The Okanagan Valley has risen from a strong agricultural foundation, growing as a diverse cultural tourism destination with each year bringing new recognition of the local bounty. It boasts award-winning restaurants, wineries with new international acclaim, and a vibrant arts scene. So it’s no surprise to see a winery embracing this cultural diversity and adding their own unique offering to the mix. Liquidity Wines in Okanagan Falls is equal parts winery, bistro, and art gallery.
I love a good wine festival. When the feature country is France and the theme is bubbles, it would take a small army to prevent me from attending – so, one damaged shoulder is nothing.
Since 1979 the Vancouver International Wine Festival (#VIWF) has invited a world of wine to the west coast’s front door, if only for a short while. The Festival initially showcased one winery (Robert Mondavi) and attracted 1,000 people over two days. This year, an estimated 20,000+ people tasted wines from 178 countries – no small feat for a province limited by legislation and regulations prohibiting easy movement of alcohol / spirits.
With the opportunity to taste wines otherwise unavailable to us (and bubbles!), I jumped into the Festival with both feet – plus that damaged shoulder and a new notebook. As “media” I was treated to an itinerary designed by the Festival’s public relations firm, Heth PR. It was full-on, with seminars and tastings and lunches from 9am to well into the evening. The folks at Heth took quite good care of me. thanks, Kristine!
The Festival offers consumers a chance to learn about wine; however, its value rests with participating wineries who get products in front of buyers, sommeliers, and decision makers – who influence consumer buying. There are few channels for wines to get on BC store shelves (private or government) and the wines here aren’t all regularly represented at government stores. These are referred to as one time buy* wines, and once they’ve sold out they’re gone.
The tasting room floor is enormous, with one-quarter of the room dedicated to the feature country. I spent the first two tasting sessions in France and elbowed my way through Champagne (tables for the feature country are regional). Hundreds of wines that we might not otherwise see in our province are brought in specifically for the Festival – if you want to pour a wine on the tasting room floor, you must have it for sale on site.
All sorts of politics are at play when it comes to obtaining a listing with the provincial liquor stores. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand how it has come to exist: it’s like an hourglass, with a schwack of wines trying to get through one narrow passage. Fortunately, we also have importers and private liquor stores like Marquis Wine Cellars to help de-homogenize the offerings. How this happens is another story – a long, well-researched one. Stay tuned.
For a few days each year, VIWF offers us an opportunity to be hopeful: of more diversity of product, of increased wine exposure to the pubic beyond the large international labels who dominate our market, and that our newborn-esque BC wine industry can benchmark itself against the world while gaining new fans.
It’s not inexpensive for wineries to participate, and attendee ticket prices can range from in-lieu-of-lunch to slip-on-a-ball-gown-and-don’t-ask-the-price. Hundreds of volunteers donate time and expertise. Principals and winemakers of international notoriety are available to approach in small group sessions. It’s awesome, and for wine folks it’s worth every nickel. I was (twice) in a room with Michel Chapoutier, met nice people from Louis Latour, and chatted with sommelier Mark Davidson during an Aussie luncheon. Cool beans.
The value of something like the VIWF varies depending on your perspective. I’ve a piece coming up with EAT Magazine that takes a look at participating from the Okanagan winery angle. Watch for it.
And even when I one day depart from the world of wine-related writing, I know I’ll find value in the Festival ticket – ball gown or otherwise. Because until we change how they get to our shelves, many of those wines will only be available at places like the festival, and fleetingly, if at all.
* correction: “one time buy” wines, as pointed out by Paul Rickett, are brought in for the VIWF – “spec” wines are not available at BC liquor stores but are often brought in to private liquor stores
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.