Wine Shops: Why do some wineries get it so wrong?

Wine shops are weird places. There aren’t a lot of other businesses where you can go, consume some of the product for free (or nearly free), and buy (or not buy) some of said product. Test driving cars or trying on clothes are both perhaps the closest, except that in both cases the pr20140214-125934.jpgoduct doesn’t get consumed by the consumer in the process. Nobody gets offended if they aren’t allowed to eat the car.

But selling cars is similar to selling wine in that the knowledge needed on the part of the sales person to sell the car needs to be reasonably good. If you don’t know very much about cars, you probably won’t be able to sell them very effectively. So why are wine shops still staffing their front-end tasting bar with people who have little knowledge about the wines they are selling or even wine in general?

I once asked a person behind the bar if they knew how many vintages the winery had ever done of a particular sparkling wine.

“Oh, I don’t know. It doesn’t say anything about that on the back label.”

Fail.

The correct answer could have been;

“This is the xth vintage of this wine.”

or;

“I’m not sure, let me find out for you.”

or simply;

“I don’t know.”

Any of those answers above are perfectly acceptable. I didn’t think that it was a particularly difficult question to ask. I knew there hadn’t been that many vintages of it made previously. I had started a vertical of this wine at home and I wanted to be sure that I hadn’t already purchased it before. I knew I had 3 bottles from three previous vintages already at home but wanted a confirmation that this was or was not a newly released vintage.

Speaking of the back label on a bottle of wine. The back label can have as little or as much information on it as the wine maker or owner deems appropriate for their house style and branding. It does not contain all of the information that there is to know about a wine, nor does it replace the training needed to pour the wine at the tasting bar.

“This is our Chardonnay. You will taste peaches, melons, vanilla, baking spices, and a hint of mango.”

Will I?? I’m going to taste all of that? Wow, I didn’t know that. Thank you so much for tasting the wine for me. Why should I even bother now?

Here’s the problem with telling customers what they are going to taste before they even taste it. They will either:

A) … not taste any of those aromas and feel stupid about it, thinking that they don’t have a good palate. They will effectively give up on trying to focus their sense of taste because they can’t yet perceive the aromas that you said that they would. This is the equivalent of telling a child in the school choir to just mouth the words because they are singing out of tune. That kid will grow up believing that they can’t sing or are tone-deaf and will never try again for the rest of their lives. This is not an exaggeration, this is proven fact from the realm of musical education.

B) … taste everything that you mention, love it, and then go home with a bottle where they will quickly notice that it “doesn’t really taste like it did at the winery.” Due to travel shock, stemware differences, or environmental differences (odours, etc), the sterility of the wine shop can’t easily be duplicated in a home setting. Where you drink your wine will affect how you perceive it.

Either situation (where the person’s self-image or the winery’s image is adversely affected) is completely avoidable. The solution is to simply STOP READING THE TASTING NOTES. Talk about the vineyards, the region where it was grown, the person who made it, or what food you ate when you tried it for the first time. Stop reading the tasting notes and use your experiences instead. This is where creativity can really raise the bar. “This Chardonnay pairs perfectly with buttered popcorn and a Tina Fey movie.”

You mean you’ve never had a glass of the wine that you’re selling? Perhaps you should choose another kind of job.

Stories of your own experiences with a particular wine are the real gold in the wine shop. Stories are interesting and they are unique to each person behind the bar. They do not lead the customer on with “aromas” and “flavors”. They can be funny or informative. Wine shop customers LOOOVE hearing about wine shop staff parties. They think we live THE LIFE here in wine country (we do, right?), drinking wine all the time (well…), and looking at the beautiful views of the valley from our decks all year in the unbroken sunshine. That’s why people have driven out of their way to buy a bottle of wine that they could actually have purchased at a liquor store or VQA shop instead. But no, they drove all that way to visit you and it is your job to give them a good experience that goes beyond the back label.

It comes down to staff training. Most of the training that I’ve seen wineries do is just sad. Wine knowledge is not an easy thing to convey to people who are insecure with their own understanding of wine. The best thing to do is to simply not hire those kind of people. If you were hiring a car salesman, don’t hire someone that doesn’t know anything about cars. Unfortunately the reality of the labor situation in the Okanagan is that this is not always possible. A lot of wineries that I’ve seen so far this summer are cripplingly understaffed. When you need hands on deck, sometimes wineries have to make do with what they have been offered. Even with a staff that is short on wine knowledge, there are ways to make the most of your team’s skill set.

