Slow going

Hey folks, it’s been a while. And there’s reasons for it. Not that I feel that I have to explain or rationalize anything to anyone – I don’t – but sometimes when I follow a blog or a website and nothing happens for a while without any explaination, I like to know what happened.

Many of you know that I am writing a book about the history of wine in B.C. That is taking up a lot of my time at the moment. When I need to be dedicating a lot of my brain’s word output to that, things like this get neglected. That will change when the book gets completed, I promise.

Podcasting? Well, that’s a whole other story. I would love to see a return to that at some point and probably will. But with many of the original crew having babies, getting big wine-makering jobs, or, like my buddy Aaron, moved on to a better world, it will mean assembling a new crew and getting things set up all over again. See the previous paragraph for why this isn’t possible.

I am also studying for my WSET Diploma, which is no small task and I probably would have not done so had I gotten my book contract earlier. I am also performing music more often to help pay the bills (odd that music has always supported my wine career…) That’s how it goes here in wine country – when it rains, it pours, and then it doesn’t rain again for months at a time and everything gets super dry and then it just burns. I also have a part-time job and apparently a family, although they don’t get to see me that often. (They all have their own iThings now though so they don’t even notice when I’m not here. When they need something, they text me…)

Rest assured that I will have plenty more to say about the wines of B.C. Diving deep into the history of it as I have been doing has shown me a lot about what makes our province’s wine tick. I have come to some interesting conclusions about our industry and can’t wait to share those with  you in the book.

For those who are interested in new wineries to look out for this season :

Nighthawk – I finally got to visit it after hearing about it last fall. Very nice people, very beautiful setting, great tasting experience and the wines are each solid and unique with none of that “new winery smell”* that most new wineries have for the first few years . They are just past See Ya Later Ranch in OK Falls so there’s now two reasons to drive up that rediculous hill…

Bordertown Vineyard and Estate Winery – I’ve watched them build their winery (and even tweeted a photo of it way back) but have yet to stop in and visit or try their wines. I’m always interested when I hear good things about a winery and NOTHING but good things so I suspect this place will be busy. They are right on the highway in Osoyoos so as far as locations go, they have it pretty awesome. Don’t pass them by this summer.

Ciao Bella Winery – Very nice people – I stood next to them at a trade tasting for 3 hours. Their wine shop is off the beaten path in West Kelowna and, along with Kalala, is another reason to venture up Glencoe Road.

So there we are, a small update of sorts.

Cheers from wine country!


* New Winery Smell – When a new winery opens, sometimes I find that all of the wines kind of taste similar and everything smells so super-clean that all of the wines squeak. Whatever it is that gives an old, established wineries’ wines personality and style, new wineries don’t often have for whatever reason. Probably just because they are too new…


Why the Garagistes are so important in BC

20140919-093206.jpgWhen the Garagiste North Small Guys Wine Festival first took place in 2014 at an event hosted by Meyer Family Vineyards in Okanagan Falls, I was thrilled. Super excited. And I didn’t even really know why. I went, I tasted, I interviewed (badly, as it turned out that all of the audio was unusable to a technical error on my part) as many people as I could. I really enjoyed all of the wines and found some that were absolutely stunning and for surprisingly down-to-earth prices. What was it about these producers that intrigued me so much?

In my endless research for my book on B.C. wine, I’ve noticed that many changes to the industry have happened from the ground up rather than from the top down. Innovation in the industry hasn’t come from the high pillars of education or industry research institutions, it has come from below. The small, independent wine producers are the ones who have consistently shown us the way forward in B.C. since the beginning of the modern industry in 1980 and even more in 1988 after Free Trade made innovation essential for survival in the market. Small producers are the innovators, the ones who can afford to explore new terroirs, grow new grapes, try new techniques, and package it in a new way.

If they want to be pirates, they are free to be pirates: Andrew Stone of Anarchist Mountain Vineyards, before drinking his Chardonnay...

