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.

farming: how grey is the new green

*disclaimer: some of these words and images might be offensive to some readers/viewers – if that’s the case, you seriously need to rethink what you consider offensive; otherwise, read on

We live with rules. We have regulations and laws for almost everything – from best before dates on food to the height of a secondary building on my property (less than 17′). A packet of silica gel buried in the toe of new shoes advises us not to consume it. Dude, it’s silica gel. As if.

Arguably, rules can help to keep us safe and allow for recourse. People who operate outside of the rules are penalized and held to task. We see this when persons perpetrate crimes: break the law, pay the price.

What happens when regulations that should protect us instead act as a barrier for us? Ideally, we lobby government to amend the rules. Sometimes the rules don’t fit, and we find ourselves unable to reconcile what we think is best for us with what those we’ve elected think should happen.

Of late I’ve noticed a quiet movement in my local farming (and farm-loving) community. This movement operates without leadership, and is woven into the culture of local, slow, and other food tags. Its grass-roots feel is slightly anarchistic in a wholesome way. I refer to it as the greying of farm culture.

I have (happily) become an unofficial recorder of events at Covert Farms – an organic, family-owned grower/producer in the Okanagan (I made the zombie apocalypse cut; long story, but a big deal). This spring I was invited to witness a lamb cull which I wrote about for EAT Magazine. Recently, I attended a bull slaughter. 

That’s right – a bull slaughter. I won’t dress the words in anything other than what they are: people killed two animals for meat. It’s more acceptable to say cull than it is to throw down slaughter, and I’m not sure why. It might have something to do with how we define the word, and popular culture hasn’t done it any favours.

slaughter / n. & v. noun 1. the killing of an animal or animals. 2. the killing of many persons or animals at once or continuously; carnage, massacre. verb 1. kill (people) in a ruthless manner or on a great scale. 2. kills (animals) esp in large numbers.

This definition is from the 9th edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, published in 1995. The first part uses neutral language – the latter inflamatory. How can one word be so loaded? We made it that way.

I spent a day on the farm with Gene Covert, Derek Uhlemann, and three others as they slaughtered two Scottish highland bulls. According to British Columbia’s Ministry of Health, the slaughter of animals for personal use is unregulated – as long as the meat isn’t sold. Let me be clear: these folks purchased the animals and slaughtered them for personal consumption.

In meat inspection and processing, there are (as of 2007) only a few classes of license in this province: Class A allows slaughter and processing (cut & wrap) for retail purposes and Class B allows slaughter only (for retail in the province); secondary tier licenses D and E permit on-farm slaughter of a limited number of animals in each class, confined to regional application (extremely remote areas), and with limits on retail.

All of this means I can’t go to Covert Farms and purchase a steak that came from a locally raised and mindfully slaughtered cow. That really sucks. Others feel the same, and I’m slowly discovering who they are. Here’s where grey is becoming the new green.

This grey zone I see emerging is located in the awkward gaps left behind by an ill-fitting framework. People – intelligent, thoughtful people – are farming these grey areas with care. Locals are banding together to create a sustainable food system that doesn’t fit in the big player rules.

Each invitation to the farm feeds my yearning for a community food system. I’m not alone – I see it in the eyes of everyone present, every time. Knife in hand, one person said “If I can’t handle this today, I shouldn’t be eating the meat I eat.” A bold but fair statement.

I’m not sure where days like these will lead, but I glimpse a larger written work lingering in the shadows. This grey area has more than a few stories in it and I’m hopeful for an opportunity to share them with a larger audience.

Meanwhile, I respectfully and humbly present a few images from another day on the farm with Gene, Derek, and friends – taking the bull literally by the horns.

Gene entices Taco Bill (left) and Black Cherry (right) with oats, hoping they’ll get just a little closer to centre stage.
Last-minute guidance from father to (eldest) son in preparation for a simultaneous firing.
A traditional drink to honour the animals. (at just past 8am)
Lining up to capture the moment for posterity.
No anthropormorphizing here, though they could look as if they were sleeping.
Everyone present relinquishes the lead to Gene, and they learn from him as they go.
Class on a Sunday: these homeschooled kids are taking in a science lesson – they’ll try their hands at dissecting (cow brain) later in the day.
Respectful concentration in all aspects of the slaughter.
Gene’s-eye-view. “This is when it gets surgical.” It’s not easy navigating a rapidly bloating stomach to salvage edible organs. “The enzymes don’t know the cow’s dead.”
Father and (youngest) son, readying the slaughtered bulls for transport to finish the process.
What should be a typical farm view is now a rare sight. This is how food happens – unlike what we’re accustomed to, it doesn’t begin in the store.
Taco Bill and Black Cherry will age up to 28 days. For now, Derek prepares a sample of skirt steak. Age: 4 hours.
Hours-fresh beef. The chewiness I experienced will diminish after cellular breakdown (the ageing), but the flavour was lovely.
Hang time. We’ll revisit Taco Bill and Black Cherry in a few weeks for butchering.

perspective: get it

Dear North America: We need to get over ourselves. Stat. Our perspective is not everyone else’s perspective. Recent travels have reminded me of this, and I’m grateful.

