writing, wine, and beautiful automobiles

In February I celebrate working the freelance writing thing for six years. It’s crazy. And pretty awesome.

Freelancing has been my sole source of income since June 2012. That’s no small feat, considering my partner isn’t in a position to shoulder more than his share of our expenses – mortgage, car/home insurance, health care, utilities etc. I know writers who don’t need to rely on their income from writing, and I’m happy for them – I’m just not one of them.

The landscape of this life is a patchwork of individual projects, pitching assignments to publications, and finding the elusive regular/ongoing contract. It’s tedious and tiring, but flexible and rewarding in ways not measured by a bank balance. After several years of juggling competing deadlines and surviving lean ‘quiet’ months, I’ve managed to assemble a less jumbled combination of contracts and regular stints. Translation: the times are a-changin’.

endings

Orofino's 1.6 Mile Dinner with Joy Road Catering
Orofino’s 1.6 Mile Dinner with Joy Road Catering

As I make my way into a few more structured contracts, I’m bidding farewell to a few regular gigs – including one that has been dear to my heart since 2011: EAT Magazine.

Under the guidance of brilliant writer/editor/wine professional Treve Ring, I wrote more than 30 articles for EAT’s digital presence and a number of others in ink. At times the writing world can be cold, but Treve (and publisher Gary Hynes) provided me with a warm place to test my writing chops and push boundaries – my own included. I’ll miss writing with EAT, and I hope to contribute occasionally. I have Treve & Gary to thank for things too numerous to list.

beginnings

fangirl time with pro driver Patrick Carpentier
fangirl with pro driver Patrick Carpentier (photo credit: Voth Photography)

For the last year I’ve been working with the lovely group at South Okanagan Motorsports. They’re the folks building Area 27 – a private Motorsports club & track outside of Oliver on land owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band. With my dad an auto body tech and painter, I saw many cars at an early age and have been in love with beautiful automobiles ever since. (16-year-old me had an enormous crush on Jacques Villeneuve)

Things are moving quickly for Area 27 so I’m dedicating more time to them. It might seem an exclusive group, and it takes more than a few bones to join (it is a private club), but the people involved are some of the kindest I know. I arrive with my beater of a ride and park in a lot stacked with cars most only dream about, but no one cares that my ’91 Accord has a belt squeal or exhaust leak. (I’ve also met Richard Spenard, Patrick Carpentier, and Trevor Seibert – which is totally rad)

the wine part

don't assume the valve can be opened
don’t assume the valve can be opened

After making more than a few trips to Covert Farms in the past few years, I’m smitten with the place. In September 2014, I signed on to work harvest as cellar hand; I had no experience but oodles of theoretical awareness. Why work harvest? I’m a writer – I like to know my subject matter. It was gruelling, cold, wet, and exhausting work. It was also engaging, rewarding, fascinating, and addicting.

Since then, the dynamic duo of Gene and Derek have decided to keep me around for a couple of days per week. It’s a small operation experiencing enormous growth, which means people wear many hats and flexibility is required. My having other freelance contracts makes it easier for them, and they can be flexible and adapt to my crazy schedule. It’s win-win.

Lastly, there’s a super rad contract that I’ll be announcing mid-February. No details until then, sorry.

Keeping my hand in the pot, I’ll continue with a few bits-and-pieces contracts that are meaningful and interesting. It’s been a tough slog to get here and I know the challenges are far from over. I’m fortunate to work with wonderful clients who trust me to tell their stories – and there are many more to come.

I’m grateful to each of you who has supported me, fed me, proofed for me, listened to my crazy ideas, and helped me on this wackadoodle path that is freelance writing. You’ll probably end up as characters in a novel that I never publish.

Here’s to a year ahead of writing, wine, and beautiful automobiles.

~ Jeannette

last week, i quit – then someone said 3 little words

This weekend I quit my own freelance writing gig. Like everyone else who gets frustrated with their job, I didn’t mean it – and honestly, I don’t really think I can quit from myself. Tired of the daily grind and feeling like I was undervalued, I did what any good employee would do: I went to Twitter and typed Today, I kind of give up.

