BC wine: a complicated love affair

love: the smell of a fresh pop-quiz
(photo credit: wikipedia)

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of unconditional love when it’s applied within the context of (maybe) family, pets, or your first crush. Beyond those, it’s entirely acceptable to have conditions – it’s the responsible way to care.

I love BC wine. I’m an unabashed cheerleader for it; not because the industry – primarily the people in it – need me, but because it and the folks working in it deserve our support while they grow. Here’s where the unconditional part comes in.

Should we love BC wine unconditionally? Hell no. It’s not my family, a pet, or my first crush. (if it is my family, then all the more reason to give it a hard time)

Instead, BC wine is more deserving of a complicated love affair. We’re still discovering each other, falling in love – hard, and at the same time we’re able to see beyond the initial glow and more deeply into the flaws that make us unique. To love all of this unconditionally would be to do a disservice to the people we care so much about.

I want to go the distance with my BC wine love affair, which means I’m probably in for a bumpy ride. I’m okay with that – as long as it’s willing to go the distance with me. I think it is. The fact that we have such diversity in one province tells me that some are moving beyond the expectation of unconditional love and working to earn their place in the complicated love affair.

For my part, I’m willing to work just as hard – to educate myself beyond a BC palate, to have honest conversations about what I’m drinking, and to shine a light on the beautiful parts of our relationship.

My BC wine relationship status: happily, it’s complicated.

Here are a few of those beautiful parts in this grand love affair with BC wine.

attention to detail and an embracing of countless small lots means Stag’s Hollow finds some brilliant expressions of terroir.
consistently delivering a strong reflection of vineyard each year, Wild Goose has a well-earned following for their Riesling.
Specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Meyer Family Vineyards didn’t want to be all things to everyone – resulting in an excellent portfolio.
they came out of the gate with a solid lineup, tasting stellar wines from a trailer on site – until they were ready to grow. Painted Rock is a study in good wine business, from bottle to balance sheet.
with facilities & licenses in two BC wine regions, Township7 is a BC wine anomaly. when I like one of their wines, I like it a lot. this Semillon is one.
the tasting room (and winemaking facility) is in an industrial complex. old derelict cars make next door neighbours. and this Pinot Noir from Tyler Harlton is unlike any I’ve tasted from BC. it’s like the promise in a new love.

op-ed: getting (politely) off the fence

As much as I appreciate a neutral review of an item/experience/etc, there’s something to be said for having an opinion and clearly stating it. It might be our Canadian politeness, or that the landscape of freelance writing (particularly in wine/food/travel) is so quickly changing, or a combination of both with a dash of something else. Whatever it is, we don’t say what we really mean.

Let’s look at that last sentence. Years ago I would have written “I don’t think we’re saying what we really mean.” As I’m the only contributor on my blog, the “I think” has less to do with ensuring you know it’s what I think and more to do with my hesitation as a writer. This qualifier isn’t what I’m referring to, as there’s an opinion stated regarding “saying what we really mean.”

There’s a lack of definitive opinion statements in experience writing – the wine/food/travel writing. We (the reader) generally expect to hear a personal opinion. It’s why I read such writing: I want to know what you think. Lately, I’m often disappointed.

The term op-ed comes from early newspaper days. Oxford Dictionaries defines op-ed as “a newspaper page opposite the editorial page, devoted to personal comment, feature articles, etc.”.  Wikipedia takes it further to explain that it “expresses the opinions of a named writer who is usually unaffiliated with the newspaper’s editorial board.” The part here that resonates with me is the personal comment / opinions bit. Increasingly, we’re missing that.

Freelance writers walk a tightrope of delivering compelling content and (hopefully) maintaining good relationships with their subjects. Vitriol-filled prose and mean-spirited writing aside, writers like to play nice. I do. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I don’t play the mean game. My mom taught me that, and she’d be very upset if I behaved in any other fashion. (love you, mom)

There’s a difference between providing an opinion and being a jerk-ass. If you read an opinion piece and get an icky feeling about it, there’s a good chance the writer is being the latter. Does that discount the negative experience? It does plant a few questions – particularly about the writer’s relationship with the subject. No one wants to get in the middle of a pissing contest – in the end, everyone smells bad.

I don’t review wine/food/travel locales, but I do write about my experiences. When I sit down to task, I ask myself one question: Why should anyone give a damn about what I’m writing? Yes, I want to encourage folks to ask questions rather than blindly consume or experience something. Really, though, writers want to persuade you to agree with our opinions. Or we should.

In a world of wishy-washy neutral prose and fear of pissing people off, I gravitate toward authors who push my buttons and get me thinking. I like to disagree with them as much as I like to shout “YES!” when alone in the yard, magazine on my lap. When it comes to wine, I’ll tell you what I like and what isn’t suited to my taste. Will I risk offending the producer? Maybe. However, the chances are good we’ve already had that conversation in person.

Meanwhile, I have a request for my fellow writers: please get off the fence and tell us what you really think. It’s why I’m reading.

~ Jeannette

(PS: feel free to tell me what you really think, too)

Winemaker Bradley Cooper sips my and my fella’s Bordeaux-style blend at Township7. We didn’t get the “dumb nose” feedback (see? clear opinion) others received, but neither did we win best blend.


summer wine touring: what you should be asking

I live in BC wine country, and I drink wine. That means I’m asked OODLES of questions about wine touring: when people should tour, where they should go, how they should deal with the hot-car syndrome…you name it, I’m asked it.