Not everyone can travel. I know that. I’ve known what it means to not have any cash – and I’m not talking about needing to visit a bank machine, either. I admit to carrying on my shoulder the chip of those who have lived through poverty, and as much as I’d like to shrug it off there’s something that won’t let me. For now, at least.

It’s that chip – the at times big, hulking boulder – that tilts my head just enough to see things from beyond the perspective of privileged middle class. Because that’s where I am, despite the shudder I feel at acknowledging it – in a place of privilege. Not as much as some, yet heads above others.

I recently visited London, England and Paris, France. It was a 10-day getaway; a solo journey to remind me of who I am at my core without a prefix (Mrs.) or qualifier (woman/writer/wife/whatever). I received much advice before my trip – like where to eat and what to see. And I was cautioned about the size of things: Europe would have smaller everything, I was told. Bathrooms. Streets. Elevators.

Sure, my hotel room in Paris was tiny. But compared to what? Large North American facilities, where we’ve known nothing but sprawl because we have room for it. My 5’9″ frame fit (barely) in the shower, which was added to the room well after the building was constructed hundreds of years ago – but I had more than enough space for my single being to exist.

Maybe it’s our North American perspective that’s skewed. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Louvre, and managed to spend seven hours in there without visiting every aspect of it. I got lost three times. (disclaimer: I have an incredibly bad sense of direction)

I think it might be more fitting to say that many of our consumer-culture items are bigger in North America. Not the macarons – I ate a delectable chocolate macaron in Paris that was the size of a giant North American hamburger (it took three sessions to consume). But many things are. From my limited new perspective I’d say we live in larger domiciles, eat bigger portions, and purchase items in larger quantities than do our European friends. I saw no 24-roll packs of toilet tissue in London – a good thing, because you’d have no place to store 24 rolls in your flat.

The chip on my shoulder forms part of the horizon against which I measure experiences, and it always will. I gain new angles to my perspective with every adventure. The trick is remembering why they came to me, and honouring their contribution.

So, my fellow North Americans. I ask that you please be mindful of how you approach those bigger-than or smaller-than observations. They speak of your own shoulder chips more loudly than you know.

~ Jeannette

My hotel room in Paris – I loved every square inch of it.
Hamburger-sized macaron in Paris, approximately 3.5-4″ in diameter. (I had no tape measure, but it was seriously large)
Les Pipos, 5e. Tables were 2’x2′ square, snugged up against one another so close the server had to pull out the table to seat me. See the dark line to the left of the wine glass? That’s the gap between tables. Encouraged friendly table chat.

on being offensive: why we should do it more

It’s not (usually) in our natures to intentionally offend people, unless you’re a raunchy comedian. Even then the offensive material is carefully crafted to poke fun at what we have – passively – decided is acceptable. But maybe we should occasionally piss people off.

Earlier this year I wrote a challenging article for EAT Magazine (From Farm To Table: The Real Story, April 2013). In it, I describe a day at a local farm where I witness a sheep slaughter and butchering. Before the article, I initially mentioned the nature of it to friends and was received with a combination of shock (such harsh words!), disgust (that must have been gross), and confusion (why would you want to see that?). However, with thanks to editors Treve and Gary – who supported my rather unusual and possibly controversial article pitch – the piece ran.

Of late I’ve seen a clip circulating the interwebs that provides a certain shock value in support of the conversation around sustainable food systems; six minutes touted as “quite possibly the most eye opening six minutes ever on film.” It depicts large-scale food sourcing, complete with horrifying-to-comprehend mass farming shot in terrifically beautiful cinema format. This isn’t uncommon – documentaries have been and continue to be made in the hopes of alerting us to the stark realities of corporate farming.

We fear offending people with “sensitive” topics of conversation around slaughter or butchering, and some vegetarian friends were a little squeamish on hearing the details of my day on the farm – but we see worse in action films and first-person shooter video games. Why are we offended by a frank conversation about where our food comes from, but we’ll wrap a copy of Mortal Kombat <insert edition here> and place it under the tree in December?

Here are some images from my day on the farm – a story in photograph, unedited for their potentially offensive nature. I’m asking you to view them, please.

