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

6 reasons you should be at WBC13

Today marks 82 sleeps ’til WBC13 in Penticton. I think. Whatever the number, that means it’s soon. Hooray!

If you’re not familiar with the acronym, WBC13 is the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. 300(ish) bloggers, wine folks, and grape-oriented enthusiasts gather to taste a region – while attending seminars to help hone palates, pens, or postings. This year, WBC is on Canadian soil for the first time – in the heart of BC wine country, Penticton. That’s awesome. It helps that I live within a 30 minute drive, but distance hasn’t stopped me from attending past conferences – in Walla Walla (2010) and Portland (2012).

There are oodles of reasons why someone into wine should attend a Wine Bloggers Conference, and the folks at WBC can list the highlights better than anyone. Past attendees are often enthusiastic cheerleaders, and the host city (chosen by the bloggers) will readily give dozens of good arguments as to why theirs is THE hotspot. Every one of those reasons, endorsements, and arguments are totally valid. Listen to them.

If you still find yourself wavering about attending, I’ll try to give you a push in the right direction. (I’m entirely biased because I live in BC wine country and think it’s skookum)

1. Random encounters with awesome people = new friends. A few friends are in my life as a direct result of WBC. I’m not kidding. Sure, it’s likely we would have connected some other way – eventually. But the combination of time, place, and people made for a solid foundation. Even if I don’t see some of these friends very often, they’re pretty fab to have.

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Summerland, December 2012

2. Full immersion in a region you’re not likely to have such open access to, unless you become a rock star. Let’s face it – most of us are regular folks with a day job and one hot-damn expensive hobby/enthusiasm/habit. We don’t get the red carpet treatment all that often – that’s fine by me. However, I like having a region all to our wine-loving selves for a few days (that’s how it feels). This is the uber-tour of uber-tours. It might not be total rock star treatment, but it’s like having the ultimate backstage pass to the coolest gig of the year.

3. BC makes great wine, and unless you live here you might not get to taste it. That’s not because we’re a bunch of jerks – honest. We’re really nice people. We can’t share much of what we make because this is the land of small production, and we have some hefty provincial and federal legislation issues that make it challenging to trade within our own country – not to mention outside of it. Yes, we export some wines. But not nearly as much as we make and keep here. We have fewer than 10,000 acres under vine in the province, and more than 200 wineries. Do the math.

4. The dude who rocked the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with spoken word? He lives here. Yes, he travels a little more now – but Shane Koyczan calls Penticton home. I’ve seen him everywhere – from art openings to having a beverage at a local diner (the diner has a sweet collection of lava lamps, but that’s another story). Shane is really nice, buys local art, and supports our small music scene. If you see him, say hello.

5. We have turtle crossing signs, because we love our turtles. Originally, well-meaning individuals put up hand-drawn signs to help drivers become aware of sharing the road with our hard-shelled friends. Recently, the Ministry of Transportation (and probably the tourism folks, I’m not entirely sure) added official signage on Road 22 between Osoyoos & Oliver. That totally rocks.

Sloan rocks the stage at Tinhorn Creek, September 2012

6. Sloan. Yes, they’re an iconic Canadian band that every indie group outside of Canada lists as one of their obscure musical influences. No, they’re not playing at WBC. Yes, they DID play at a local winery last summer (Tinhorn Creek). And yes, I have a serious addiction to them – so they’re on every list I create, regardless of the theme. I’ll love them for the rest of my life. (I also have a significant radio crush on CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi – again, that’s another story)

So, get here. If you can. My friends and I would really like it if you did.

~ Jeannette