Thursday, December 29, 2005

Wine & Vine Hits The Top 100!

Stumbled on this while checking my web page referral thingy down at the bottom of the sidebar.
Thanks to all those who clicked.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Okanagan Disease at the Capped Quacker

This is related to wine in the fact that often wine is part of the product being sold in the transaction.
Since we arrived in this valley almost 10 years ago, my wife and I have noticed something peculiar that seems to be getting worse. It's what we call the Okanagan Disease.
We both came out of a food & beverage background with some hospitality thrown in for good measure. So we know our way around a hotel, a dining establishment, a bar and a commercial kitchen - more or less.
To this day it seems almost impossible to get consistent, professional service at almost any level from food and beverage outlets in the Okanagan. Primarily I'm directing this at the front of the house.
We can count on a couple hands the number of times we've received top shelf service from any number of restaurants, bars and various mixtures of both.
I can only guess at the reasons for this lack of talent. Probably it's a combination of factors.
Poor training.
No incentive (Okanagan residents are notorious undertippers and 8 months of the year there is a shortage of generous tourists).
In any case, there seems to be a race for the bottom. Anyplace that's merely mediocre has an advantage over the competition so why strive beyond that?
The solution is difficult. A restaurant or other establishment that wants to improve the front of the house has to attract professional staff and hold them. Frankly, that's expensive in a business that almost always starts cost cutting strategies by trimming the labour. Even if you can get and hold good people there's no guarantee the market in this valley will twig to the change and respond with the kind of return and referral business an F&B joint salivates over.
A perfect example of what I'm talking about was an after-shopping meal at the Hooded Merganser just before Christmas this year.
First of all, the room is worth a visit. It's a beautifully designed and decorated space; safe and tested details with nothing that will disturb or provoke controversy. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's dated but it's not pushing the envelope either. As such, it was a very soothing room with lighting that was both efficient and stylish.
There was about 5 tables in progress when we rolled in at about 8:45.
Our server was quickly at our table, explained a few options coherently and left us to make our choices.
So we waited. After awhile we flagged down another server to ask if ours was ever coming back.
When she did return she admitted that she had "completely forgotten about us".
Points not awarded for honesty.
We made our food choices and selected our wine from the balanced and fairly extensive list. As with 90% of the wine lists in this province, the mark-ups were obscene.
Off she went, our requests committed to memory.
She should have used a pencil and paper. Really, kids, it's no big deal to jot down a few clues for yourself. No shame at all.
My wife's wine was as orderedand delivered correctly. She loped back to our table with two bottles of wine for me to look at as she had argued with the bartender about what I wanted. I know, I know - I couldn't figure out what she meant either.
After that was straightened out we waited a short time for our meals. My wife's two appetizers arrived as her meal - just as she ordered them and I received a nice barbecued half chicken. It looked delicious. However, I'd asked for the Lamb Sirloin. Which I eventually got and thoroughly enjoyed. It had a great walnut stuffing. In the meantime we shared my wife's food (a super spinach-based salad and delicious sub-continent inspired buttered chicken) and then shared mine when it arrived.
The rest of the meal continued without any other faux pas. We did have a short and confusing discussion about why the curry flavoured butter chicken was served with sliced French bread instead of na'an or papadum. She noted the kitchen had given up trying to get papadum that would hold together. I didn't say that it was supposed to be brittle when served. She hadn't heard of papadum.
While our server acknowledged the mistakes it was as if she had no control over her own flakiness. It's as if it had started to rain at a tennis match; sorry, but, beyond my control, man!
We tipped her a minimum; about 10%. Why? Part of me felt sympathy for her and part of me thought she might get better. Forgive me if she doesn't and she works your table and fucks things up again should you ever accept an invitation to dine at the Duck in a Hat. Or the Capped Quacker. As for me I think I'll take a seat at the bar next time and enjoy the floorshow.
Think I'm a lone nutbar howling in the wilderness? Click this.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ok Falls Vineyards

Here's a nice shot of the Okanagan Falls area from the fall. Shot by Joe Kyle one afternoon, the direction is looking northwest from the general area of Blue Mountain vineyards. The mountain is Hawthorne Mountain and in the mid-field are the holdings of Stag's Hollow, Wild Goose and Gidda Bros.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Wine Bloggers Planning Big Wine Offline . . .