Even a little team building will go a long way. Take a wine tour to visit other wineries. See what they do right or wrong. Talk about it. Did that wine shop seem welcoming? Was that woman behind the bar dressed professionally for their winery? Why or why not? What can our wine shop do different than what we saw on our wine tour together today?

Simple stuff really.

20111206-164434.jpgThe other obvious (and easy) thing to do with new staff is to taste the wines with the wine maker. Not the winery owner, not the marketing person, not the tasting room manger, the wine maker. Nobody knows the wines better than they do and this is a winery’s best resource for teaching “wine 101″ to the people who the winery is trusting to be their face for the season.

Give wine to your staff. Some wineries I’ve worked for are downright parismonious with their own wines when it comes to providing them to staff. There has to be a few perks to working at a winery and this is one of them. But it’s important because it allows the staff member to have their own experiences with the wines at home so that they can use those experiences to sell it in the wine shop. “Oh, I had that Riesling with a pulled-pork sandwich last week. It was so good…” It is selling the experience and not a wine that simply tastes like peaches, melons, or vanilla.

In short, hiring staff and giving them very little training is an obvious quick and easy way out. You might think that you are saving money by not giving them wine, not hiring a consultant to train them, or not sending them out on a day-long wine tour. Ultimately however, you will lose more money in lost sales or opportunities than you will save and you will likely never even know it. Customers will be able to figure out pretty soon that if you’ve taken the quick and easy way out with your staff. Maybe you’ve also taken the quick and easy way with your wines as well?

Customers can will figure that out pretty quickly too.

You’ve gotta visit: Mocojo

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Located just east (uphill) off Naramata Road, Mocojo is easy to find. Just look up the hill after entering the Naramata boundary and follow the signs. The actual address for you GPS people is 1202 Gawne Road but I think it’s much safer to keep your eyes on the only road to Naramata so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.

Why you should go there

IMG_0999The view is stunning. There are lots of views in Naramata for sure, but not always with so few obstructions. Owners Dianne and Kon are welcoming and absolutely wonderful to chat with. They are true garagiste wine makers, meaning that their winery is located in an actual garage. When so many wineries go out of their way to build a fancy tasting bar with lots of cute gifts to buy in it, Mocojo is refreshingly down-to-earth and authentic. They sell wine and t-shirts. Kon grew grapes before making his own wine so it’s no surprise that the wines he makes reflect that attention to detail in the vineyard more than any splashy wine making techniques.

What to expect

IMG_0998Expect to be welcomed like you were a long-lost family member, except that not everyone has family that can make wine like this. The wine shop is sparse but comfortably shaded so even when it is hot, it is still comfortable. All of the wines that they have available for sale are also available for tasting although one of them had sold out after only my first visit there.

A word of warning though: Staring at the view for too long has caused more than one person to seriously consider a career change just so that they could move to the Okanagan to have a view like this. It is that good.

The wines

IMG_1001Gewurztraminer

Viognier

Rose

Marichel Foch

Malbec

IMG_1002The view is distracting but the wines will hold your attention for sure. Aromatic whites and sleek, powerful reds are the focus here. I have not yet been able to taste the whites but the reds are absolutely solid. The Malbec (sold out at the winery but available in a few private stores – I know one in particular near me and I’ll tell you where it is but only for multiple non-sequential, unmarked bills) is truly beautiful – dark, smooth, and deeply flavored as all good malbecs should be. The Foch is also dark and distinctly fruity as only Foch can be with a complex nose and a uniquely dark tangy quality. Foch is an acquired taste that some people never acquire, which is fine. To each their own. But don’t pass up the chance to try it in the tasting room.

Make this a definite stop on your next trip down Naramata Road. Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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You’ve gotta visit: Synchromesh

IMG_0992Located on McLean Creek Road just east of Okanagan Falls, Synchromesh is on a flat area just behind Peach Cliff (that big rock that you see can towering over the town of Okanagan Falls. It’s about a kilometer out of town and it’s on the left just past Meyer Family Vineyards.