If they want to be pirates, they are free to be pirates: Andrew Stone of Anarchist Mountain Vineyards, before drinking his Chardonnay…

This influence actually goes back much further than 1980 but that’s when the momentum really started to build. Compared to the large commercial wineries of the time – T.G. Bright’s, Casabello, Calona, and André’s – the new estate wineries were practically garagistes by comparison. The new estate wineries promoted using vitis vinifera grapes for their wines at a time when almost all of the industry institutions were telling them that they couldn’t do that and still survive. They started using small oak barrels for aging their wines and for fermentations when the large wineries rarely used any kinds of oak at all, other than large, old vats. They started newsletters, wine clubs, and websites first. They branded their wine with labels that were bright, creative images that told a story on them. When they sold their wines, they got valuable feedback from their customers right away and were able to make changes very quickly. The person that grew the grapes, made the wine, and delivered it to the customer may well have been the very same person and so was able to implement their ‘market research’ quickly.

Each time they did things like this, someone was paying close attention: the wine lovers of B.C. Wine writers in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary wrote about them and wine lovers sought them out because they were different, leading edge, and above all – interesting. It wasn’t jug wine and it didn’t have a fake European-looking label on it. It looked like B.C. The labels were cut to have profiles of mountains, printed on glossy reflective paper, had cartoons on them, or were an elegantly simple logo on a large cream-coloured label. These are all examples of things that the small estate wineries did first that the larger commercial wineries then followed.

Lisa Elgert from Cana Vines

Lisa Elgert from Cana Vines

The estate wineries continue to do this today but as some of them have grown, their speed of innovation has slowed even though some of them remain as creative today as they ever were. Today’s real innovation comes from the bottom – the smallest producers who can barely afford to stay in business but are able to be as creative as they want and react quickly to the feedback. They risk practically everything they have to create their wines that they want to produce because it is their passion.

Originality. Personality. Passion. Innovation. That is what people are looking for when they go to taste a wine made from a small garagiste producer and why the industry needs the small producers to lead the way. That is why the Garagistes are so important to B.C. wine.

Cheers from wine country.


Whose history is this anyway?

History is a funny enough thing without wine. Then when you add wine, it just gets better but a bit ridiculous. Especially in a relatively new wine region like we have here in BC. Just reading through various sources makes me wonder if what I’m writing for my upcoming book on BC wine history is going to look as good (or as silly) twenty years from now.

Some of the same events in our province’s wine history have been written about in multiple, and completely different, ways. So which one am I to take as the ONE that REALLY happened? Or did either of them happen? How much of one of them is actually more right than the other? It’s a bit frustrating for sure but not as much as finding something that is just blatantly inaccurate right after finding something that was really amazing. I have a source that has something profoundly interesting in it that I’ve never seen before in any other source. That’s the exciting part! New information! And then two pages later they’ve written something that is so utterly wrong that it’s hard to take the cool new information seriously, even though I want to.

Therapy Vineyards - never a bad experience

Therapy Vineyards – never a bad experience

It’s like going to a wine shop (which I did a lot of last year as a tour guide) and hearing something so amazingly wrong like, “Our winery was the first to plant vinifera grapes in the Okanagan in 1987.” … Hmm, no, sorry. You weren’t the first. Or the tenth for that matter. But that kind of misinformation, even if it seems trivial (they’re just tourists, who cares?) is not trivial. At some point, the proverbial fish becomes too big and it simply becomes a lie. That winery is lying to their customers. What else could they be lying about then? Hmm… when they say the wine was “oaked”, was it really 12 months in barrels or oak tea-bags in a tank for 3 months? Is that Cabernet Sauvignon really grown in Naramata like it says on the label??