Aside from photos of a deconstructed brunch at hipster joints and blurry pics of the previous night’s wine tasting that may or may not have gotten out of hand, there’s not much social media action on a Saturday morning. I figured my little tweet would go out on a puff of wind and drift away.

Then someone sent this:

We haven’t met but I love your work. Can I help?

After toiling in what often seems to be relative obscurity, I felt an immediate lift upon learning that someone a) knows I do this writing thing, b) has allegedly read some of my work, and c) seems to like what they’ve read. But what really meant the world was the Can I help? part. Those three little words punch well above their weight.

We bolster ourselves and each other because we need the mutual support to keep going. Numerous times I’ve reminded friends that they’re brilliant, talented, good enough, <insert daily affirmation here>.

Yes, you can help. Thank you. On Sunday I broke through writer’s block and wrote 2,700 words in 11 hours. I met deadline and made a client happy.

It’s amazing how easy it is to get help once I’ve made myself vulnerable enough to admit that I need it. It’s something we should do more often – on both sides.

Thanks, Leslie. You rock. And I didn’t quit – yet. But I’ll tell you when I’m ready to again.

~ Jeannette

Tinhorn tree in bloom 03

lessons in masonry: Dubh Glas Distillery

That’s right: I visited a distillery and learned something about masonry.

Making a living as a writer isn’t a good fit for those who crave the stability of a regular paycheque or certainty of retirement. However, it has some gloriously awesome days – like today, when I visited soon-to-open Dubh Glas Distillery on assignment for EAT Magazine (article coming soon). While I did taste two excellent examples of whisky (nothing yet available from Dubh Glas), I was surprised to find myself happily slathering mortar on a rock.

Grant Stevely is the force behind Dubh Glas, whose sign I’ve read countless times in anticipation of a distillery opening within a seven minute drive of my house. Living in BC wine country is pretty fabulous, but diversity of beverages is alluring.

Stevely – as he’s known – spent time learning about construction after leaving his former ski resort life and prior to jumping into the distillery world. He also learned a bit about masonry so he’s putting his skills to work on his own building. I’m not the first visitor to affix a rock to the wall and I’m sure I won’t be the last.

Thanks for the lesson, Stevely. I look forward to sipping some cask strength whisky with you soon.

 

Wet the rock and the place it’s to be affixed. Have freshly mixed mortar at the ready.

 

Spread the mortar on the back of the rock, ensuring no air bubbles. Taper-smooth the edges.

 

Give your camera to someone for a rare photograph-the-writer-with-mortar moment.

 

Firmly (but gently) squish the rock onto the wall, so mortar oozes out the sides. When your rock slides, wedge a small chip under it. Voila! You’re done.

the book project

I’m writing a book.

It takes a lot for me to say/type those words, especially in a place with such permanency as the Interwebs where many dreams/goals/intentions go to gently fade away. The number of blogs started and abandoned here is amazing – kind of like what I imagine the messy archive of @yahoo.com email addresses to be.

Truth: what I’m embarking on is more of a project that might end up something like a book. To hold myself to account so I finish the damn thing, I’ll be writing about the progress as I go; not on a new blog platform that can be more easily dismissed, but here – in a place that holds value to me.

The idea for this project came from a day I spent on the farm at Covert’s and has grown with each encounter thereafter. It’s been fed by this crazy underground crew of cool folks creating their own community food systems, and it continues to be fuelled by word-of-mouth introductions. How can I not meet Brent the Oyster Man?

This weekend I completed the first of what will be dozens of interviews – sometimes I’ll interview a subject more than once to get the full story. Hopefully that will be the case with many of these people because they’re totally rad.

The first rad people I spent time with were chef Chris Van Hooydonk and his wife Mikkel. Chef Chris will launch Artisan Culinary Concepts in June – a professional kitchen offering consulting/mentoring, education/classes, private chef services, catering, and unique dining experiences for smaller groups.