Why you should go there

IMG_0993If you’re going to visit them, you’d better do it quick. On my recent visit, 3 of the Rieslings were sold out and only one red was left. They are not expecting to make it through the summer with any inventory intact so the sooner you get there, the better. Sometimes it’s a race to get to these small producers when they have their best wines available and that’s what boutique wine touring is all about. And the prices are surprisingly reasonable.

What to Expect

IMG_0991Allan Dickinson doesn’t wear shoes while he’s on the job, or at least he wasn’t wearing them when I first met him earlier this spring. Perhaps it keeps him rooted (metaphorically) to the earth that grows his grapes. Perhaps it was just one of those shoe-less days. Either way, he is firmly attached to terra firma and he walks the walk when he talks the talk in the wine shop. You will get an elucidating, convivial tasting experience that borders on a religious experience and is devoid of any of that bland “you will get hints of apples and rosemary…” banter. Alan is down to earth, the real deal, and he talks about his wines that way. He comes by it naturally so if it happens to be Alan’s dad, John, in the wine shop, your experience will be very similar.

The Wines

There is Riesling. A lot of Riesling. Check it out;

IMG_0994Bob Hancock Vineyard Riesling

Thorny Vines Riesling

Four Shadows Vineyard Riesling

Storm Haven Riesling

Riesling (blend of all four vineyards)

Cachola Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc

Turtle Rock Farms Cabernet Franc

Turtle Rock Farms Tertre Rouge (blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot)

Riesling is the big one here and even though they have won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for one, they certainly aren’t one trick ponies. The reds that I’ve tasted are at the same high level as well. These are seriously amazing, grand cru-level wines (although as per my criteria stated previously, I can’t call them an official grand cru yet…) I have personally witnessed experienced tasters and neophytes all recognize this so I know it’s not just me. Their emphasis is on single-vineyard wines which, confusing as they can sometimes be brand-wise, are a perfect platform to demonstrate Riesling’s (and Cab Franc’s) uniqueness and potential. Want to really understand what the word “terroir” means? Taste all five Rieslings in one sitting and you will never forget it.

The growing number of wineries and wine lovers that are turning their attention towards high-quality Riesling shows that this variety has a promising future in BC. Alan and Synchromesh have almost guaranteed that.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

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The 2015 LG’s are in

The results have just been announced for the 2015 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in B.C. Wine. I’ve run the stats again this year and there’s some interesting things happening.

Firstly, congratulations to all of this year’s winners!

50th Parallel Estate – 2013 Chardonnay

BC Wine Studio -2012 Siren’s Call Syrah

Blasted Church Vineyards – 2012 Holy Moly Petit Verdot

Cassini Cellars – 2012 Cabernet Franc Collector’s Series

Church & State Winery – 2012 Quintessential

Enrico Winery & Vineyards – 2014 Tempest Ortega

Ex Nihilo Vineyards – 2013 Pinot Noir

Inniskillin Okanagan Vineyards Winery – 2014 Riesling Icewine

Lake Breeze Vineyards – 2012 Merlot

Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery – 2010 “The One” Sparkling

Platinum Bench Estate Winery -2013 Gamay Noir Block 28

Red Rooster Winery – 2012 Syrah Reserve

Ruby Blues Winery – 2014 Commune Viognier

Wild Goose Vineyards and Winery – 2014 Mystic River Gewürztraminer

Now if you’ll allow me to get all sports-caster like and let me show you a little of what I’ve found based on the stats that now include this year’s results. I won’t do up charts like I did last year but there were some really interesting things in this year’s competition that included 425 wines from 116 wineries throughout B.C. There have now been 140 LG awards handed out in total over the 13 years that the awards have been held. 14 awards were handed out this year making it the largest pool of winners ever for a single year.

The big news this year for me is that Enrico Winery & Vineyards becomes the very first winery from Vancouver Island to win an LG! To me, this is huge in the same way that Fort Berens’ win last year was huge because it shows that great wine in BC can be grown in places other than the Okanagan. I visited their tasting room in the spring of 2012 and was very impressed by the experience and with the wines. Well done Enrico Winery! The Gulf Islands are now the only DVA to not have an LG award but that may change soon.

