a trip to oz: 2015 Vancouver International Wine Festival

Next week, I’m going to Australia. Also Chile. Probably Germany, Spain, and Italy, too. The best part: I’m carpooling with a friend and it will take about five hours for us to reach our destination.

The Vancouver International Wine Festival runs February 20 through March 1. From wine-paired dinners and minglers to seminars, all roads lead to the main event: a series of massive tastings in an enormous ballroom where dozens of countries occupy hundreds of tables and pour thousands of bottles of wine. It’s a sweet deal, anticipated by consumers and industry alike.

Whether you’re attending one event or diving in for many, there are ways to make the most of your time.

Choosing An Event

  • Determine your goal. Each event is suited to help you achieve something different, with a few overlapping benefits. Decide what’s most important to you: a focused tasting with a smaller portfolio, exposure to a wide variety of new wines, in-depth education on a specific region, etc. Ask yourself what you want to get out of the experience, and find an event that matches.
  • Be flexible. Is the event you want already sold out? Many have wait lists. Get in touch with the organizers, ask, and keep yourself open to jump in at the last minute. It happens.

Getting ReadyVIWF France

  • Skip the perfume/cologne. It interfers with your ability to smell the wine and will make you unpopular with everyone including the visiting winery. We want to smell wine, not you.
  • Dress for comfort and style. Many events are an opportunity to don your best threads, but keep in mind the situation you’re headed for. Dark tops are good for a wandering, nibbling feast (think hand-held bites) as things can get messy/drippy. Stillettos are lovely, but might not be ideal for a 3-hour tasting room tour with no seating to provide respite for tired toes.

In the MomentValue in seminars: tasting with M Chapoutier

  • Be mindful. In a crowd, queue up and step away when you’ve had a taste. In a seminar, try to keep chatting to a minimum so your neighbours can hear the presenters. At a dinner, give the host a chance to talk about the wine and food – even at the end, when we might be a little tipsy.
  • Sip responsibly. Have a designated driver and take advantage of spittoons. Keep hydrated. Eat well, and often. This is a marathon.
  • Try something new. The best part of Festival is discovering a new gem. Break out of your habits and you’ll be delightfully rewarded.

Best Value (not sold out – yet)

  • Seminar: Mod Oz, $45, Saturday Feb 28, 5:15pm. Taste some of the unexpected and hard to find gems coming out of a newer, modern Australian wine culture. Bonus: moderated by the talented Treve Ring and Mark Davidson. Access to these folks is worth the price of admission.
  • Seminar: McLaren Vale Scarce Earth, $55, Saturday Feb 28, 5:15pm. Go glass-deep into the study of single vineyard terroir with shiraz/syrah from this diverse and complex wine region. Bonus: moderated by Rhys Pender, MW. Who better to help unearth the secrets of McLaren Vale than this witty Aussie.
  • International Festival Tastings: $89 Thurs Feb 26, 7pm | $68 Sat Feb 28, 3pm. The Saturday night event is sold out, but don’t mind that. Enjoy a less crowded Thursday evening or Saturday afternoon; get the same exposure to outstanding wines with fewer elbows.

Happy tasting.

~ Jeannette

Okanagan eats (because you keep asking)

I love spreading the good word about people doing awesome things in the Okanagan. It’s a pretty kickass place to live, for a number of reasons – lately because of local eats and drinks.  I help light the way to deliciousness and a grand experience. So when folks ask me about some of the best places to eat/drink in the Okanagan, it’s easy to cobble a list together on whatever is available – and yes, I’ve been known to write on napkins.

Since it’s vacation season and I’m becoming somewhat overwhelmed with “can you make some recommendations?” requests, it’s best for my internal peace if I tackle the query in a public format – not just because I’m feeling the +30C laziness (which kicked in July 1), but also to save you time in asking.

For the sake of space (and reading time), I’m choosing a handful – there are way more to explore. (I write about food as often as I can at EAT Magazine)

In no particular order, here’s a not-exhaustive-by-a-long-shot 2014 Summer List Of Awesome Okanagan Eats.