That’s where proper staff training comes into play. I can tell within 30 seconds of coming into a wine shop if the staff there have been trained properly or not. They don’t even have to open their mouths, although sometimes when they do it just confirms their level of training. It’s something that I’ve written about before and drawn the ire of many an over-worked, under-staffed wine shop manager for doing so.  But if a winery can’t afford to pay all of their wine shop staff for two full days of training and team building (four days for a winery over 30,000 cases) at the beginning of the season, then they will rarely get the kind of cohesive and consistent presentation in the wine shop that will be able to sell their wine by telling their story.

Tamsin's amazing tours at Burrowing Owl

Amazing tour at Burrowing Owl

It seems silly. “What does it matter what my story is? They’re just going to taste my wine and be dazzled by it. It’s the best wine out there – they will love it! That will make them buy it.” It’s the same old “If you built it, they will come” rationale from Field of Dreams that small wineries think will happen when they start out. That’s why they don’t allocate a lot of money to proper marketing or branding either. Patrons in a wine shop (especially Canadian patrons) will rarely tell the winery outright if they’ve had a bad experience or didn’t like the wine or the service. They just won’t buy anything and leave politely without buying anything. But there is someone who they will tell with all honesty and without any reservations.

They will tell their tour guide.

I’ve heard it all about all of the wineries that I’ve visited on tours (some at which I’ve previously worked). Tour groups tell their drivers the best information about their experience and I’m glad they do. I knew that going into the job because I’ve previously told the drivers that drove me around before on tours what I thought of certain wineries and experiences. I also have friends who are tour guides. The good tour guides’ goal is to make sure that you have a great experience. That’s their job and they are always on the lookout for great experiences as well as avoiding bad ones. Want to go to a winery that has a great experience? Find one that has tour buses parked outside of it most of the afternoons (and then go back and visit them in the morning when they aren’t as busy…).

You might think that people aren’t going to like all of the wines out there and that may be a part of it. Tour guides can easily get a sense of their groups and take all comments with a grain of salt. Unlike ten years ago, there aren’t very many seriously flawed wines out there anymore. Better consultants, mature grapevines, and more technology has meant an increased level of quality in the aggregate. But I also know that if customers can’t relate to the story of the winery, through the people who tell it, they are far less likely to buy into anything that’s being sold, regardless of how good it is. I’ve taken people to wineries that I absolutely love – my favourite wineries sometimes – and if they can’t relate to the story or the people telling it, they will walk with nothing or a polite “pity-purchase”.

Kon talks about his vines at Mocojo

Kon shows us the vines at Mocojo

I’m here to tell you that the winery’s story does matter and that it matters a lot. The good thing is that nobody knows it better than the winery does so they are their own experts in a way. And when I say, “Tell your story” I mean the story of the winery, not the whole region. That’s where wine shops get derailed. I’ve heard one wine shop person talk about the amazing geology of their region and how it makes their wine awesome. Then the next shop did the same thing but the geology was completely different! That group was confused by the second shop and (surprise surprise) didn’t buy anything. Neither wine shop had gotten their story straight. The correctness of the geology aside, they should have been focusing on what their own story was rather than try to expound on the story of the region, which is largely dependant on who their consultants were and what, if any, books they’d read on the subject. Often, it’s far more of the former than the latter in which case the fish just got two sizes bigger instead of one.

Historical memory is as foggy as the morning after having too much wine the night before: You know something happened but the exact sequence of events might not be exactly what happened. So, whose history is it anyway?

It’s the winery’s. Tell your story. You know it better than anyone else. That’s what people want to hear and why they’ve bothered to come visit you. Otherwise they’d have just gone to get your wines at Save-On for 10% off.

Cool new wine tech in the Okanagan

This just in folks, a very interesting to development in winemaking. It’s been tested on whites and rose so far, but it could be interesting for reds as well. Essentially, it looks like a way to keep a lot of the aromas in fermenting wines from escaping during fermentation. Anyone who has been around wineries at harvest time knows that there are a lot of amazing aromas when the wines are fermenting. Traditionally, the cooler the fermentation temperature, the less aromas are ‘burned off’. However, cooler fermentation temperatures make for slow fermentations and so this device might be able to help solve that problem. Here’s the press release that I got today…


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:   Sunday, February 7, 2016



NARAMATA, B.C. – A retired professor of medicine and amateur winemaker living in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley has invented a ground-breaking new process that uses a high-tech CO₂-eliminating membrane to help wineries keep more of the natural aromas in wine during fermentation, producing noticeably better-tasting wines.