Wild Goose picks up another LG for the Mystic River Gewurztraminer, a vineyard that represents 4 of their total of 9 LG awards. Along with their great showing at the All Canadians, this is a nice way for the Kruger family to celebrate their 25th year in the wine business.

Two new varieties receive awards. Enrico’s win with an Ortega marks that varieties debut with a trophy and Blasted Church wins their second with a Petit Verdot. This is Blasted Church’s second LG award with the first coming in 2008 with the 2006 Syrah.

50th Parallel pick up an LG for their beautiful 2013 Chardonnay marking their first ever LG award win. It won’t be there last either. This is also the most northerly winery to win an LG award which I think is also fascinating. In previous years the competition looked like it had completely abandoned all wineries north of Naramata. I think it is great to see wineries from all over the province getting recognition through these awards and particularly from the northern half of the valley. Gray Monk’s win in 2010 for their 2007 Odyssey Brut was the previous northern limit for LG awards.

50th Parallel and Enrico are not the only newbie winners in this competition either. Ex Nihilo, BC Wine Studio, and Platinum Bench are also new the awards and will all be receiving the Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of B.C. in late July.

As far as the single varieties go, only two changes have taken place in the stats. Viognier has overtaken Pinot Gris in number of wins (6-5) and Gewurztraminer has edges up over Riesling to take 4th place in the top 5 varieties in B.C.

Place Variety LG Wins % Total
1 Syrah / Shiraz 26 24.53
2 Pinot Noir 14 13.21
3 Chardonnay 11 10.38
4 Gewurztraminer 8 7.55
5 Riesling* 7 6.6

 * Table wines only – does not include Icewine 

So what does that tell us about the state of wine in our fair province?

Nothing!

But it’s fun to see what the stats can tell us sometimes. I’m also done studying for my WSET exams at the moment and have time for stuff like this.

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

Judge Carefully and Get the Facts

This came up last year and for some reason I was thinking about again this year as we in the valley begin to welcome the thousands of visitors over the summer. It was something that I didn’t even really notice at the time but has been showing itself a little more lately.

I was on a tour bus heading to an event last summer. I won’t say who’s or where I was going or why because that doesn’t matter. Most of the people on the bus were from a big city somewhere else and not from the Okanagan. There was a little conversation going on but it was early in the trip and people were a little subdued. I was just looking out of the window watching the scenery that I rare get to see because I am usually driving myself and shouldn’t pay attention to the scenery while driving.

As we passed by a special high mountain lake, I heard someone say something like, “Wow, it’s such a shame what’s happened to that lake. It looks so polluted.”

Further on, we passed a construction site where a large building was going up. It was fully framed and filled it but there were not yet any windows, doors or signs to indicate what it was. It happened to be on land belonging to a local Native Indian Band. “Must be a bingo hall, it’s huge!” is the comment I heard from someone on the bus.

As it happens, the lake in question is endorheic, meaning that the only way that the water leaves this lake is through evaporation. Any of the minerals that were dissolved in the water are left behind and collect in the lake bed. I know of at least 2 other similar lakes in the south Okanagan and there may be more. Even though they are colorful and can reflect light in weird ways that may not look like a regular lake, it doesn’t mean that it’s polluted. That is an assumption.

The “bingo hall” in question is actually the new Band offices for a local tribe. It is not a bingo hall.

I hear and see wine articles written all of the time about the Okanagan from people who, for someone who actually lives here, are obviously not that familiar with the landscape here. Of course, it’s completely unfair to expect everyone to have the same level of knowledge about a region from short visits that may not be that frequent. The Okanagan is a weird looking place and it took me a few years to really figure this place out – how far away things actually are compared to how far away they look. But reading “facts” like this have me questioning all of the books that I have been reading, including the ones currently for my WSET diploma and have read in the past. Most of the authors live in America or England. Who knows how many times they’ve ever been to the wine regions that they’ve written about. One imagines that it is often enough to know the intricacies of the land but how many times is that exactly?

Are the maps that I see in those books as badly drawn as the ‘maps’ that appear in most of the new wine books about BC? A recent book on Naramata has the towns and vineyard areas scattered around almost randomly, nowhere near their actual locations. Keremeos is too far west and is shown as being where Hedley actually is. Osoyoos isn’t near the US border and Summerland’s vineyard area is south of town closer to Penticton. Except that in real life there’s a mountain there and strangely no vineyards. Even casual wine tourists can see this is not accurate. What else in that book is not accurate?