There's a party being planned. If you've got a blog you'll probably want to attend or at least see what's up.

Looks like it's going to be held in Oregon. Home to the quirkiest wine makers in North America, Oregon acheived statehood in 1859 but it wasn't until 1954 when the federal government actually told anyone. Pretty wet on the left, not bad in the middle and very dry in the east.

The jawflapping pow wow will be towards the middle.

Wine News Youse Can Use

I get a newsletter from Andy Perdue every week at Wine Press Northwest. It's a great way to stay on top of happenings in the wine world of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.
There's a wine of the week and links to various articles in the print version magazine plus some adverts. I like it because it's honest and concise.
It's almost as good as a blog.

If you're in the market for ICE WINE check out the article here. Gosh, what a surprise, BC kicks ass. Especially Bruce down at the factory (Vincor). I bet Bruce gets so much frozen outlaw he can discard everything but the best. I don't mean discard as in 'throw away'. I mean, dump in another tank. And make it into Entre Lac or whatever box is due for bottling.

Here's yet another chance to name a winery. You can win a case of wine a year for all time!
Of course, if you live in Canada, you'll have to pay some kind of exhorbrant combination of taxes and duties.

I'm sure it's just an oversight but I didn't see my name listed as one the experts attending this event. Please use the PAYPAL donate button at the right so that I may purchase a plane ticket and appropriate black tie garb. Thank-you.

Wicked wine job

Every once in awhile a job comes along that's just plain unfortunate.

One of our fledgling wineries here in the Okanagan just released a 2003 Meritage that had to be pulled off the shelves after only a couple weeks. Customers were complaining about cloudy wine. In fact, there was a pretty dense layer of streaky, swirly goo near the bottom of almost every bottle.

It tasted great. But you can't sell wine with the bottom few inches looking like paint.

Turns out that gelatin (a common fining agent)was added to the wine shortly before bottling and there wasn't sufficient time for clarification. The wine went to bottle unfiltered.

I was asked to help with the "fix".

So it was:
collect wine.
ship wine to undisclosed location.
assemble crew to uncork, empty bottles, wash bottles, do not damage labels.
filter wine/adjust SO2.
filter again enroute to bottling line.

Owner of said wine hopes it will taste the same. Not much chance of that.
It will probably be better.
bottle and palletize
ship back.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Winery Name - The wierd sometimes works

Half a month ago I mentioned the new winery in Sonoma that was soliciting blog readers for suggestions as to a name for their venture.
Sometimes, the wierd stuff works.
Locally, the new owners of the Summerland winery formerly called Scherzinger started looking for a new name. BC winery-naming whiz Bernie Hadley-Beauregard came up with something for them called Dirty Laundry. If you haven't already heard:

1) that's really the name and;
2) it's a runaway success.

Scherzinger plodded along with it's difficult to pronounce (easy if you're from a certain part of the world) name and it's traditional labels for years. It only took a couple months after the new name (label, image, life) came on line to clear the shelves of inventory and create unprecedented demand.
Origination of name? Summerland had a Chinese laundry with a whore house upstairs in the old days. Big deal. So did most towns around here. They probably still do.
But if you put the idea on a wine label and throw in a few sketches of nude female silhouettes for titillation you suddenly have a wine that is slightly risque although nothing much has changed in the bottle.
More power to you if you can get away with it.

But instead of having to rename, relabel and rebrand - why not get it right in the first place?

Try to be a little better than - "Well, hey, there's a hill over there and a bridge over there so maybe we'll call it Bridgehill or Hillbridge."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Name a winery today

Folks down in the Russian River ap are trying to come up with a name for their winery and they could sure use your help!

Check it out

I tried a few but I hadn't had my full prescription of java at the time.