And it appears the process might be so easy for wineries to incorporate that Dr. Dick Jones’ invention could sweep through the industry and spark a real improvement in the taste of many wines throughout the Okanagan and potentially around the world.

From his home-based lab and winemaking room in Naramata, Jones says he’s pretty sure his process is a winner, yielding more aromatic, fruitier-tasting wines.  “It’s very exciting.  This could really add value to the wines we make here.  I think it will help to bring more awareness of this region to the wine world.”

Dr. Dick Jones explains his wine CO2-scrubbing process during a recent experiment with Pinot Gris at Pentâge Winery.

Dr. Dick Jones explains his wine CO2-scrubbing process during a recent experiment with Pinot Gris at Pentâge Winery.

Jones isn’t fantasizing about a vague theory.  He’s a solid scientist, a University of Alberta professor of pulmonary medicine for 35 years specializing in lung, cardiovascular and exercise physiology, and the inventor of nicotine nasal spray to help people quit smoking – one of the U of A’s top inventions ever.

Not surprisingly, he has gone about the development of his wine CO₂-scrubbing process with scientific rigour.  He has conducted carefully controlled experiments over three years, including blind taste-tests by experts, as well as chemical analyses of the wines by an independent professional researcher.  In addition, Jones also has the owner of a popular South Okanagan winery on-board as a believer and enthusiastic supporter.

The “Aha!” moment that launched the project came in October 2012, when Jones noticed the Pinot Gris he had fermenting at home, from his own small vineyard, smelled exceptionally good.  But he realized the valuable aroma compounds were being carried out of the wine by the bubbling CO₂ and were lost into the atmosphere, reducing the wine’s flavour.

Winemakers have struggled with this aroma-loss issue for centuries.  Some try to reduce the loss by lower-temperature fermentation or even what Jones calls “major tampering with the wine” – removing aroma compounds then adding them back in after fermentation.

“Up to 80 per cent of a wine’s most important aroma compounds can be lost with the CO₂ during fermentation.”  As an expert in the human lung’s diffusion and expulsion of CO₂, Jones knew at once how he could preserve the wine’s aroma: “I needed a membrane that selectively allowed the CO₂ in the tank’s headspace to escape while leaving the aroma compounds behind.”

Searching for a membrane that would work under winery conditions, he found that a Norwegian professor had recently developed a specialized super-thin membrane for scrubbing CO₂ from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants.  “It acts like our lungs to get rid of CO₂, it’s made of food-grade material, and it works at room temperature and pressure.  It is perfect for a winery setting.”

The membrane’s inventor, Dr. May-Britt Hägg of the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, was enthused about the idea of using it to improve wine aroma and flavour, and she supplied membranes for Jones’ experiments.

When the initial membranes sent for the fall 2013 experiment were damaged in shipping, Jones used CO₂-absorbing soda-lime instead, to test his basic theory.  With 24 litres of Pinot Gris in an experimental tank and the same amount in a control tank, the CO₂ was scrubbed during the first six days of fermentation.  An expert wine-taster compared the resulting wines and scored the experimental wine higher for the important attributes of fruity aroma and taste.

In the fall of 2014 Jones flew to Norway to hand-carry four new 30-by-30-centimetre membranes back to Naramata for a larger, more sophisticated experiment.  This time he had experimental and control tanks of about 25 litres each of Pinot Gris and Gamay Rosé.  After using the membranes to scrub the CO₂ during fermentation and later bottling samples of each, the experimental wines were compared with the control wines in both an extensive taste-test and chemical analysis.