Perhaps I’m being unfair but in some ways I don’t think I am. There seems to be less and less importance put on getting facts straight these days. Since 2000, anyone with a computer and microphone can call themselves a musician without any training in actual music and now everyone with a keyboard can be a writer. This is why I’ve always been hesitant about blogging and preferred podcasting instead. To be honest, I don’t actually read other blogs regularly because I like reading to learn new things and I can never fully trust a blog to tell me anything accurate other than opinions. I hope that you, who are reading this, can properly question what I’ve written here. It’s the debate and the questioning of motives, routines, and structure that I’ve learned to appreciate about blogs and why I still write for this one, albeit occasionally. With every post I always try to make sure that if I put anything truly factual up about anything in wine country, I’ve checked those facts to the best of my ability. It’s not rocket science, it’s wine with a little bit of basic geography. Please do your homework people.

~Luke

You’ve Gotta Visit: 50th Parallel

IMG_0948Located on the newly developed Scenic Sip wine route around Lake Country, 50th Parallel is a little far off the main route on Carrs Landing Road. Various routes will get you off Highway 97 to the shores of Okanagan Lake near Okanagan Centre. Follow the road north until you reach 50th Parallel.

Why you should go there

IMG_0949Because it’s amazing. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. But perhaps I’m being too subtle and understated. I’ve seen a lot of wineries and I’ve seen a lot of new wineries just starting out. This place is unbelievable in the sheer amount of details involved. Nothing has apparently been overlooked. The name 50th Parallel invokes their own latitudinal position and owners Curtis Krouzel and Sheri-Lee Tuner-Krouzel have creatively riffed on that for everything from marketing to design and architectural elements of all kinds. The results are clearly visible in the new building’s architecture (parallel lines are everywhere, vertical windows) and branding but are subtle rather than in your face or over the top.

It is also a vineyard with a past. For BC wine history buffs like me, this was a vineyard planted with hybrid grapes that used to supply wines to commercial wineries until the pull-out program in the late 1980’s. It was never replanted and remained essentially abandoned as a vineyard until purchased by Curtis and Sheri-Lee in 2008.

What to expect

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Winemaker Grant Stanley with Sheri-Lee and Curtis

Expect to be wowed. The tasting room is currently at one end of the winery where all of the tanks and sometimes barrels are located. Sometimes winemaker Grant Stanley might be working on barrels or racking or filtering and you’ll be able to watch the action. At the very least, it smells like a winery should – clean but with a cool, damp, refreshing feel that wine loves as it matures. The tasting bar is made from rafters from their old Quonset hut that used to be the winery for their initial vintages so it has a beautiful curve to it. There are guided tours of the vineyard that are available for a price and must be booked in advance. It’s well worth it if you like seeing where the wines come from along with stunning views of Okanagan Lake like you’ve never seen before.

The wines

IMG_0950Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Rose

Gewurztraminer

Riesling

Chardonnay

Pinot Gris

Pinot Noir is their focus here along with a collection of aromatic whites. All the wines are solid performers. They’ve been racking up awards with all of them so nothing is “filler material” at all. The Gewurztraminer is a much drier style than most BC wines which brings out a unique aromatic profile. The Chardonnay is what I call a “classy” style – meaning, it has some oak flavors on it but it’s just a part of the complexity rather than a dominant flavor. It is a style that I think does well in BC And if you still write home at all, it’s the Pinot Noir that you will want to mention. Just smelling it in the glass, it made my eyes bug out of my head and I heard that old-style car horn sound (a-ROO-ga) that always sounds funny no matter how old you are. Needless to say, I took that wine home with me that day along with a bottle of the Chardonnay.

I first visited 50th Parallel in the early spring and was blown away by the thought that went into everything that they did here and the ultimate end result is absolutely evident in the wine. Complex aromas and flavors, balanced acidity, and just a general sense of thoughtful artistry is clearly in every sip. I’ve found that sometimes new wineries take a few vintages to really get their style established, especially across the portfolio but I believe that 50th Parallel has really reached that phase early on. When it does happen this quickly, it’s usually by happenstance, coincidence, or just blind luck. But in this case, with the amount of detail that went into the planning of this winery, I have come to the conclusion that this consistency is entirely by design.