Winery Dining

This option is at top of the list as these restaurants are often top of the budget. Winery dining can be pricier than non-winery dining, for a variety of reasons – but there’s a better than average chance you’ll have a good experience. Expensive doesn’t mean better – but each year the bar rises. As long as diners realize the lunch special refers to the food rather than the price, you’ll do okay.

20 Tinhorn 08

Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek: Although I (and my fella) dislike onions, peppers, and tomatoes (in that order), I’ve eaten my fair share of each when prepared by Chef Jeff Van Geest and his team. Two words: flavour integration. The setting is stellar, the menu is innovative without being scary, and every foray into the unknown is partnered with something familiar. I’ve eaten strange and delicious things – also pizza, fluffy-as-a-cloud gnocchi, and some of the best trout EVER. Let restaurateur Manny choose your wine pairing – he’s gifted.

Black Hill JRC 03

Joy Road’s Vineyard Kitchen at Black Hills: It’s not a restaurant – it’s a modified shipping container-as-kitchen, owned by Black Hills and operated by Joy Road Catering. Chefs Cameron Smith and Dana Ewart are culinary darlings in British Columbia – everyone I know loves their food and them. This is Joy Road’s foray into fixed address food, and I’d cross my fingers for them except I’m too busy stuffing myself with everything they make: house-cured charcuterie, traditional flat bread pizzas, decadent desserts. Consider it a la carte-style small plates to share and tasty bites for the road-weary explorer with a discerning palate.

The Bistro at Liquidity Wines: Before the winery opened, my fella and I watched a renovation of what we thought was a really sweet house: mid-century modern updated with a concrete-and-glass cool vibe and one helluva view. Then, the winery opened and blew our minds. This year Liquidity launched their restaurant with chef Rob Walker at the helm – hot damn, the man can cook. So you’re having dinner in your dream house but it’s catered by this super nice guy who makes delicious food, and you don’t have to wash a dish. How perfect is that? I ate most of the potted salmon someone else ordered (sorry, Julie) and inhaled my halibut without much poise, but I don’t care. It was good.

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The Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove: The patio is enormous and offers another jaw-dropping view. Restaurateur Paul is a kind host, and service is spot-on; some of my favourite service people have migrated here from around the valley. Chef Bruno Terroso brings a comfortable feeling to every dish – they might not seem complicated but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to replicate one of them. Paella! Have it.

Sunset Organic Bistro at Summerhill: The people are outstanding, the place is welcoming, and the food is delicious. Do I need to mention the vineyard vista? Probably not. This is an all-organic bistro, down to the flour used in the focaccia. There’s a good chance a family member will be wandering around – say hi, introduce yourself, and strike up a conversation. They seem to always make time for that, and I love it. I have no photos – that must be rectified, stat.

Cafe & Bistro-esque

These are where you tuck in like a local – some serve breakfast and lunch while others serve lunch and dinner, so be sure to check their respective websites to avoid disappointment. Many of these people and their digs are dear to my heart, so remember that when you’re rating them on Les Food Review Websites. I’ll defend them to my last breath.

Brodo Kitchen, Penticton: Part weathered-barn-board kitsch, part deli-counter, part restaurant, all awesome eating. Chef Paul and Holly run a tasty joint. Order at the counter – if it’s slow, they’ll bring the food to your table but be prepared to listen for your order and grab it from a chef’s hands. If my last meal was here, I’d be a happy gal.

The Bench Artisan Food Market, Penticton: The not-so-secret breakfast spot for locals and visitors who wish they were. Organic, fresh, tasty. Chef Stuart and Heather do great things here. I’m quite partial to the egg salad sandwich – it’s available in 1/2 orders, and if you get it you’ll know why.

doLci Deli & Catering, Osoyoos: House cured bacon. Shall I continue? Okay – Annina is a talented chef who has a smile that can light up a room. Breakfast made me giddy. Sneak through the tables and head for the back: there’s a small patio that doubles as an oasis and is perfect for lingering.