Paul Gardner, left, and Dr. Dick Jones check on small tanks at Pentâge Winery that contain samples of the 2015 Pinot Gris being used to test Jones’ ground-breaking new CO₂ scrubbing process.

Paul Gardner, left, and Dr. Dick Jones check on small tanks at Pentâge Winery that contain samples of the 2015 Pinot Gris being used to test Jones’ ground-breaking new CO₂ scrubbing process.

Paul Gardner and Julie Rennie, owners of Pentâge Winery in Penticton, organized a panel of 10 wine experts who blind-tasted and ranked the wines on seven key aroma and taste attributes.  As Jones reports, “The tasters rated all seven attributes with higher scores for the membrane-treated wines.”  The highest scores were for fruity aroma, complexity, fruity taste, and overall rating.

Samples of the wines were then analysed at the University of B.C.’s Wine Research Centre, comparing their levels of dozens of aroma compounds.  For the Pinot Gris, there was an average increase of 23 per cent in the measured aroma compound concentrations.  This is notable since the membrane was used for only one day during peak CO₂ production.  For the Gamay Rosé, there was an average increase of 66 per cent in aroma compound concentration.

“Overall, the taste-tests and laboratory analyses of the experimental wines proved that using the membranes vs. conventional methods left more aroma compounds, improved mouth feel, and retained fruit flavours in the finished product,” Jones says.

After the testing of the 2014 vintage, Jones knew he had to test his process using commercial winery-quality wine in a real-life winery setting.  Paul Gardner, by now a fan of the process, offered his Pentâge Winery as the location.  This fall the headspace in a 1,000-litre tank containing 700 litres of Pentâge’s 2015 Pinot Gris was treated with the CO₂ scrubbing using an improved version of Dr. Hägg’s membrane, this time made up of thousands of hollow fibres encased in a cylinder.  An identical control tank with 700 litres of the same juice sat next to the experimental tank.  Both were fermented at 15 degrees Celsius.

Jones and Gardner will run samples of this year’s experimental and control wines through another taste-test and chemical analysis sometime between February and April of 2016 – and they can’t wait for the results, since the wine has already scored significantly higher in initial, non-blind taste trials.

Gardner looks forward to the possibilities for Jones’ new process.  “Until now the loss of aroma during fermentation has been accepted because there was no easy way to prevent it,” he says.  “But Dick’s membrane process makes total sense.  The proof is in the pudding – this is definitely a superior wine.  I don’t think it will be long before interest in this is worldwide.”

Both Jones and Gardner say one advantage of the new process is that the equipment for it can be about the size of a suitcase, and the power consumption would be comparable to burning a 100-watt light bulb.

Gardner says he will bottle both the control and experimental wines and sell them as a two-pack special-release Pentâge Pinot Gris, and invite feedback from the customers.

Jones knows if his process is absolutely proven to allow CO₂ out while keeping aromas in the fermenting wine, he’s onto a real winner.  “This is the Holy Grail of white winemaking, and there are likely benefits to using the method on red wine fermentation too.  People have been trying to do this for a long time.”

As the months go by, Jones is gaining confidence that his invention will eventually be used to improve the aroma and taste of many wines.  One more major indication of the uniqueness of his process is the fact that his patent applications have progressed successfully through the initial review stages.  “They assess if the idea is novel, if it represents an inventive step, and if it has commercial potential – and it was given high scores on all three factors.”


For information contact:          

Dr. Dick Jones, Naramata, B.C.    250-496-5194

Paul Gardner, Pentâge Winery – Penticton, B.C.  250-493-4008

Where there’s a wine, there’s a way

photoHey BC wine-lovin’ folks, how’s your year been going so far?

You’ve probably been wondering just what they heck is up with Wine Country BC these days? If you haven’t, well, I’m going to tell you anyways.