Things I'm up to today:
Going to take a look at the paper chromatography I prepared yesterday to see how my reds are faring in the malo-lactic department. I should have a handle on that and be able to make adjustments as necessary. A lot of the barrels are crackling and such so it's just a matter of seeing how far along they are.

Next, I've got to start with some analysis on the 04 reds and see how they are doing. I'll prepare a topping schedule for myself and my part-time assistant.

There's still plenty of grunt work around the winery. When you're the only full time feller you do it all. So, I've got some equipment cleaning to do before putting it into off-season storage and a mass of picking and fermenting bins to scrub, stack and tarp.

This afternoon I get to meet with a couple of money people regarding winery investments.

On the immediate horizon, the 05 whites are due for some stability testing.

WINE lately: Besides my own private stock of 03 ME I'm partial to ARG Malbecs lately.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Winery and Vineyard For Sale


Let me know if you're in the market for a cute little winery operation here in BC. The two parcels are about 12 acres. Winemaker and inventory included. Two cellar door retail outlets.
Long term contracts with growers in place. Three modest residential buildings on site. Production: about 5,000 cases annually with lots of potential in the existing plant to double that number. Loyal customers throughout the metro Vancouver market. It's essentially a turnkey operation. Drop me a line for more information.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Wine in a Tetra Box

If the link below works, it should take you to an interesting story about wine packaging.
If screwcaps didn't rock their boats, these little packages should really get the cork geeks cranked up.

In case your didn't know. . . Peller Estates (Andres Wines) bought Red Rooster winery here on the Naramata Bench to give Peller some 'street cred' with the wine buying populace. Up til now all they've been was a brand with a very industrial street scene in Port Moody.

Also, the Holman empire continues to mushroom with the recent addition of Lang Vineyards.
So thats Spiller, Mistral, Benchland and still another being eyed at this time to join the stable.

Love those retailers, click on the link above to read about one horrendous wine retailer. This is why selling wine to the public will always be an uphill battle with cretins like this dude around.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Wine or SKI?

Time to head into the winery this morning to do some "caretaker" duties including monitoring and maintaining the last of the red fermenters.
I'm now heading into the next phase of operations where I begin to assess what's resulted from all that fermenting and make some decisions on how each batch will be handled.
Racking and barreling and such and working some tentative bottling dates into the 2006 winter schedule. Calendars are deceptive. All that white space quickly gets eaten up and soon I'll be on deadline, trying to get wine ready for market.
Speaking of fermenting, I'm sure I was the last to realize Tom Wark's astounding Fermentations blog had to change it's name and is now without an 's'. If you haven't had an opportunity to read Tom's stuff you should do that right now. Fermentation
I wonder if I'll get a call someday from legal beagles, telling me I have to alter something in my blog?
In the meantime... I'm planning a winter break and for me it's all about the snow. I'd like to get some skiing in somewhere I've never been to before. I'm thinking maybe Big Sky in Montana
or one of the Oregon spots or maybe Fernie. Got any ideas? Not interested in Colorado, NM, Utah, Nevada or California. Two hour plane ride max.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Longest Vintage

I don't keep records for start to finish dates in regard to vintage but...

It seems this has been the longest fruit receiving session I've experienced in some time. We started bringing in fruit in mid- September and I'm hoping to bring in some Cab Franc today to put an end to this endurance contest.

We don't make ice wine or any other sticky so this is all about standard table wine values.

The fruit has been good and sound; I wouldn't say exceptional. There is greatly varied levels of maturity that doesn't seem to follow any patterns. The only thing I can say about the harvest that applies across the board and has affected 90% of the wineries here in the Okanagan valley: the tonnage is down.

For the consumer: the quality will be there but the volume won't be. Expect many of your favourite aromatic whites to be sold out by late summer if not earlier. And 18 months from now certain reds from 2005 will be in short supply as well. Expect some producers to be quite happy as they clear out inventory that had been stockpiling due to stagnant sales or previous bumper crops.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Grapes 50 - Vintner 50, It's a tie game, folks!

