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’.


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.


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

writing naked: disclosing for your audience

Disclosure. It’s a vital component to building trust with an audience (that’s you) and not being a jerk-ass writer (potentially me). In an effort to not be a jerk-ass, I’ll disclose my biases and motivation(s) for writing this post.

  • I love the CBC. As a contract columnist, the CBC asks me to disclose any connection to, freebie from, or incentive by a winery. I like that.
  • I dislike advertorials. As a freelance writer I’m asked to pen all sorts of things – I (now) decline these. It’s a hard stand to take when the mortgage is due, but it’s where I planted my feet.
  • I don’t like to ask for free stuff. The result is that I’m invited to WAY fewer events/places/etc, but it means that when I write about something it’s because I genuinely want to.
  • Readers should have the straight goods. A writer/blogger/whatever that’s invited on a media trip (and is comped anything) should disclose it in her/his writing. Period.

Feel free to agree or disagree – but now you know where I stand before I get into the thick of things. This could be a messy one, so hang on.

I wanted to take a short trip with my fella; somewhere close by so we could maximize our Friday-to-Sunday time schedule. The goal: a weekend away, possibly playing double-duty as writing inspiration, and absolutely involving wine.

We were looking to stretch our dollars and a close acquaintance had once said “come stay with us if you’re ever in Chelan”. I contacted our new friend Katy and arranged an overnighter. Not wanting to outstay our welcome, I sought additional accommodation for a second night – but high season in a tourist destination meant spending significant coin. Damn. So I got in touch with the visitor’s centre and asked if any local accommodators could offer a discounted rate for “media”.

I rarely play the media card; I’d rather stay under the radar. But when it came to the only real away-time I’d have with my honey for the season, I caved. The nice people at Lake Chelan found a hotel willing to discount a one-night stay. While this was going on, I pitched a little something for online publication to legitimize the whole thing. My editor said yes, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

After dodging what I felt was a fraud-bullet, a writer colleague told me to get off my high-moral horse: I was providing a return benefit to the area – it wasn’t a handout – and other writers do this all the time. Ugh. Or as I’d tweet: #lesigh. I disclosed the freebies in the article where appropriate and when it didn’t sound like an infomercial.

What concerns me about I-give-you-something-and-you-give-us-something relationships between writers and those offering is a lack of disclosure on the part of the writer. It’s our responsibility to give it up. I disclose perks or gratis anything, yet I find it challenging to stay balanced on the narrow bridge between advertorial-ick and a glowing response to a well-hosted good time.

Do I feel my article stayed on course? Well, I didn’t omit the negative because I was given a few perks – we had a poor breakfast experience at a location I won’t name because if you know anything about me you know I don’t play that way. I felt encouraged to write positively about the area because we had a great visit.

Any good article or prose should leave the reader asking questions – if not about the content, then about what motivated the writer to tell that story. In an earlier post I mention how travel can often be on the dime of the writer seeking the experience, so I don’t begrudge anyone a complimentary anything. I’d love to take a sponsored trip and see how much that inner voice nags at me while I write. I’ll tell you all about it.

Meanwhile, I ask that the audience (that’s you) read with a critical eye – and I hope my fellow writers write nakedly. Perhaps not literally, because that could get weird.

~ Jeannette

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.

my wicked-awesome okanagan, part iii (the award goes to…)

Wine awards. Whether you love them, hate them, or land somewhere between, they’re a part of wine life. In broad terms, I think they’re a good thing.

I’m not a wine critic. I look for reviews and shelf talkers like everyone else. It’s true that I live in the heart of BC wine country with access to great wines – and their makers. But I seek advice and guidance from those in the know. Awards can, and do, still ring a certain bell with me.

Someone, somewhere, thought the wine was worthy of recognition. 

Spring in BC wine country brings the Best of Varietal Wine Awards from the Okanagan Wine Festivals. Wineries in the province choose to be members of the Festivals society (it’s non-profit), and those who are members can choose to enter their wines for competition. Notice that I wrote “choose to”. This is important.

Although a lovely thought, there are no roving bands of wine experts traipsing about the country/continent/world in pursuit of recognizing wine excellence. If there was I’m sure they’d wear neck scarves and haute couture, eat unpasteurized cheese, and carry their own stemware.

In reality, people who study wine for a living often juggle multiple vocations to keep doing their wine-thing. These people can be called upon to evaluate wine for competition. The experience of a judging panel varies, as does the competition criteria. One award is not the same as another. That being said, I like the spirit of the Best of Varietal Wine Awards in BC. It’s a great start to the spring wine festival. Do people disagree? You bet. But the intention is lovely: celebrating our awesome wine industry.

I was invited to attend the Awards event on May 2 and to taste a few of the 100 winning wines. (dude – I couldn’t taste all of them)

A recap is forthcoming on EAT Magazine – I’ll list some of my personal standouts. Meanwhile, here’s a peek at what I saw.




OKWF Spring Awards 01
awards coordinator Marjorie King pours a taste for Gerrit of BC Wine Shop


OKWF Spring Awards 2
play spot-the-winemaker. it’s a fun game.

OKWF Spring Awards 03
sponsors and Festival board members poured while wineries, event attendees, and winemakers sipped. nice role reversal.