I am busy. Busy like I’ve never been busy in any winter before kind of busy. Podcasting took a lot of time and that’s gone by the wayside since 2014 even though I was hoping to get to it in late 2015. But now blogging itself has been taking up more time than I have to spare. So it’s been getting the back burner treatment now for the past 6 months. Which is unfortunate because it is something that I really enjoy doing. However, I’ve found lately that there are a couple of things that I enjoy doing even more.

DSC_0363No, not motorcycling, although that was a big part of the past three summers. My kids are older and more independent now, so I can’t blame them. And no, it isn’t either of my day jobs that are taking up all of my time. Music isn’t a priority this year either although I do have a new instrumental project called “Pairing Notes” that features Naramata flute player Misty Knol which is proving to be a lot of fun.

No. What is taking me away from podcasting and blogging at this time is two things with which I am having an absolute blast and love every minute of each of them. One of them I will be able to share with you when it finished. The other will get me a certificate and probably another little pin that I will probably never wear.

I have been studying for my WSET Diploma since late 2014 and this should be my final year (although it probably won’t be). My last exams are in June and the studying for this particular unit is hardcore. It deals with wine. All wines. Made anywhere in the world. I’ve got to know about them and be able to evaluate twelve of them blind and be able to answer questions about the industry worldwide. This has been my distraction for the better part of the past couple of years and it is all coming down to these last 6 months.

The one I will be able to share with you will not be released until sometime in 2017. I am writing a book about BC wine that is to be published by a familiar Canadian publishing company and it is not something that I ever thought I would do. But here I am researching like there is no tomorrow; spending time buried in public archives, traveling across the province interviewing industry pioneers and legends, and writing about the most new and interesting wine region in the world on the cusp of its debut on the world stage of wine. It’s exciting and I can’t wait to share it with you. I hope you like it.

So, as the studying and research gets compiled and the words get strung together into cogent thoughts, I will be posting here when I can but not often. Calli is also busy as she pursues her studies in Ontario to become a winemaker and will likely not have any time to contribute for a while either.

Rest assured that this is not the end of Wine Country BC, but simply a pause in the program – a grand intermission in the oenophile’s opera. Or at least a pause for this commercial message. I enjoy the medium too much to just let it go and will always be around.

Cheers from wine country!


VQA Store Model is Changing

On Tuesday, November 17th, the BC Wine Institute (BCWI) issued a press release that took many in the wine industry by surprise. But it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. The real surprise might be coming later.

The new rules on alcohol in BC that were implemented in April 2015 allow wine to be sold in supermarkets. As someone who grew up in Quebec, where wine and beer can be sold in supermarkets and 7-11 corner stores, this seemed like a logical move. But B.C. has always had a bizarre way of dealing with alcohol throughout the province’s history and, true to form, this recent change was no different. In Quebec (or Washington State for that matter), it is certainly convenient to be able to purchase wine with groceries but from my experience in both of those places, the wines sold there are never considered “top quality” wines. To have VQA-only wines in supermarkets here seemed at odds with what I’ve previously experienced.

Ok, so what’s the harm in trying? There’s only one way to find out if this will work and that’s to just do it. From what I’ve heard, the four Surrey locations are blasting through amazing amounts of wine and that the whole Save-On-BC-Wine thing is going to be very profitable. That means that the VQA licenses in outlying areas might be better used in more profitable locations and that is always going to be the Lower Mainland.

What shocks me about the closing of the VQA stores is how little coverage it is getting in the media. Tracy Gray of Discover Wines was on Kelowna’s CBC this morning being interviewed about the closure and was very diplomatic about the whole thing. Too diplomatic for host Chris Walker’s taste at times which seemed to inform his seemingly off-the-cuff question about whether or not Gray had been coached by the BCWI in advance of the interview. Gray, always a professional and an excellent and elloquent speaker, responded to all of the questions calmly but with an air of detachment that seemed at odds with the facts. Discover Wines, her twelve and a half year-old business and the number one VQA store for sales every year, was going to be shut down Arthur Dent-style early in the new year to make way for a hyper-profitable retail chain. Even if Gray didn’t show it outwardly, Walker understood what it is that we stand to lose: Our wine culture. The interior will lose out on those great stores filled with passionate, knowledgeable, and helpful staff members who know the wines better than anyone except the winery staff themselves. They are front-line contributors to local wine culture.