Vintage (crush) has reached the halfway point here in my little world.
Everything else is scheduled to come in over the next week or so, weather and transportation permitting.
Our growers who still have crop hanging are a pretty miserable lot: complaining about the birds and the loss of tonnage.
So far the star in the cellar is the 05 Chard crop which has all the right attributes at this time to be a real kick in the pants.
I'm still looking for the Cabs and some slow whites.
Frankly, we didn't get the kind of autumn I was hoping for back in August. Nothing extreme but no real sunshine party either.
Time to jam my breakfast down, put up a take away coffee and walk down through the vines to the winery to start punching the 23 red fermenters currently on the go. I'll take my AM Brix and temps as I go and formulate a plan for the day based partly on those numbers. I already know we'll be crushing about 4 tons of Sem and I'll probably want to press the first of the Merlot fermenters. Trouble child of the day: custom crush Gew that came in at 25.5 Brix and only 5.5 TA. Must intervene so save patient.
Today's shoppping list:
another hose gun
red dry erase marker
more beer

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Wine Things Happening / Random Notes for BC

Here at Township 7 we've crushed our Sauvignon Blanc. A good but tiny crop. I've got a question: How could we project 10 tons, then the grower suggests it will be a little light then we adjust to 8 tons then we actually receive 3.5 tons? That's about a ton/acre and while it was nice fruit it certainly didn't taste/look like super low yield stuff. Where'd the other 60% go?

Anyfreakinhow: we're in a little lull while we wait for Chards and some Semi to slide in over the next 5 - 10 days. Then probably some Syrah followed by Merlot and then whatever Cab manages to ripen.

Desperadoes and such: Lots of talk around the valley and across the wine growing province about cash rich newbie wineries offering ridiculous amounts of money to growers for fruit that is already contracted. When you first hear the $$ mentioned the reaction is: no, that's not right, you misunderstood. But after awhile you hear it from other sources. In the last 18 months there's been some boat rockin' by the new breed of wine folk. Who knows how it will all shake out.
Here's one scenario: grower A decides to cash in and sell to the young and the trendy. New winery fails to produce the kind of quality that cements a relationship with the consumer and after a year or two is no longer a happy camper. The honeymoon is over. Now what does Grower A do?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Absent - Caught in Whirlpool of Life

I haven't dropped off the face of the earth but you can imagine what this time of the year is like for a winemaker in the northern hemisphere. Add to that a change of residence, change of employer and the consulting side of things expanding and you may get some appreciation of what is up!

A quick vintage report: We're on the cusp of crush here in the Okanagan Valley. Some early varieties have started to pick but the great majority are waiting for a couple of more points on the Brix chart before harvest can commence. A cooler September than we've been used to has slowed things nicely and it looks like we'll have a well-paced crush with various varieties arriving at the winery in intervals rather than all at once in a hot year. The long range forcast today shows a sharp temperature upswing at the end of the month. If that holds we can expect a flurry of activity in the first week of October.

This slight delay has been personally beneficial. I've used the extra time to get used to my new environments at Township 7 and elsewhere. I toured a few other locations and, frankly, it's a little late to be pouring concrete and expect to use it this autumn.

I'll try to update when I'm able.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Debonair, NO?

Just thought I'd post this recent image from a local wine event for all my fans (for they are legion). In this photo I've just said something witty and slightly disparaging about our hosts for the amusement of this attractive young woman who graced me with her company. I think it was due to our lack of wine possession which was soon remedied.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Viticulture and Enology Conference a Success.

The British Columbia Wine Institute's annual Vit/Eno get together has just wrapped up and from all reports was a success for all that attended.
Excellent speakers, appreciative crowds and plenty of participants in the trade show venue made for some busy days for all conference-goers.
Although a bit late in the year, the conference is ideal for grape and wine people to get together and shoot the breeze and to find out what's new for the vineyard and the cellar. Hope is that the dates will be changed to May or June next year at the latest so vintage planning won't be held-up. It's a must-be-at for all professionals in the business.
Thanks to all the sponsors who supplied lunch, coffee breaks and door prizes over the 2-plus day event.

