Rugged, rustic, real. This region is all of these and more. With the Okanagan Valley’s relatively quick ascent as a must-visit destination wine region, the neighboring Similkameen Valley is an unvarnished pocket of small town charm and originality ready for eager wine enthusiasts to discover at their leisure – and here, leisure truly means slow.
Stretching along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean and tucked along the edges of centuries-old rainforest, Vancouver is a young city defined by its natural geography in ways unlike any other. It’s known by many names: Lotusland in reference to Homer’s Odyssey, the City of Glass from a Douglas Coupland novel, and Hollywood North thanks to a few seasons of the X-files and oodles of films.
Vancouver is a port city that came of age in the prohibition era and grew up into a diverse urban center with much to offer, including a burgeoning culinary scene and wine culture. Destination or layover, Vancouver is where you want to spend a few hours or days to eat and drink your fill.
Beautiful British Columbia. It’s so beautiful this phrase is imprinted on every license plate. Each year new international travelers find their way to Canada’s most western province in search of an experience in the great outdoors. Still, agricultural development – including viticulture – has been a key ingredient in the recipe to BC’s tourism successes.
You’re so lucky to live in the Okanagan. I wish I could.
Guess what? You can.
In 2006, my fella and I decided to leave the big city. I was working in human resources at Vancity Credit Union and he was (still is) a merchandiser with Canadian Tire. Our combined income was probably what many expect a single person to live on in Vancouver. So when looking to purchase a home with a garage (my fella wanted the garage, not the home), we chose to move somewhere else. One year later we’d sold our condo, found jobs, and bought a home.
I miss Vancouver. I love the Okanagan. There’s nothing wrong with holding those sentiments simultaneously. Did I give up a skookum gig with an upward career trajectory? Yes. Are we living in the same fashion here? No. We could if we wanted, but we didn’t move to replicate our urban life. There I didn’t write. Here I do. That’s difference enough.
My first gig on moving to the Okanagan was in a winery tasting room. I washed and polished glassware, swept the floors, and cleaned the bathrooms. Daily cashout included sipping a glass of wine. In my second week I found a rattlesnake curled up behind the front tire of my car – so I lingered on the patio with another glass of wine.
When I was inevitably laid off at the end of the season I found a job, this time in an office for administrative-y type work. That kept me going while I finished university (I drove to Vancouver every other week for the first year we lived here, to complete my undergraduate degree) and while I stretched my writing wings until I could eventually dive into the unfamiliar world of freelance work.
The timeline: five years.
This time of year, many of my Okanagan business friends are hiring staff for the season. While I can’t help you make the decision to haul stakes and join us in the wilderness (the tasty, BC wine wilderness), I’m happy to share with you some of the awesome gigs available at lovely places where you could work with nice people.
Local Lounge * Grille (Summerland): Top of the food chain for service and quality, with a stellar new executive chef on board as of April. Relentless in their pursuit to deliver excellent customer service, this is an ideal environment to excel at over-delivering. Hiring for both front and back of house, email your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miradoro Restaurant (Oliver): Flawless dining experiences, for both service and cuisine. Restaurateur Manuel call-me-Manny Ferreira and executive chef Jeff van Geest bring their A-game to every day. They cultivate one of the most engaged and proud teams in hospitality. Hiring server, server assistants, and back of house, email resumes to email@example.com or stop by in person. (PS: Tinhorn Creek is also hiring in the wine shop, vineyard, and for grounds maintenance)
doLci Socialhouse (Osoyoos): A brunch/mid-afternoon/evening watering hole, frequented by locals and recently refitted from the former “doLci Deli”. Now with a focus on small plates, evening specials, and local beer/wine/spirits, doLci is the answer to the ongoing Okanagan question of what do we do in the evening?. Answer: hang out here. One more thing: house cured bacon. Now hiring servers and cooks, apply to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wine Jobs: They’re everywhere right now. Search for a particular winery you’d like to work at and check for employment listings. Or, visit one of these aggregate sites:
- Wine Plus+: MW Rhys Pender posts BC wine jobs shared with him
- WineBC.org: the British Columbia Wine Institute posts BC wine jobs on behalf of member wineries
- Wine Jobs Canada: MW James Cluer posts wine jobs from across Canada
The next time you think I’m lucky to live here, know that yes indeed I feel that I am – but I (and those living here) work very hard to stay here, so luck really has nothing to do with it.
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.
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.