And of course this comes with a disclaimer – I used to work at a VQA store and understand how it functions differently than a regular wine store. I also currently work for a winery that sells wines to those VQA stores. Since 3/4 of them in my territory are closing, I stand to lose out on a little chunk of commission. Yes, it will be a owee. But there are bigger things at risk in the longer term.

The light media coverage so far shows me what I already knew beforehand from my own recent experience. People (the general B.C. public that buys wine) have forgotten what VQA means in the first place. It didn’t dawn on me until I worked this past summer as a wine tour guide. I was amazed at how many times that I had to explain to people from B.C. what VQA stood for and what it meant. I’ve had to explain that to people in wine shops and wine stores more and more over the years since I started in the industry. It’s like the industry just assumed that people knew what it was all about.

Here’s a bit of the backstory:

When the wine industry as we know it today was in its infancy in the 1980’s, estate wineries had an uphill battle to prove to consumers that it was fit for human consumption. Canadian wine had a bad reputation. The Vintner’s Quality Alliance was an industry-lead quality assurance DSC_5124program that acted as a “seal of approval” from the industry. The VQA logo on a bottle of wine meant that this wine was considered to be a quality product.  By 1996, the BC Wine Information Centre opened in Penticton (with wines from over 24 wineries!) and was the first stand-alone VQA store. Other stores followed effectively with a mandate to sell B.C. wine and be the defacto community resource for people to learn about their locally produced wines.

It worked. VQA wine sales shot up. Wineries opened throughout the 1990’s at a furious pace. Predictions in the early 90’s that by the end of the century, that B.C. could have at least 100 wineries! Imagine that! Of course at the time, there were only a quarter of that so it seemed like a lofty goal. The optimism in the industry then was a result of VQA and was a complete 180 from only a few years prior when Free Trade was supposed to wipe the industry out  completely.

But something happened in the intervening years. The wine industry continued to grow but not everyone was on board with VQA. Jeff Martin was noticeably absent from VQA when he started La Frenz. (For a great interview with Martin and his thoughts about VQA, check out Calli’s podcast on the subject from 2014.) Other producers followed as the need decreased for VQA to convince consumers that quality wines could be produced in B.C. Consumers knew that B.C. wines could be good already and smaller producers didn’t feel the need to pay the added cost to be a part of the program.

I can see both sides of that argument but that isn’t the point of this article. My point is that over the almost 25 years that we’ve had VQA in B.C., the vast majority of casual wine buyers still do not know what it is and likely have never set foot in a VQA store. Thus, the quietest of media uproars over the recent VQA store closures in the Okanagan.

The issue here is profits. Wineries are businesses and have to make money to survive. The Vancouver is where the customers are and most wineries’ allocations are sent to the Lower Mainland anyways. Having them in a Save-On is far more profitable there than having a nice stand-alone store in the Okanagan where people who do enjoy local wines can (and sometimes do) go right to the winery to buy them. Only time will tell if the new Save-On-BC-Wine model will work in the long run (and who it is that will actually profit the most from it) but I think it’s safe to say that wine will follow where the money is. This BCWI list of VQA stores will have few, if any, locations on it outside of the Lower Mainland in the not-so-distant future. How will that effect the wine culture in the interior of the province where most of the wine comes from and where tourists expect to find it? I guess we’ll all find out in 2016.

Cheers from wine country.



Ok folks, this big news in wine country this morning. The BC Wine Appellation Taskgroup has released their final report. This is the media release that just showed up in my inbox. I will be commenting on this further because, well, there is a lot to comment on and frankly I really never like to just send through a press release verbatim on this site. Check out the information for yourself and look back here in the coming days for comments on it. 