Salted Brick 11

Salted Brick, Kelowna: Homemade lard, house cured meat, and picnic to-go lunches. Chef Jason has mischievous bright eyes and an easy disposition – let him lead you through a series of small plates and you’ll be a happy customer. Small menu, with focus – and a bent on local.

The Unexpected

It’s not all about sitting down to a meal in a restaurant. Sometimes, you need to boldly go where you’re not sure you should eat without guidance from someone who’s been there – like lunching in a parking lot. Seriously.

Roxy's 03

Roxy’s Diner Food Truck, Canadian Tire Parking Lot (most days), Penticton: That’s right – I’m suggesting you eat in a parking lot, and you’ll thank me for it. Chef Vince and Christine serve diner-food-done-right in this retro-style truck that would look right at home at an old-timey fairground. The difference here is you’ll be eating delicious homemade food. Try the Bringing Home the Bacon Bacon Dog, or the South Philly-kanagan Cheesesteak (ordering the Winner Winner Chicken-n-Waffle-Dinner goes without saying). It’s all good.

I-can’t-remember-its-name-Mexican-food-stand, south of Oliver on Highway 97: No one I know can ever remember the name of this place, so locals refer to it as “the Mexican food stand just south of town with the picnic tables out front.” Really, we do. The food is authentic and delicious, and there’s a strong possibility you might not get what you ordered but you’ll eat it anyway and love every bite. We did. Take cash, and patience – they’re busy.

Hammer’s House of Hog, Highway 97, south of Oliver (near the above): A food truck that’s more cart than truck, and damn cute with great food. Southern-esque barbecue, but not quite, and that’s okay – this is the Okanagan and we’re happy to have a selection of good food.

Jampee’s Thai Kitchen, EZ Gas Parking Lot on Highway 97, north of Oliver: A multitude of reports that are always the same – damn good Thai food. Get your pad thai on in a parking lot, and gas up the car after. Convenient and tasty in one.

 

Have a favourite that I missed? I bet you do – there are oodles more than I can list in one blog post without losing your attention completely. Feel free to add your favourites in the comments – you’ll be doing everyone a solid.

Happy exploring.

~ Jeannette

the wine world is here – well, temporarily

I love a good wine festival. When the feature country is France and the theme is bubbles, it would take a small army to prevent me from attending – so, one damaged shoulder is nothing.

Since 1979 the Vancouver International Wine Festival (#VIWF) has invited a world of wine to the west coast’s front door, if only for a short while. The Festival initially showcased one winery (Robert Mondavi) and attracted 1,000 people over two days. This year, an estimated 20,000+ people tasted wines from 178 countries – no small feat for a province limited by legislation and regulations prohibiting easy movement of alcohol / spirits.

VIWF 05 HH
The busiest man at the festival: Harry Hertscheg, Executive Director of the VIWF. He attends every seminar, tasting, and event – or tries to.

With the opportunity to taste wines otherwise unavailable to us (and bubbles!), I jumped into the Festival with both feet – plus that damaged shoulder and a new notebook. As “media” I was treated to an itinerary designed by the Festival’s public relations firm, Heth PR. It was full-on, with seminars and tastings and lunches from 9am to well into the evening. The folks at Heth took quite good care of me. thanks, Kristine!

The Festival offers consumers a chance to learn about wine; however, its value rests with participating wineries who get products in front of buyers, sommeliers, and decision makers – who influence consumer buying. There are few channels for wines to get on BC store shelves (private or government) and the wines here aren’t all regularly represented at government stores. These are referred to as one time buy* wines, and once they’ve sold out they’re gone.

VIWF France
The theme region France, in what is supposed to be a quieter hour for “trade” tasting. Still smokin’ busy, and 3-deep at each table.