I met Chef Chris fairly recently, and we’ve chatted briefly at a few different events. We discovered a shared interest in several things, including how our communities can support themselves without being engulfed in the larger food systems. One thing led to another, and then he invited me to his kitchen. Rule #1: always say yes when that happens.

Artisan Culinary Concepts
awesome pastry goodness made by Chef Chris and Mikkel

Chef Chris and Mikkel are the kind of people you want as friends and neighbours – kind, mindful, and who keep an eye on the horizon with every decision they make. I look forward to visiting them again as the kitchen nears completion and their story unfolds. Plus, they made a fresh apple turnover for my visit. They win.

This is just a glimpse at the type of stories I’ll collect this year. It’s somewhat unsettling to not have a larger plan in mind, but I’m okay with that. Besides – I know some great people will feed me along the way.

~ Jeannette

value wine: why we should never utter those words again

When was the last time you used the word value? I’m willing to bet it was recently, and in relation or response to something you felt was a really good deal.

Value has been appropriated by the retail sales industry to deliver a one-dimensional definition of something: value meals, value days, Value Village. In many of these cases, the intention behind using the word value is often to impart a message equating cheap, low-cost, or budget.

This is just one part of the definition of value (noun):

[mass noun] the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something: your support is of great value

the material or monetary worth of something

the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it

We’ve allowed ourselves to co-opt a word that means, by definition, an expression of high regard and twist it into something implying bargain basement. Taking it one step further, we have applied and encourage the use of this new interpretation to something as subjective as wine. This is not okay.

I like getting a good deal on consumer goods. Simultaneously, I don’t support paying $6 for a t-shirt made in a location with improper conditions for workers, nor will I pay hundreds of dollars below the true value of an electronics product made in the same conditions. I have fewer things that are pricey. These are choices I make, based on my definition of value.

in my book: good people doing good things = great value (like Orofino)

When tasked with a recent BC wine column for CBC Radio West on “value” wines, I cringed – then I took control of the message. Instead of using that bastardized definition to describe a few examples of under-$20 BC wines, I referred to them as punching above their weight. The intention: to not play the value-wine game.

We – writers – continue to play into the hands of advertisers who have conditioned audiences to read cheap when they see the word value. Some writers might argue that’s not their intention at all, and I believe them. A number of my writer friends dance along the value-wine line with a finesse I can’t muster. I applaud them for it.

I’m not sure how or at what point we accepted value as meaning cheap or less than a certain price point, but it needs to stop. We’re doing a disservice to so many beautiful produts that don’t fit into that construct, and to ourselves for excluding them from those parameters. Do people have real budgets for wine? Absolutely. Am I dismissing the $11 bottle? Not entirely. But an $11 bottle of wine doesn’t mean you’re receiving a better value over the $50 one.

I’d love to consume wine solely based on anticipated pleasure and situation, with little or no regard for dollar. That’s not the case, and I have a budget to follow – as do most of my friends. I can have this budget and also enjoy a wide variety of wines at different price points; holding to a budget and enjoying wines over a certain price point are not mutually exclusive. It might mean we buy fewer bottles in higher price points, but we needn’t exclude them because they’re not in the new contorted description of value.

If I enjoyed the wine in the moment or it wowed me beyond a set of expectations, that’s good value. So when I recommend wines to people, the list is all over the price map. It’s intentional. And yes, I realize that not everyone recognizes $25 as the price we should pay for an decent bottle of wine from British Columbia – but let’s face it, at the moment it kind of is.

I value the efforts the folks in our BC wine industry make, despite facing restrictions in getting their product to market here and beyond. We’re stuck, in some ways, with paying a certain dollar for nice wine made in our backyard. So what? I’ll still buy that magnificently delightful $39.90 Painted Rock Syrah, and grab a bottle of under $20 Koyle. Both over-deliver for their price points and I anticipate each will provide me with a good experience – albeit different ones.

Ultimately, the value of the wine you buy is in your hands because you’re the one having the experience. You make the decision if it’s of good value to you – not the person who wrote that ‘best value wines’ list.

~ Jeannette