I’ll meet you anytime at the 50th. Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

You’ve gotta visit: Corcelettes

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Corcelette’s new winery and wine shop have a prominent physical position overlooking the Similkameen Valley (Another Similkameen winery?? Noticing a trend yet?) from the northern slope which you can see from all over the Keremeos and parts of the Cawston area. It is close to the town of Keremeos at the junction of Route 3 and 3A and is located on Upper Bench Road. Follow the signs for the Grist Mill and keep going just a little further and it will be on the left. Look for the huge stones near the end of the driveway.

Why you should go there

IMG_0897At this point, wine maker Charlie Baessler does not make very much wine and he and Jesce Walker consider themselves to be garagistes although they probably won’t be that way for long. The wines that they make now are beautifully balanced and wonderfully complex made by two of the nicest people in the industry today. It’s kind of hard to explain these things without seeming all New-Agey but the personalities of the people who produce the wines can strongly influence how much you enjoy a wine. If I’m not connecting with a producer on a personal level for some reason (weird attitudes, bizarre methods, or just a “bad vibe”), it’s highly unlikely that I will like their wines. For small producers, personality will go a long way to driving sales and establishing long-term relationships with customers. I think that’s why some people prefer small boutique producers rather than large corporate wineries because they are so far removed from any human element. That’s just a theory though. Regardless of winery size, personality comes down from the top and the gang at Corcelettes are awesome and they let that awesome filter down through everything they do.

The other big reason to go, and go soon, is that they may be sold out fairly quickly and you really don’t want to miss out on the experience of this place.

What to expect

This is a small, boutique winery so expect a small tasting room with only one or two people staffing it. This isn’t a large volume winery with a big tasting bar so while they may not have many wines to taste, they will certainly have a lot of things to tell you about how they were made. Personalized service and lots of stories are part of the fun with visiting boutique wineries. They may also not have everything available to taste when you visit so enjoy the wines that they do have.

You will want to be taking lots of photos at this winery. The view is truly inspiring. It’s perfect for group shots.

IMG_0898The Wines

Trivium (Chasselas, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris)

Gewurztraminer

Oracle Rosé (Zweigelt)

Syrah

Menhir (Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah)

Two whites, two reds, and a rosé in the middle. And, did you notice that first grape variety in the Trivium?? If not, I’ll type it again for you slowly.

Chasselas.

Yeah, that’s right. I typed it. There’s not a lot of that grape variety in BC let alone in the Similkameen. I’ll let you be the judge of how it tastes but if I have to type it again, I totally will.

IMG_7120The style here is subtle complexity that can evolve over time or even as you drink a glass. The Gewurztraminer starts out with a beautiful set of flavors and then, when you aren’t looking, changes into something else beautiful altogether. The Trivium, unique in the Similkameen with 50% Chasseslas (there I go again…), does that to somehow. The Oracle is refreshing without being wimpy while the reds bring a solid fullness without any harsh, unripe tannins. This is what prudent, quality-conscious grape growing can do for making wines. The Baessler family has a history doing just that. If you’ve ever tried the Clos du Soleil Growers Series Pinot Blanc, that wine was grown by Urs Baessler, Charlie’s father, and is what brought them to my attention years before Corcelettes was released.

Go there. Be amazed. Enjoy. Tweet it with #bcwine. Then enjoy it some more.

Cheers from wine country.

~Luke

You’ve gotta visit: Hugging Tree

IMG_7024Located right on Highway 3 just south of Seven Stones, Hugging Tree is on the east side of the valley facing due west. The driveway is all gravel and leads straight up to the wine shop in the middle of the 68 acre vineyard and orchard owned by Cristine and Walter Makepeace.

The southern end of the Similkameen Valley is quickly becoming the hot spot for new wineries in that valley. Seven Stones and Forbidden Fruit have long been a part of the scene there but were often a little remote for some travelers to the valley. That shifted a little with the opening of The Vine Glass Resort near Forbidden Fruit and now there is another winery that has opened its doors in the deep Similkameen south.

