the rise of farm dinners

For many, the bulk of our food shopping is done in fluorescent-lit grocery store aisles with a weekly foray to the coveted local farmers market – if we’re lucky. We live anywhere from 4 to 8 process steps away from that vegetable in the ground or fruit on the tree. (don’t get me started on meat – read my thoughts about it here)

There are fewer chances to interact with food in the way we’re meant to – how we’ve been doing so for generations, until the last century. Not everyone can reside close to where our food comes from; and let’s face it, most of our food no longer comes from the farmer down the road.

With the growth of the Okanagan wine industry comes a rise in agri-food tourism. This is a good thing. It gives area farmers a chance to get their wares in front of folks who have substantial buying power – and therefore, consumer influence.

There are some folks doing it right. The Coverts are an Okanagan farm family going back several generations. Today, Gene and Shelly Covert operate the now organic farm and own Covert Family Estate winery. They get it: farmers markets, accessible and good food, mindful farming… you name it. They’re also helping change the face of wine, and I’ll bet they don’t even realize it. For consumer purposes, we’ve romanticized wine production – in the real world, farming isn’t all that pretty.

Gene’s just as likely to be out fixing irrigation as he is to be in the lab testing wine, and the last time I was at the farm Shelly was in a homeschooling session with their two boys. There’s paperwork and payroll, especially in the busy summer season when farm workers multiply exponentially, and their organic home delivery program doesn’t run itself.

So where does the winemaker dinner fit? Instead of adding to the facade perpetuated by so many, this is where the Covert family brings us in – all in – to their real world. (dressed up, yes – but farm glam, not city glam)

Weathered picnic tables line the patio, no linens required. Simple place settings reflect the afternoon sun and illuminate the dinner table. A fish is in the outdoor smoker, and a pig is roasting on the spit. Farm-fresh carrots and potatoes accompany the meal with no fanfare – just great taste.

We sit shoulder-to-shoulder and are served family-style on large sharing plates. Wine is poured, but not glorified. Guests are encouraged to sip and indulge at our own speed. The fish and pig are dressed table-side, right in front of us.

Dusk falls, and voices rise. We celebrate the miracle of pig fat – as a seasoning on vegetables or in the chewy goodness of ‘crackling’. We’re sated, and leave feeling like we’ve just enjoyed a lovely family meal. If Gene or Shelly were to ask any of us for help on the farm the next day, the answer would have been a resounding yes because that’s what family does.

As we invent new ways to remove ourselves from the mess of nature, it’s people like the Coverts who remind us why that might not be what we need. The farm dinner could be one solution to a problem we haven’t even begun to realize is staring us in the face, every day.

Pork fat is the answer – to almost any question. Here, our pig is adding juicy goodness to the roasted potatoes.
If I never see another white linen table cloth, I won’t be sad. The weathered grey of these picnic tables is beauty.
As pretty as it is, it’s not a prop – this old truck serves as a field guide for farm tours. It’s not afraid to get dirty.
The spring salmon goes from smoker to table side. No interruptions.
(l-r) Gene Covert, Derek Uhlemann, and Jeff Van Geest: the three people at the heart of feeding and watering us.
Roast pig, with potatoes and carrots (seasoned with salt, parsley, and pig drippings). Wine: Covert Farms 2007 Rosé (left), Tinhorn Creek 2011 Rosé (right). Did I say delicious? Delicious.
Two of the most badass chefs you’ll ever want to feed you.

on BC wine (and why you should give a damn about it)

The Internet is a beautiful and scary thing.

From self-diagnosing mystery pains on WebMD to literary blogs shining a light on indie publishers, our virtual environment is chock-full of information for and from any perspective. Reddit (a forum I can’t bring myself to participate in for a variety of reasons) to Wiki-anything, it’s digital soapbox time for everyone from the professional to propagandist.

Because I’m writing this, I’m contributing to the noise. But, it’s for a good reason – as I’m sure everyone else believes of their inclination to do the blog-thing.

A few weeks ago, my beloved BC wine industry (participants, professionals, tourism, and such) was painted in a not-so-positive light under the guise of helping our region (really, the lawmakers) spring for wine law reform.

We blog for a variety of reasons: to have a voice when we can’t find a way to contribute our two cents in any other forum; to educate and inform from another opinion or perspective; to share and tell stories; <insert your own reason here>. Today, I’m using my blog platform for one reason: to help share some information that might have been missing (or misrepresented) in that not-so-positive post about BC wine and our “retarded” wine culture.

In no particular order, and intentionally designed with no links to the original post I’m addressing here (I won’t draw traffic to the scene of an accident – but go ahead and search for it on Google if you must), I present some observations, opinions, and facts as I know them as response.

