware of unless it has come up in conversation while trying to find a bottle of La Frenz in a VQA store.

3 – Free My Grapes

welcome-grapeThe Free My Grapes movement started quietly but built steadily until bill C-311 was passed in Parliament. As it appears that provincial liquor monopolies are not about to let go of any of the revenue-grabbing powers, this law is being applied sporadically at best and completely ignorantly at worst. When Newfoundland charged FedEx over wine shipments earlier in the year, it became clear that the provinces weren’t going to let this stuff go. Eve Adams (MP for Mississauga-Brampton South) added fuel to the fire with her bizarre letter to wineries inviting them to submit their wines in something called the “Great Canadian Parliamentary Wine Competition” to be held in Ontario. Only a few BC wineries were contacted. Some wine makers tweeted copies of the letter in question, rightfully using the occasion to illustrate that because of the LCBO’s garrison-like measures of blocking all wine imports into Ontario, they could not even legally enter into such a competition.

The Free My Grapes campaign won’t end any time soon and nor should it. The more wine consumers across the country voice their concerns, the more that some kind of change will happen. The problem is that the most vocal provinces are the producing provinces like BC and the ones that need to raise their voices don’t seem to care. Somehow Ontarians still accept buying beer in cold, freaky warehouse-outlets called, imaginatively, “The Beer Store”, while the LCBO cash-cow keeps milking them for all they’re worth. How has this system even survived into the 21st century? I though BC was slow to change, but Ontario, really now…

Until we, as Canadian citizens, can purchase wines from wineries located within our own country, this is will always be an issue. Anything involving legislation change is a slow process for sure so look for this to continue well past 2015.

4 – Oil Prices and Americans

What happens in Alberta, doesn’t stay in Alberta. When the Canadian dollar started heading north of the American dollar a few years ago, wine shops saw less Americans than ever. It’s easy to think that we in the Okanagan are immune to these kinds of economic variances and most of the time, we are. I vividly remember a wine shop manager say, “Downturn? What downturn?” in 2009.

If eventually this leads to cheaper gas prices (assuming all of the oil companies can work together and carefully lower it slowly at the same rate – come on, we all know they do it), then we may see an increase in the car traffic on the 97. It’s not that helpful though if everyone in Calgary is trying to save money for the first time in a while. While the economy in Alberta might be taking a hit, the Canadian dollar is making the Okanagan a more appealing place for Americans to go. Some in the industry (like the BCWI) have been looking ahead to that for a while now with initiatives to get BC wine sold in Washington State.

5 – Federal Election

eclogoPolitics and wine don’t go well together. I have at least one uncle and a couple cousins with whom discussion of any political conversation must be completely off the table at any family gathering. However, a federal election is looming for Canada in 2015 and many are clearly looking for a change because they aren’t diggin’ the current administration and the dude at the top.

What does this have to do with BC wine? Well, there is a power-trio of Tories who are, shall we say, from a ‘younger’ demographic (compared to the typical image of politicians) and who have been instrumental in backing the local wine industry here. Ron Cannan (MP for Kelowna-Lake Country) got the ball rolling with his early stance on the Free My Grapes movement. Dan Albas (MP for Okanagan Coquihalla) created Bill C-311 which changed the laws around importing wine between provinces in 2013. Michelle Rempel (MP for Calgary Centre-North and Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification) is behind the recent Terroir BC initiative (see above), is a WSET Diploma candidate (like myself), and is quickly becoming my new Canadian political hero. Can this trio, and the progressive nature of amending the wine laws, potentially continue with a new government? <<Cue the mystery music here.>>

So…

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From Similkameen BBQ King 2014 (can’t remember who took this photo – if this is yours, please tell me!)

Whatever happens this year, I hope that it will be full of great memories for you in BC’s wine country. I plan to write about it even more so please check in here or follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy new year from wine country!

~Luke