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.

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, ┬áplease 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