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — November 5, 2015


New Wine Regions,
Regulatory Reforms
Proposed by BC Wine Task Group

A stronger “sense of place” will strengthen BC’s reputation among domestic and international wine consumers

Vancouver, BC – A BC wine industry group released its final report Thursday after a seven-month comprehensive consultation on the future of British Columbia’s system of appellations. The BC Wine Appellation Task Group – an independent ad-hoc committee of leading representatives of the industry from across British Columbia – has developed a set of 13 recommendations that are being described as a “turning point” in the growth and increasing reputation of premium winemaking in our province.

Group 1“Around the world today wine makers and wine enthusiasts are increasingly interested in the soil and climate conditions of where the wine is grown,” says Ezra Cipes, Chair of the BC Wine Appellation Task Group. “Our recommendations will help to strengthen a sense of place for our wines that is uniquely about British Columbia.”

The Task Group has submitted its recommendations to the British Columbia Wine Authority (BCWA), the regulatory authority to which the Province of British Columbia has delegated responsibility for enforcing the Wines of Marked Quality regulations. BCWA will be responsible for conducting an industry plebiscite in the coming weeks to approve the Task Group’s 13 recommendations to reform the regulations.

The Task Group recommendations include:

  • Creating 4 new appellations: Thompson Valley, Lillooet-Lytton, Shuswap and Kootenays to add to the current list of five officially designated wine regions (Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, and Gulf Islands). (see map Appellations – Emerging BC Regions)
  • Creating a framework for 15 sub-appellations within the Okanagan Valley from Vernon in the north, down to the US border (see map Okanagan maps – Terroir boundaries)
  • Harmonizing the audit process between multiple government agencies to enhance quality standards and reduce regulatory red tape
  • Ending the use of taste panels to access faults and strengthen product health and safety

The BC Wine Appellation Task Group was supported by the BC Ministry of Agriculture, and conducted in cooperation with the BC Wine Authority and BC Wine Institute.

“British Columbia is increasingly becoming known for its premium wines across Canada and around the world,” says Hon. Norm Letnick, Minister of Agriculture. “I would like to commend the Task Group for dedicating their time and their passion in creating a strong, unified vision for our wine industry.”

A report titled Wine Industry Turning Point describes the effort to reach out to stakeholders in every winemaking region of B.C. – from Vancouver Island, the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, the Fraser Valley and BC’s emerging regions. In addition to town halls and other one-on-one consultation, the Task Group conducted a successful industry and consumer online survey with over 800 participants.

For a copy of the Task Group report and the maps, survey and other appendices, see the links below, or visit

In Memory of Aaron

DSC_7565 It is with a sad heart that I write this. The wine world is generally a very positive one filled with happy experiences around a shared bottle of wine or two. The loss of one of those friends makes it all the more difficult.

The world lost Aaron Olfert on last weekend. Aaron and I worked together at the BC Wine Information Centre VQA store for the 3 years years that I was there from 2009 to 2011. He had been there since 2006 and continued to work there until his recent untimely passing. Regular customers appreciated his deep knowledge of B.C. wine. The many return visitors in that store knew him from there and recognized him when they came back. His personality filled the spaces between the thousands of bottles in that store. I first met him that way – as a customer looking to spend my birthday money on a nice bottle of B.C. wine.

DSC_3285The genesis of this website and the podcast owes its existence to him. Without him there would have been no conversation about B.C. wine criticism, no banter about wine critics, and no comments about the quality of the wines that we tasted. In the first 4 months that I worked with Aaron, we talked about wines, wineries, and the people we knew that work in the wineries, all of the time. We laughed over Wine Library TV and discovered amazing new wineries. This constant conversation back and forth evolved into the idea of doing a podcast. We recorded the first three episodes in my basement in late August 2009. He appeared in many more podcasts over the next 4 years and even wrote a couple of articles.

A memorial service is being planned and I will post information here when it becomes available.



"I drank WHAT???"

“I drank WHAT???”