Like anyone, I have favourites and biases. Of course I’ll steer you where I know the product/people. That’s why you asked me instead of doing Le Google search. (or perhaps as well as)

This isn’t a suggested wine tour. This is a “what should I do when <insert random thing here> happens?” list. Because there are just some questions that don’t get asked but should – and some that are asked over and over again. That’s okay. It’s why I’m writing this.

So, here it is: Summer Wine Touring FAQ – what you didn’t know and/or think to ask (and really should).

La Frenz
Not every wine is always available for tasting. Show gratitude when a special bottle is poured – like this Semillon by La Frenz.

Will the hot trunk of my car be a good place to keep the wine I’m buying?

Goodness, no. There’s a reason it’s a tad chilly in tasting rooms / winery cellars / anywhere wine is stored – and it’s not because this is the Okanagan. TIP: take a cooler (or three) to keep bottles in while you schlep your way around in the heat. Buying a case? Pay, then politely ask the winery to keep it while you complete your route. (be sure to check on closing hours)

Awww, come on – do I really have to pay a tasting fee?

Yes, you do. Why? Because the winery pours dozens of bottles of wine a week in high season – and that’s not cheap. Some wineries ask for a donation to a charity of their choice. But if the winery chooses to charge a tasting fee, don’t bitch about it. Chances are they’ll waive it if you buy a bottle. This is not about getting your drunk on as cheaply as possible. Understand that it’s a business, and grow up.

Should we bring our children with us?

Um, likely not. I’m sure in paying gigs I’ve mentioned that taking kids with you is okay, but wine touring is an adult experience. You’re probably on vacation. But I am, too. So if you must have the kidlets with you, make sure you’ve provided them with something interesting to do that doesn’t involve me. Not everyone thinks the apple of your eye is the most adorable thing ever.

Can we taste every wine that’s for sale?

Probably not, but if the winery does have every bottle open consider it a treat. Remember the point about the tasting fees? Yeah, that.

What if I wear perfume/cologne?

You’ll ruin the experience for yourself and those around you. This isn’t anything new. I get that there are people on their first wine tour, but for the love of Pete please Google “wine tasting etiquette” before you aroma-crash a tasting room.

Why can’t my kid sit on the tasting bar?

When I worked at a winery, this actually happened to me. I was pouring for a couple with two children and the father sat the 2-year-old on the tasting bar. You don’t want to know what happened next.

You’re wine touring. Have fun. But remember: you’re buying something that’s consumable, and you’re not doing it alone. Be mindful, and everything will be just ducky.

The tasting room at Township7 is also their cellar.

of TIME and place

People and place are what lend time context. We can measure it, but we can’t make it – and maybe that helps gives time a value.

Someone who has given one place (the Okanagan) a great deal of his time is Harry McWatters. 2013 marks his 46th vintage in winemaking – a remarkable amount of time in any industry.

The McWatters timeline includes planting what was in its day the largest vineyard in Canada, purchasing fallow land others shook their heads at in disbelief, and starting unproven Bordeaux reds in the Okanagan desert. Add to that the founding of a quality assurance program (today’s VQA brand), growing one of the most successful wineries in British Columbia (Sumac Ridge, later sold to larger commercial interests), and retiring a few years ago only to restart a second (or third? fourth?) career – still in the wine industry. Bringing the word “meritage” to Canada? Harry did that, too.

If people and place lend time its context, then Harry was meant to launch TIME Estate Winery in the Okanagan.

The winery license was obtained in 2011, and TIME began its first vintage of Chardonnay and Meritage (red and white). The people behind the brand are Harry, partner Bob Wareham, and Dick Cleave, viticulturist. Current vintages have been made under the watch of Township7 winemaker Bradley Cooper, acting as Harry’s hands in the process.

Time, it could be said, is on their side.

2011 TIME Chardonnay $27.99: looks like pale liquid gold; smells like hazelnuts and butter; tastes… like it looks and smells.

2012 TIME Meritage (white) $25: looks like sun-bleached straw; smells like honeysuckle, pear, peach, cantaloupe, pineapple…; tastes bright and beautiful, like a summer day after a sun shower.

2011 TIME Meritage (red) $29.99: looks like garnets drowned in ink; smells like memories of boot leather, cherries and cocoa, sage; tastes like the okanagan.

Wine country isn’t just a place anymore. It’s an attitude.

~ Harry McWatters

TIME Estate Winery media launch in the Okanagan, at Local Lounge * Grille in Summerland on June 20 2013 – just in time for summer solstice
the three elements of TIME: red meritage, white meritage, and chardonnay
elegance in the details – from the wine itself, to all aspects of presentation
the faces of TIME, l-r: Harry McWatters, Bob Wareham, and Dick Cleave
the new facility for TIME will include a hospitality centre, commercial kitchen, four luxury guest suites, and a lap pool – all but buried into the hillside to be as integrated into the landscape and unobtrusive as possible – architect: Nick Bevanda, CEI Architecture
Local Lounge Executive Chef Lee Humphries matched TIME wines with his new menu: tuna tatami with orange-honey gel paired exquisitely with the TIME 2012 white meritage
a study in glassware: the TIME 2012 white meritage in two options, both unique and delicious
second course: wild pacific seared salmon, grilled romaine, asparagus, clam-chorizo sauce verige – paired delectably with TIME 2011 Chardonnay
third course: roasted lamb rump, crushed minted spring peas, polenta croutons, tomatoes in texture, olive jus – paired magnificently with TIME 2011 red meritage
the pickled cherry chocolate truffle – just because
Okanagan, your TIME has most certainly arrived