The Rhone Rangers

Great opportunity to taste some wine in Seattle on August 6th.
The Rhone Rangers will be having an event and there will be at least 44 wineries pouring that night.
Check out the link to get more information.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Let's Get it OUT there...

Starting to get reports of me.... rumour mill in full grind... so let's do this . . .

As of September 1, I will be winemaker at Township 7. I'll be based at their Penticton location.

If you are interested - Stag's Hollow is looking for assistance in the wine making department.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Wine Land of Opportunity

This valley (and the rest of the province) is quickly becoming the land of opportunity to anyone with even a little winery experience and and a lot of passion.

There seems to be unprecedented levels of investor interest in the Okanagan right now with plenty of money being tossed around to secure land and talent.

Vineyard and potential vineyard properties spend little time on the market before they're snatched up and sellers seem to be getting the prices they want. New winery operations are cropping up and demand for quality grapes is putting some upward pressure on prices.

The situation is similar for human resources. The new players want talent on staff and they seem to have no qualms about making offers that can't be refused. In the past, wineries would look outside the country for established experts but now there seems to be added interest in winemakers and vineyard managers who already have a working knowledge of the BC climate, soils and varietals. That's not to say there still isn't considerable cachet attached to imported talent. But a lot of these new operations want to hit the ground running and to shorten the time axis on the old learning curve.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rambling Wine Thoughts

* Wine Press Northwest has been inundated with comments and opinions on the subject of tasting room fees since editor Andy Perdue wrote something about a negative fee experience in Temecula, CA.

He's been selecting and publishing a few comments in his weekly email.

He's published stuff from the regular public and this week, from winery bizfolk. Next week he wraps it up.

* New York state lawmakers are expected to pass a bill that would allow state wineries to begin shipping wine out of state. Small wineries expect to increase business by at least 20% in some cases. Read more....

* Yet more Aussie wine on the way . . . Australia has just harvested another massive record crop so we can expect an endless wave of Yellowtail and Jacob's Creek to wash up on North American shores.

* Hey! A new wine magazine! This one is targeted at the largest segment of the wine-buying public.
Check it out.

* More on direct shipping . . . George Pataki, governor of New York, says he'll veto any direct shipping bill that comes to him that doesn't have a limit to the amount an individual can receive over the course of a year. He says he doesn't want some guy importing a garage full of wine selling to minors.
Gosh, George. Why isn't this "guy" doing that now? Who handles the governor? Why is he allowed to speak without a script? More on this story....

Cabernet Franc 2003 Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl's Franc was just released this month and it may be a bit premature to start quaffing it now. There are some light but assertive tannins that add to a somewhat disjointed early presentation. Great aromas and a firm structure with plenty of berry flavours tempered with an attractive bitter closing. Buy now and cellar to at least Christmas. If you wait until Christmas to buy it you will be out of luck; I'm sure this will sell quickly. This wine should really come into its own at about 2007.
17/ 20 Buy $27. (CDN) [at the wineshop].

Field Trip! Everybody Hold Hands!

Hit the road today for a full agenda of visiting growers and wineries with an eye to getting an idea of a) how the vines are behaving and b) what foxy new things are going into wineries to make wine makers' lives easier.

First, the vines are looking good. The early season warmth and then the sudden cooling over the last few weeks has produced a long flowering with generally good fruit sets. Despite some squally storms and rainfall reminiscent of regular Junes (heavier/frequent) the vines are responding with vigorous growth and rampant canopies. Growers who have managed their spray schedule should have no problems with mildew to date. Now's the time for speed! The tucking, plucking and thinning need to happen pretty well now.

Second, got a chance to walk around Burrowing Owl with owner Jim Wyse. A great facility! Even if you don't get a chance to be shepherded by the boss, their self-guided tour and tower view for the general public is a must see. Their on-going expansion is on schedule and this year construction has begun on the "inn" - winery-attached accommodation. Tasted some of their wines and will post some notes soon.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Wine Fanatics of (Western) Canada, Unite!