(big respect to EAT for taking a chance on me, to Gene and Shelly Covert for opening their farm doors to me, to Derek for inviting me, to Jeff for allowing me to capture this, and to Van Doren for being her awesome self; if I haven’t said it before, let me say it now – I’m humbled by your trust in me to tell the story well)

The two gents (Barbados blackbelly sheep), who were the stars of the show.
Derek and Van Doren prepare the sheep for a nearby tree, while Gene provides instruction.
Before automation, before electricity… this is what food looked like. It still does, when it’s farmed respectfully and sustainably.
Learning from the pro: Chef Jeff takes advice on technique from Gene.
Respectful slaughter includes taking the time to use as much of the animal as possible – not indiscriminately tossing bits and pieces into a pile.
Van Doren gets a lesson in skinning from Gene. (notice the absence of blood and gore, in contrast to today’s blockbuster action/adventure movies?)
One of Gene’s sons (homeschooled on the farm) makes an educational discovery while helping his father with the day’s work. Cause = effect.
Meat should look like it came from an animal and was handled by mindful people – not from an assembly line, handled by hundreds.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen meat this fresh. The aroma was unlike anything I’d smelled: slightly gamey, almost metallic. Honest.
Delicious-looking crepinettes from Chef Jeff; you can’t buy them because it’s illegal to sell meat slaughtered on private property. After watching shock-docs and then witnessing this day, I’d eat one of these in a second.

writer-as-photog: painting the picture with more than words

Hello, my name is Jeannette and I’m a writer. <insert chorus of “Hi, Jeannette”>

Writers have a sweet gig – it’s a tough slog most of the time, but it’s also pretty rad. I work harder at this than at any other job I’ve had and earn the least amount of money I’ve ever made (if I sit down and calculate the hourly wage, which I try hard to avoid), but generally we get to be at / experience / talk to / investigate / research the coolest events / places / people / subject matter you can think of. And when we’re the person who came up with the idea, it’s magical.

Increasingly often in the digital realm, freelance writers are asked to provide photographs to accompany an article or story. With digital SLRs and pre-programmed shutter speeds, it’s getting easier for us to accommodate those requests. But does that make it right? Are we taking a piece of the photographer’s market? Probably. For that, I’m sorry.

Here’s the thing: writers largely remain underpaid – if paid at all – for online content. It takes no less time to craft a story for a digital platform than it does for print, yet it doesn’t command the same compensation – and many writers are contributing online content for free (or really cheap). So when we’re asked to provide passable images, we will – because we want to keep the gig.

To my photographer friends and friends-to-be, please accept my apologies. I don’t pretend to be one of you and I never will. I’m somewhere between a hobbyist and an enthusiast, and I struggle with the technical aspects of photography that you learned at school because I didn’t study photography like you did. Your time is worth money, and I totally get it.

When I can encourage a publication – online or print – to spring for a photographer, I do. Yet the demand for photographs has forced me to practice and (I think) improve my picture-taking abilities. Will any of my images win awards, receive notoriety, or make anyone other than my publisher/editor and me happy? Probably not. Okay, maybe my mom – but she’s supposed to like everything I do. I’ve been fortunate to find a photographer whose style of photography is similar to how I write: the talented Melissa Voth McHugh and I have worked together for a few years, and I’m grateful to learn from her as we grow together.

Writers try to paint pictures with words – and sometimes, we get it right. But the same rule applies for photography as it does for writing: you get what you pay for. So when I’m asked to provide images, my photographs won’t be in the same stratosphere as those of a professional photographer. Hopefully my readers understand this and can forgive my photographic indiscretions.

Research for my latest writing involves hanging out with chefs Cam and Dana of Joy Road Catering (see? rad). As I tried to remain unobtrusive yet ready to snap a photo of culinary awesomeness, I realized that writers see things differently than photographers. I happily shelved my photographer-to-be and snapped away. Thank you Cam & Dana, for trusting me enough to allow me to sneak into the kitchen while you prepared for a marathon catering weekend.

Here’s a glimpse of how a writer thinks while she’s playing photographer-wannabe.

This is one of the largest rubber band balls I’ve ever seen. It was huge, so they’ve started a new one. Where did all those rubber bands come from? Answer: produce.
As a writer, these little jars caught my attention. I had created an entire backstory for them the moment I saw them.
Photographically awkward, but compelling hidden story. Where did this come from, and who has used it? This is how we (well, I) see things before I write.
What a photographer sees: a cluttered image. What I see: chef Cam and chef Dana, working within feet of one another… but in completely different worlds.
Awkward perspective, yes. I should have been focusing on chef Dana’s hands, but I was distracted by this wee little wire chair on the knife rack.
Too many intersecting lines = visual confusion. I cop to that. I intended to capture Joy Road’s beautiful nature-surrounded outdoor kitchen. Instead, the writer in me thought: “how do they keep the wasps away?”.

**  want more? watch for my article with EAT Magazine – online as of Aug/Sept.