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.
For those unfamiliar with a Wine Bloggers’ Conference, picture this: several hundred like-minded folks gather to attend seminars, workshops, and tour a region in pursuit of a better understanding and one heckuva good time. Most often we’re sequestered in a “host hotel” (in 2013, it was the Penticton Lakeside Resort) for the duration, except for an afternoon of mystery excursions to the surrounding region.
We’re wined, dined, and connected to our social networks 24/7; we share photos of food, wine, bottles, vistas, ducks, footwear, and the ever-present ‘selfie’ among rows of vines or atop mountain lookouts. We overshare for a period of days – and our world becomes terribly singular during that time. (while in Walla Walla WA, I almost missed hearing about the 2010 G20 riots)
As this year’s conference was almost in my backyard, I was in an unusual position of not-quite-host but not-quite-participant/attendee. My dear friend Allison was a local organizer, and I wanted to help ensure our region collectively put its best feet forward. It was like we were hosting a massive regional house party. That’s not a bad thing.
While 240 of my now-closer blogger friends recount (hopefully) glorious tales of great eats, delicious wines, and embarrassing dinner entertainment (more on that later), here’s my contribution.
Big List Of Awesome Discoveries While Hosting A Giant Regional House Party
Owning it. Although technology tries to convince us it’s bringing us closer together, it also facilitates living life at a distance from just about everything. When hosting a few hundred guests at your ‘house’, you’re forced to own the good, bad, and everything between. Our region (and province) has its challenges, liquor laws playing a large part. At the same time, tremendously talented and kind people make kick-ass wine and food here despite the ties that try to bind their hands. Dude, seriously. Did you eat/drink what I ate/drank? Hosting you helps us own it – all of it – and work together to make it better.
Sharing the secret. Yes, it’s hard to get BC wine outside of British Columbia (see point above). We know that. So when we have a chance to invite you to our place and share what we’ve been gushing over for, like, ever, we’re stoked. There’s no finding-a-local and ferreting out the secret goods: we ‘fess up with ease on where to go, what to try, and who’s doing fantastic things. We can’t keep a secret when it comes to celebrating the cool stuff – in fact, we might tell you the same thing three times just to make sure you know about it. (I probably did that)
Resilience is our middle name. Throw it at us, and we’ll find a way to make something pretty/tasty/fun out of it. This was the first year that WBC had shuttles to/from the airport/hotel – EVER. Allison knew many of you would have a challenge getting from the closest international airport (Kelowna) to the host hotel (Penticton). She found sponsors for some shuttles and BAM – $10 shuttle rides. And after a long day of excursions, the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association provided bubbly in elevators to reward you for sipping your way through another late evening reception. by the way, thanks for sticking it out through a very long day – you’re total troopers
Rose-coloured visitor’s glasses. We Okanagan-ites live in the land of awesome. We get accustomed to expansive blue summer skies, glass-like lakes, fragrant spring orchards, and lush vineyards. Locals – you know it’s true. So when we’re quite literally seeing our home through the eyes of hundreds of others, it brings a profound appreciation for what we drive past every day. I love you for that.
Thank you, WBC13, for helping us see what we have to offer. We’d love to have you back for a visit – just let us know when you’re headed our way, and we’ll make sure to show you the awesome.
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.
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)
The best part: my house is a seven minute drive from this.
Now that’s what wicked-awesome Okanagan means.