  • Emerging wine regions might not always be “easy to get to” by some standards, but neither are some of the more established wine regions. As for Penticton (British Columbia), it has a regional airport (YYF) that connects to larger, international ports.
  • If you’re leery of a new, unproven wine region – don’t visit it. If you’re excited about a new, unproven wine region – please come by and we’ll show you around.
  • A smaller producing region that can barely supply its local market is not a bad thing, nor is it an excuse to dismiss it among its peers. In any industry.
  • Why should you “spend precious time learning and writing about fairly good wines from a small region that hardly makes enough for the local market, let alone export, when my readers are never going to have a chance to sample the wines for themselves?” If I have to answer that for you, you might not understand the error in the question. That’s quite like asking why I should read about Spain if I won’t have an opportunity to visit. One quick answer: I think it might have something to do with exposing ourselves to various cultures in the hopes of better understanding our world and its people – we’re better people for it.
  • Please, get the facts straight. Alleging impropriety or payoffs – on an entire region – is just not cool. Plus, it makes the alleger look shifty – like they have an axe to grind (whether or not there’s an axe to grind is none of my/our business).
  • Anyone can have a poor experience in any city, at any time. One can “run into that much wine (or any other) ignorance” in any region’s most “sophisticated city”. My not-so-awesome experience staying near the Space Needle in Seattle didn’t negatively affect my view of the lovely experience I had in that city, and being entirely overlooked at one of Portland’s more renowned pubs – for 35 minutes upon arrival – didn’t deter me from finding an alternative to better my fledgling relationship with craft beers (nor did the generic recommendations I received from concierges at three of the city’s top hotels). Don’t abdicate personal responsibility for your good time in a new and different city. It’s not there to babysit you. Pick up your smartphone, or use the computer provided at the business desk of the hotel, and get online.
  • Small town doesn’t always mean hick, backwards, or banjos. (okay, sometimes banjos but only the rockin’ kind not the other kind)
  • Remember that leery-of-a-new-wine-region comment? If it’s newer to the scene,  please don’t expect the region to have its shit entirely together in spreading the good word. Good-word-spreading takes time – and more than a good marketing campaign. It takes people visiting the region and becoming brave cheerleaders for it.
  • So the products (wine) of this smaller, newer region aren’t readily available everywhere. Big deal. Readers can read for a perspective of an experience or in lieu of their being able to have the actual experience themselves – not always so they can add something to their shopping list. (see my previous comment about visiting Spain)
  • Sampling wines in British Columbia during educational classes – like WSET – does and can happen when the classes take place at licensed facilities. This is why WSET et al aren’t held at real estate offices, but at more appropriate locations. I was just at one: people (gasp!) tasted wine and spirits. I know – shocking.
  • Not visiting a region because of something the governing bodies have instilled as legislation might not be the best route to help resolve some of the problems. The people you hurt from a “boycott” are the folks trying to advocate for change. We are not the laws which govern us. We can only fight to change those laws if we have the resources to do it; governments are large and have big scary legal departments.
  • Disclosure is vital – kind of like a fabulous 8-day visit to a locale for which one may end up writing a “highly favourable” piece. If one were to be hosted by the region, it meant one paid little if anything to be there for eight days. Hello, bias. It’s okay to have it – just please identify it for clarity sake.

That’s enough for now.

At a recent conference (ahem), I was asked to participate in a panel on “Creating Compelling Content”. During this discussion, I was asked if it was okay to write a negative review. My answer was long, took some turns here and there, but basically came to this point: not really, unless you strongly feel there is no other way to get your point across and it will be beneficial to your audience (primary, secondary, or unintended). I was – in a friendly way – accused of giving a very Canadian answer. There was much laughter from the mainly American audience. Of course, I apologized for my very Canadian reply.

Disclosure: I live in the heart of BC wine country. Sure, many of my friends are producers and advocates for change, and generally can be troublemakers in a good way. I have a bias. But I also have an instinct to call out unfair. I think there’s enough vitriol and negativity online without the rest of us contributing to the icky. I certainly hope this wasn’t icky.

In the spirit of collectively raising the wine-bar everywhere, cheers.

~ Jeannette

WBC13: thanks for coming to visit the awesome

It’s been one week since 240 of my not-so-closest blogger friends invaded Penticton and area for the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference, and after some cleaning the regional house is now back to normal.

For those unfamiliar with a Wine Bloggers’ Conference, picture this: several hundred like-minded folks gather to attend seminars, workshops, and tour a region in pursuit of a better understanding and one heckuva good time. Most often we’re sequestered in a “host hotel” (in 2013, it was the Penticton Lakeside Resort) for the duration, except for an afternoon of mystery excursions to the surrounding region.