IMG_7026Why you should go there

You aren’t going to find these wines easily anywhere else so this is the best place to try through their collection.

This is the Similkameen at its best – rustic charm, beautiful scenery, and small, family run farming where everything is done with quality of the wine in mind. It’s a small-production boutique winery with a real country feel. The wine shop is new and welcoming. The view from the front deck is beautiful and shows the southern part of the Similkameen Valley very well.

What to expect

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Brad Makepeace

Great wines, great conversation, and a peaceful easy feeling. There is nothing rushed about this wine shop and I really enjoyed my visit there. (The fact that Brad also plays music and enjoys riding motorcycles may have helped a bit as well…) The big mirror behind the bar recalls an old west saloon and the windows let in lots of light to see the wines well. The front deck is just screaming for an old rocking chair to watch the sunset. It’s what a winery would have been like if there had been boutique wineries 100 years ago. Don’t get me wrong – It’s not a kitschy old-west theme park kind of place. This is the real deal. Brad is a pro and seems very comfortable behind the bar which I learned was from spending years behind bars in Whistler. The result is a real, honest, wine shop experience with a social aspect that will have you kicking the “social” right out of “social media”.

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The wines

Viognier

Rosé

Telltale (48% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc)

Moonchild Merlot

Vista (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah)

1 white, 1 rosé, and 3 reds are the wines currently in the Hugging Tree portfolio. Brad is a strong believer in Viognier and the first 2013 vintage is a beautiful representation of what that variety can do in this part of the world. It has big aromas and excellent balance – not flabby or overly soft like other viogniers out there. The Rosé is bold without being over the top, dry, and lovely – everything a tasty rosé should be. The Telltale and Moonchild Merlot were both solid reds as well. As I was visiting early on in the season on a weekday, the Vista was not available for tasting although I did buy a bottle on a friend’s recommendation on twitter earlier that day. Look for it on one of my “Tonight’s #bcwine…” tweets in the future.

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

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

You’ve gotta visit: vinPerdu

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

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

Why you should go

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

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

IMG_0936The Wines

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

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What to expect

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

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

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

Cheers from wine country!

~Luke

IMG_7022

Mullings Over Wine Pretentiousness in the Digital World

Here is what I hear when I read reviews or listen to someone criticize wine shops, wine shop staff, or even sommeliers as being “pretentious”. I hear this:

“Everything I need to know, I already know. Anything that someone tells me that may differ from that is wrong, must be false, and is therefore completely fabricated just so that they can appear smarter than I am. They are just being pretentious.”

It’s like a delusion of intellectual grandeur, perhaps driven by the internet age’s self-serving gathering of “information” – “facts” that conveniently suit the searchers’ beliefs rather than challenging something that they think that they already know. The digital age doesn’t allow us to experience anything that hasn’t been added to our factual playlist. It’s very easy to say, when hearing something new or that conflicts with your previous knowledge or experience, that someone just made something up. It’s an easy defense against something that may differ from your own intellect or perceptions by belittling it or turning it into a joke and laughing at it. And of course, if it’s easy to do, it must be on the internet (or some news channels). Travel websites with reviews (hint: rhymes with “Mip Advisor”) are loaded with these kinds of reviews and, while I admit it’s kind of entertaining to read in a Jerry Springer-kind of way, it can get downright mean and needlessly offensive when the focus of the criticism is directed to your own work place. I’ve seen more than a few co-workers get angry and stressed over some of those more hurtful and ignorant reviews.

Here’s why I think it’s a little unfair to criticize wine professionals in that way, or to belittle them as “pretentious”. People who have spent years studying, learning about, and working with wine will very likely know more about it than you do. They have spent a good part of their lives and a large amount of money studying wine on a level that goes beyond the average consumer or enthusiast. Not everyone that you meet in a wine shop has that training but some of them do. Shockingly, they are not out to make you look like stupid or knock you off your pedestal in front of your friends even though that’s how some people react to it. They are sharing something with you that they love and find interesting and because you are standing in their wine shop or store, they assume that you want to know about those same things.