The tasting room floor is enormous, with one-quarter of the room dedicated to the feature country. I spent the first two tasting sessions in France and elbowed my way through Champagne (tables for the feature country are regional). Hundreds of wines that we might not otherwise see in our province are brought in specifically for the Festival – if you want to pour a wine on the tasting room floor, you must have it for sale on site.

All sorts of politics are at play when it comes to obtaining a listing with the provincial liquor stores. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand how it has come to exist: it’s like an hourglass, with a schwack of wines trying to get through one narrow passage. Fortunately, we also have importers and private liquor stores like Marquis Wine Cellars to help de-homogenize the offerings. How this happens is another story – a long, well-researched one. Stay tuned.

For a few days each year, VIWF offers us an opportunity to be hopeful: of more diversity of product, of increased wine exposure to the pubic beyond the large international labels who dominate our market, and that our newborn-esque BC wine industry can benchmark itself against the world while gaining new fans.

Canada holds its own on the international stage
Canadian wineries hold their own on the international stage. When I thought it was too busy in France, I moved to Canada – where it was hopping.

It’s not inexpensive for wineries to participate, and attendee ticket prices can range from in-lieu-of-lunch to slip-on-a-ball-gown-and-don’t-ask-the-price. Hundreds of volunteers donate time and expertise. Principals and winemakers of international notoriety are available to approach in small group sessions. It’s awesome, and for wine folks it’s worth every nickel. I was (twice) in a room with Michel Chapoutier, met nice people from Louis Latour, and chatted with sommelier Mark Davidson during an Aussie luncheon. Cool beans.

Value in seminars: tasting with M Chapoutier
Good consumer value: time with people like Michel Chapoutier, and the opportunity to taste exquisite wines we might not have (easy) access to.

The value of something like the VIWF varies depending on your perspective. I’ve a piece coming up with EAT Magazine that takes a look at participating from the Okanagan winery angle. Watch for it.

And even when I one day depart from the world of wine-related writing, I know I’ll find value in the Festival ticket – ball gown or otherwise. Because until we change how they get to our shelves, many of those wines will only be available at places like the festival, and fleetingly, if at all.

~ Jeannette

* correction: “one time buy” wines, as pointed out by Paul Rickett, are brought in for the VIWF – “spec” wines are not available at BC liquor stores but are often brought in to private liquor stores

terra madre: slowing it all down

In a world of fast, slow is what we covet. Or should. Go through (if you dare) a fast-food drive-thru and look for the clock/timer near the window; it’s monitoring the entire interaction from the disembodied speaker voice to the person handing over whatever passes for food.

The fast-growing backlash to large scale unsustainable food production is the slow food movement and Terra Madre: a network of food communities focused on responsibly and sustainably producing quality food – translated, terra madre means ‘mother earth.’

It asks that we get out of our cars and take the time to live responsibly, which isn’t a big ask considering that’s exactly what we say we want to do.

On December 10th I joined 60 people at a Terra Madre dinner hosted by Miradoro Restaurant at Tinhorn Creek. It was part fundraiser for our local Slow Food chapter and part playtime for some of the Okanagan’s most rad chefs involved in the slow food movement and sustainable food sourcing: Jeff Van Geest (host), Dana Ewart and Cameron Smith (Joy Road Catering), Natasha Schooten (Terrafina Restaurant), Chris Van Hooydonk (Artisan Culinary Concepts), Brock Bowes (The Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl), and Derek Uhlemann (Covert Farms). Hell yes, that’s a lineup.

We can talk about being sustainable, eco-friendly, farmers’ markets, foraging, and <insert media buzz word here>. Whether we can support a sustainable food system comes down to how we choose to live and despite what you’ve heard it might not be possible to have it all – if what you want to have isn’t, underneath, sustainable.

It took a team of 7 chefs and I have no idea how many others to bring this culinary feast to our table. They spent valuable hours preparing what we consumed. In the type of life that many of us have constructed, that’s not sustainable with our heavy schedules – the work, kids, commuting, home repairs, caring for aging families, and <insert other obligations here>. Or is it?