We’re wined, dined, and connected to our social networks 24/7; we share photos of food, wine, bottles, vistas, ducks, footwear, and the ever-present ‘selfie’ among rows of vines or atop mountain lookouts. We overshare for a period of days – and our world becomes terribly singular during that time. (while in Walla Walla WA, I almost missed hearing about the 2010 G20 riots)

As this year’s conference was almost in my backyard, I was in an unusual position of not-quite-host but not-quite-participant/attendee. My dear friend Allison was a local organizer, and I wanted to help ensure our region collectively put its best feet forward. It was like we were hosting a massive regional house party. That’s not a bad thing.

While 240 of my now-closer blogger friends recount (hopefully) glorious tales of great eats, delicious wines, and embarrassing dinner entertainment (more on that later), here’s my contribution.

Big List Of Awesome Discoveries While Hosting A Giant Regional House Party

Owning it. Although technology tries to convince us it’s bringing us closer together, it also facilitates living life at a distance from just about everything. When hosting a few hundred guests at your ‘house’, you’re forced to own the good, bad, and everything between. Our region (and province) has its challenges, liquor laws playing a large part. At the same time, tremendously talented and kind people make kick-ass wine and food here despite the ties that try to bind their hands. Dude, seriously. Did you eat/drink what I ate/drank? Hosting you helps us own it – all of it – and work together to make it better.

Sharing the secret. Yes, it’s hard to get BC wine outside of British Columbia (see point above). We know that. So when we have a chance to invite you to our place and share what we’ve been gushing over for, like, ever, we’re stoked. There’s no finding-a-local and ferreting out the secret goods: we ‘fess up with ease on where to go, what to try, and who’s doing fantastic things. We can’t keep a secret when it comes to celebrating the cool stuff – in fact, we might tell you the same thing three times just to make sure you know about it. (I probably did that)

Resilience is our middle name. Throw it at us, and we’ll find a way to make something pretty/tasty/fun out of it. This was the first year that WBC had shuttles to/from the airport/hotel – EVER. Allison knew many of you would have a challenge getting from the closest international airport (Kelowna) to the host hotel (Penticton). She found sponsors for some shuttles and BAM – $10 shuttle rides. And after a long day of excursions, the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association provided bubbly in elevators to reward you for sipping your way through another late evening reception. by the way, thanks for sticking it out through a very long day – you’re total troopers

Rose-coloured visitor’s glasses. We Okanagan-ites live in the land of awesome. We get accustomed to expansive blue summer skies, glass-like lakes, fragrant spring orchards, and lush vineyards. Locals – you know it’s true. So when we’re quite literally seeing our home through the eyes of hundreds of others, it brings a profound appreciation for what we drive past every day. I love you for that.

Thank you, WBC13, for helping us see what we have to offer. We’d love to have you back for a visit – just let us know when you’re headed our way, and we’ll make sure to show you the awesome.

Skaha Lake
thank you, WBC13

my wicked-awesome Okanagan, part iv (en plein air)

Canada sure is pretty.

We’re known for snow, mountain vistas, and hockey. Panoramic wilderness and gritty Toronto sidewalks, unusual food (think poutine), and unpronounceable names – like Tatamagouche and Ucluelet. We’re on the map for a reproduction of Stonehenge made from crushed cars built by an artist who taught geese to fly, an insurance company operating in the world’s shallowest commercial building (where I purchased my marriage certificate), and nine metre (30′) 1951 Canadian nickel. We’re the best place to get maple syrup.

One of my favourite things about Canada is the Okanagan, in British Columbia. It’s pretty, has an abundance of fruit, and is where I call home.

Here’s a bit of the Okanagan I fell in love with – en plein air, without pomp and circumstance. Enjoy the view.

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Lake Okanagan
lake Okanagan, as seen from highway 97 en route north to Kelowna
Dominion Astrophysical Radio Observatory
giant radio telescopes at the Dominion Astrophysical Radio Observatory map the sky we can’t see
Vaseux Lake
McIntyre Bluff looms over Vaseux Lake; no motorized watercraft allowed – the lake joins a bird sanctuary
Black Sage Bench
spring sunshine coaxes life back into vineyards in the south
Covert Farms
being greeted by an inquisitive young highland cow at Covert Farms
Anarchist Mountain view
over Osoyoos, looking north, from Anarchist Mountain
Haynes Ranch
the historic site of Haynes Ranch, south of Oliver
Naramata sunset
sunset over Lake Okanagan, looking northwest from Naramata