Mechanics are not criticized for being pretentious. Neither are medical doctors. Both are prized (and well paid) for their knowledge base and skills and we depend on both of them to get things fixed when things need fixing. They have both gone through lots of training and apprenticeships to get where they are and love what they do and do it because they love it. I want the pilot on my next flight to be the one who had pictures of aeroplanes all over his or her room as a kid, dreamt about being a pilot all day as a teenager, and loves every second of their time in the pilot’s seat. I don’t want the pilot who became a pilot because, it’s a job. Thankfully, becoming a pilot is harder than just playing Flight Simulator for weeks at a time and reading wiki articles. Just because you bought a big Nikon SLR and outboard lighting gear at London Drugs doesn’t mean that you are suddenly now a professional photographer. Those “filters” on Instagroan don’t make your photos look professional either – they stand out like a glass of grape Kool-Aid at a wine tasting. Simply knowing facts about something does not compare to years of dedicated training and experience.

I believe that both of those issues – false intellectual delusions of grandeur and de-professionalism – are internet-age personality disorders and are somehow related. Sometimes I think that my awareness of these disorders is part of what has held me back from writing in-depth articles. I know it taints some of the early podcasts when I consciously held back information because I didn’t want to come across potentially as a wine snob or elitist when really I am neither. Perhaps I was tentative to start blogging at all for the same reason. I never read blogs before and still don’t read them that often as part of my daily media diet. Who is this blogger to be so bloody all-knowing? Why do I think my comments are worth anyone’s time to read? What gives me the right?

Truthfully, I don’t know. I’ve been in the industry now for 10 years and have been lucky to have worked in almost all aspects of wine production – vineyard work, cellar work, u-brew, wine sales, wine shop management, and marketing. Maybe that gives me some experience that’s worth something to somebody? After 6 years of blogging, I’ve really enjoyed the interactions I’ve had online, meeting people IRL, travelling to new places, and learning about new things. I think most wine bloggers are similar in this regard. You would think that getting a lot of wine bloggers together would result in massive arguments and heated discussions about wine and technology as they all try to intellectually one-up each other. But after attending 3 Wine Bloggers’ Conferences over the years, the fact is that you’ll never get that many genuinely knowledge-hungry people that love to express their passion for their trade together in a single place without giving them an Ivy-league degree at the end. If anything those conferences are a respite from having to defend your obsessions with wine and wine knowledge against the spectre of being labelled as “pretentious”. Most attendees of the conferences that I’ve been to are nowhere near the classic wine-snob or the knowledge-insecure customer. They are eager to challenge themselves, to be proven right or wrong, and learn from any new experience being offered.

To be fair, the wine world has changed significantly over the past 4 decades, evolving from a formalized Hugh Johnson “Wine Atlas” terroir-based, European-centred approach on one side to meritorious “democratizing” criticism of Robert Parker Jr. and Wine Spectator on the other. The problem with the former is that is has a high resistance to change and has taken years to respect much of the industry outside of Europe. (The Oxford Companion to Wine, which I long ago nicknamed the “Condescendium”, being a prime example and really, who still publishes huge encyclopaedias anymore?) The latter can change direction on a whim and seem needlessly spastic in its focus on the current trends. Supertuscans may have been all the rage one year but almost invisible on the review pages next.

While we currently seem to believe that all knowledge that is knowable is somewhere online the fact is that the digital world is not the “all knowing”. If all you’ve got is “a thousand songs in your pocket” (from Apple’s early promotions of the first iPod), you’re missing out on all of the other music that isn’t in your playlist. There is nothing on your list that you didn’t put there yourself so there is no way that you ever hear anything that will challenge your listening abilities. Of course there is also the argument that mp3’s are only able to reproduce a very small amount of the frequencies of live sound, leaving all kinds of subtle overtones out. Zooming in on the pixels of a JPEG of Tom Thomson’s April in Algonquin Park online are nothing compared to what it’s like to stand in front of the same painting and see the the brush strokes, dead colouring, or craquelure up close. The digital domain can only really hope to reproduce a small portion of the world as it exists in real life. The digital world is not the real world. Information on the internet is not knowledge. Wine can only be experienced IRL, not on a blog, which is the main reason that I don’t do wine reviews here.

Outside of that digital world, there are people who actually have knowledge that can extend beyond the confines of a search engine. Humans have the ability to think beyond the threshold limits of what our little electronic devices are capable of. Let’s not belittle them by calling them pretentious.