We need to cultivate a new definition of success, one that goes beyond acquisition of X. It’s an entire infrastructure that needs supporting – from how we reward work to what we offer as opportunities to succeed. If we can retrofit a more mindful way of how we live our lives, everyone wins – including what we rely on to sustain us.

On a personal note, a hearty and heartfelt thank you to everyone involved in making the Terra Madre day celebration the remarkable experience it was. Each of you rock my world, regularly.

Here’s a glimpse of the awesome.

pre-dinner kitchen love: chef Jeff squeezes happiness into chef Chris, while chef Dana looks on – who seems uncertain about what to make of it.
chefs getting down to business: (l-r) Brock, Cam, and Jeff – with Chris in the background.
on this night, there is no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. it takes a community to feed a, well… community.
chef Cam carves out a (small) space of his own. that sausage? local goat.
chef Jeff and chef Brock take advantage of a rare spacious moment in the kitchen.
the food: magnificent. the people: outstanding. it’s hard to imagine what people in large urban centres do for a culinary experience superior to this.
bodies everywhere, producing one brilliant dish after another. owner Manny waits for chef Chris to put the finishing touches on a plate.
local goat, prepared four ways. we happily enjoyed each and every one of them.
the crew, once the culinary dust had settled (L-R): Chef Jeff Van Geest, Chef Cameron Smith, Chef Chris Van Hooydonk, Chef Dana Ewart, Chef Brock Bowes, Chef Natasha Schooten, and Chef Derek Uhlemann.
the menu: ohmygawd the menu.

BC wine: a complicated love affair

love: the smell of a fresh pop-quiz
(photo credit: wikipedia)

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of unconditional love when it’s applied within the context of (maybe) family, pets, or your first crush. Beyond those, it’s entirely acceptable to have conditions – it’s the responsible way to care.

I love BC wine. I’m an unabashed cheerleader for it; not because the industry – primarily the people in it – need me, but because it and the folks working in it deserve our support while they grow. Here’s where the unconditional part comes in.

Should we love BC wine unconditionally? Hell no. It’s not my family, a pet, or my first crush. (if it is my family, then all the more reason to give it a hard time)

Instead, BC wine is more deserving of a complicated love affair. We’re still discovering each other, falling in love – hard, and at the same time we’re able to see beyond the initial glow and more deeply into the flaws that make us unique. To love all of this unconditionally would be to do a disservice to the people we care so much about.

I want to go the distance with my BC wine love affair, which means I’m probably in for a bumpy ride. I’m okay with that – as long as it’s willing to go the distance with me. I think it is. The fact that we have such diversity in one province tells me that some are moving beyond the expectation of unconditional love and working to earn their place in the complicated love affair.

For my part, I’m willing to work just as hard – to educate myself beyond a BC palate, to have honest conversations about what I’m drinking, and to shine a light on the beautiful parts of our relationship.

My BC wine relationship status: happily, it’s complicated.

Here are a few of those beautiful parts in this grand love affair with BC wine.

attention to detail and an embracing of countless small lots means Stag’s Hollow finds some brilliant expressions of terroir.
consistently delivering a strong reflection of vineyard each year, Wild Goose has a well-earned following for their Riesling.
Specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Meyer Family Vineyards didn’t want to be all things to everyone – resulting in an excellent portfolio.
they came out of the gate with a solid lineup, tasting stellar wines from a trailer on site – until they were ready to grow. Painted Rock is a study in good wine business, from bottle to balance sheet.
with facilities & licenses in two BC wine regions, Township7 is a BC wine anomaly. when I like one of their wines, I like it a lot. this Semillon is one.
the tasting room (and winemaking facility) is in an industrial complex. old derelict cars make next door neighbours. and this Pinot Noir from Tyler Harlton is unlike any I’ve tasted from BC. it’s like the promise in a new love.