get a job – in BC wine country

Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm
Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm, July 2014 – author photo

 

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 employment@thelocalgroup.ca.

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 info@miradoro.ca 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 lunch@dolcideli.com.

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.

~ Jeannette

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.

my wicked-awesome okanagan: part I

I live in a pretty stellar place. An acquaintance referred to it as “living in the best bread basket in Canada”, and I’m inclined to agree. More than inclined.

Due in large part to the surroundings, but also as a result of having gained the friendship of excellent people, I’m spoiled. Fairly regularly, at that. Great food, beautiful wines, and rockstar company. It’s true, and I’m grateful.

As of June 2013, a few hundred bloggers will visit my oasis. Sweet!

To whet a few appetites, I’m counting down the weeks (and days) to their arrival with photo-essays of what life is like in these parts – so they’ll be as stoked as I am about what goes on around here.

Cheers,

~ Jeannette

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Communal Table Dinners at Miradoro (Tinhorn Creek Vineyards)

During the shoulder seasons, executive chef Jeff Van Geest hosts the ultimate dinner parties on Tuesday night. I’ve attended two this season – and caught the most recent on camera-phone. The theme: forage. Everything was foraged from the local hills and valleys, that day or the previous day. (except the cattails – wild harvested the previous day from the greater Vancouver area, by a visiting chef)

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek
first course: raw cattails with mustard aioli (wood ivy and dandelion)
Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek
second course: halibut elderflower ceviche, garnished with prickly pear cactus, arrow leaf balsamroot stems, wild chrysanthemum, and biscuit root flower
Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek
third course: snail ravioli with in nettle sauce, wild mustard greens salad
Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek
fourth course: grilled quail with wild watercress and chicken “cracker”
Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek
fifth course: hay ice cream (seriously delicious), tree fruit blossoms, heart nut cake, with last season’s cherry preserve
Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek
there was wine. plenty of it. at one point there were four glasses in front of me – just another Tuesday night in the Okanagan

The best part: my house is a seven minute drive from this.

Now that’s what wicked-awesome Okanagan means.

best third glasses

As I shove my arms through sweater sleeves and cling desperately to the notion of wearing Birkenstock sandals, I realize summer has printed its online boarding pass and is at the departure gate. le sigh…

This means a new season approaches, and while I’m ready for the onset of fall – and love it dearly – I must take a moment to reflect on what the best third glasses have been of this waning summer season. Here they are, randomly selected from my muddied memory banks.

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wrapping art for a client – and loving every minute of it

new spaces

I started a business this year. It’s been two months, and I’m still having what-the-hell-have-i-done moments. Friends advise me this will last a long, long while. A few sips were had at my  new space, M gallery | book. We drank plenty Tinhorn Creek wines, thanks to Sandra and Kenn Oldfield; chowed down on ridiculously tasty treats made by Chef Paul at Local Lounge, thanks to Cam and Christa-Lee Bond; kept caffeinated with delicious beans from Good Omens Coffee, thanks to Jamie and Jason Embree (who got married this summer – congrats!). It was a cornucopia of magnificent tastes, and I’m truly grateful to have had a few sips with such fabulous people.

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1600 wines, and far too little recognition for the people who make it happen – be they volunteer, staff, judge

1600 wines

The Okanagan Falls Winery Association invited me to dine with them as they hosted the judges from Wine Access, who were in town to evaluate 1600 wines entered from across Canada. Roland and Hagen at Wild Goose hosted a great night at their new wine shop; Dana of Joy Road Catering fed us with the most incredible (fresh, local) food; the Association wineries warmly welcomed the judges (and me, the hanger-on) to their distinctive region. An invite to check out behind-the-scenes at such a massive wine competition = unparalleled joy on my part. And really, no envy. That’s a LOT of wine.

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so many wines, so much deliciousness

hops, and hospitality

350+ wine bloggers walked into a conference room…and a bar, and a hotel, and basically took over part of Portland over four days. The 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference was a highlight of new friends, old acquaintances, and getting sidetracked. From an overwhelming opening reception by Oregon Wines, to a captivating keynote speech by Randall Grahm, a detour by Sideways author Rex Pickett to a Bonny Doon tasting, and an exploration of Oregon and area IPAs by Wes of Dobbes Winery (he went above and beyond, that one), this year’s conference was hands-down a brilliant experience. Fun fact: I like hops.

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Canadian indie-rock-uber-musicians Sloan, playing at Tinhorn Creek in Oliver (I know!)

musical interludes

There were a number of third glasses this summer set to a musical score, most of them within a five minute drive of my house. Lucky me, indeed. Strategic placement aside, the best way to explore a few glasses is barefoot on a warm summer night, dancing, surrounded by friends. That’s what I did – several times, strictly for quality control purposes and research. (and I stand by my earlier claim that it takes 3 glasses to get a Canadian audience on the dance floor/lawn)

PS: SLOAN!

dance, dance, dance

It’s a warm Okanagan evening in late August. I’m sitting on the lawn of a perfectly mown amphitheater with about 400 other music-y types, waiting for a band to take to the stage. This is almost like any other outdoor concert venue, except for one small fact: I can buy wine by the bottle, because the concert is at a winery.

There have been moments of what-the-hell-did-we-do since my fella and I moved to a small town in the middle of British Columbia’s fruit belt five years ago, but this isn’t one of them. Dancing, barefoot, on the lawn. Getting grass stains on the balls of my feet. Watching the moonrise.

It takes approximately three glasses of anything alcoholic for a Canadian crowd to get up and dance. This observation is not the result of a scientific experiment, but I’d stake my bottle of <insert valued wine here> on it. A Californian friend reminds me of this every concert we attend – as she drags me (willingly) to the dance lawn about three songs in.

This weekend, this almost-getting-to-be-fallish August night, I missed my California dancing partner as I watched the first set from my comfortable lawn seat. Just before intermission, another dance partner showed up. He and I hit the lawn at the start of the second set. By the third song, half of the audience was on its feet. Job well done.

For the record, we drank two bottles that night – three, if you count what was consumed post-show. But the impact of rate of consumption is skewed by the dancing. Or so I tell myself.

~ Jeannette

Before intermission: less than 3 glasses consumed.
More than 3 glasses consumed. (note the proximity to the stage)