Here's a site I've recently come across that's worth a look, especially if you live in western Canada or the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
There's some lively dialogue by a core group of members (isn't that always the way?) in the forums. They discuss everything wine with the usual digressions.
They actually meet 'offline' to taste wine in person. Mostly in the Vancouver area as far as I can tell.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Duck Pond, 2004 Pinot Noir

Always a good idea to see what the other guys are doing. So on a recent jaunt across the line I shared a few sips of this recent effort from Duck Pond.
This Oregon pinot is all about the fruit with excellent expressions of strawberry, raspberry and light cherry. The bouquet showed hints of spice and jam. Alcohol is balanced and restrained; nothing about this wine is too extracted or over the top. The use of oak is complimenary to the wine. I think it has limited potential for aging and may not appeal to pinot lovers that prefer earthiness or more tannic examples.
I paid about $13.00 (CDN) for this wine. I bought this one as opposed to the myriad or others at the same price point in the this supermarket because there was a nice rendering of a duck on the label and I have a fondness for buffles.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Okanagan Spring Fest Numbers Up

The 11th annual Okanagan Spring Wine Fesitival was about two weeks ago and now the society that runs the show is happy to announce some pretty good numbers.
The four day run is comprised of about 100 events from simple in-shop tastings to large arena sized spectaculars. Revenues at member venues were up 30% while the number of visitors climbed to 31,000 visits - a 22% rise over the past year's figures.
Speaking with visitors that weekend gave me the impression that their experiences were more than favourable. Several parties indicated to me (a couple from Alberta and two groups from the Vancouver area) that this was their annual "breakout" event; meaning the first road-trip of the year where they didn't have to consider the possibility of a blizzard in the mountain passes.
If you missed the Spring event, mark your calendars now for August 4 - 6 when Silver Star resort near Vernon will host the Summer Wine Festival. The beautiful cool alpine setting is a welcome break from the mid-summer heat of the valley floor.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

New Winery Planning - not that glamorous!

Working with my client on the winery design is now past the heady, "wouldn't-it-be-great-to-have-a...." stage and we're into the nuts and bolts.
Positioning the building on site was a bit of a grind. The site demands we have to pull up vines so there's some pain involved making that decision. The only vacant location had some serious grade issues and would require mega-$$$ to engineer a solution. So it's tear up the vineyard.

We're into fire exits, stairways, toilets, turn radi for the forklift and ceiling heights for the barrel rooms.

It's been a gratifying experience up to now. I want to thank the wine people and non-wine people that responded to my call for design ideas. It's been very helpful. We're on a field trip soon to fine tune the crush pad area by viewing what others have done.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Big Wine News Down South!

Down in the Excited States of America there's big news for wine lovers.
The Supreme Court has ruled that states' laws that prohibit the shipment of wine across state borders are unconstitutional.
Essentially, it looks like there will be direct shipping to any customer from any winery in any state - eventually.
Tom at Fermentations is all over this story. Here's a link to the ruling he provided. Here's a press release from the Coalition for Free Trade people. Check-out what they're saying on the following as well: Wineberis
Wine Tastings
Of course, the wholesalers and distributors are trying to put a happy face on all of this. Earth to Fatcats: minors don't buy booze from tony wineries at $300 per case to get sh*tface on Friday night. They go to your buddy the retailer's where the clerk went to school with his brother so everything's cool, right?
Canadians: before you get too smug - don't forget some of our kooky laws. Like where each province controls alcohol to the point of limiting free commerce.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Merlot Futures at Stag's Hollow

The Stag's Hollow Renaissance Merlot futures are now available. This is a well-subscribed program. Our most popular wine generally sells out so this is a way to ensure you snag a case. You save a few bucks per bottle as well.
We're offering the 2004 as a futures purchase through the summer. General release is scheduled for May, 2006. At Stag's Hollow, the word 'renaissance' has been adopted to draw attention to a wine of particular merit.
Just contact me or the winery for further details. If you happen to be in the area why not drop in for a sample?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Lake Breeze Seven Poplars Pinotage 2003

Every once in awhile a wine comes along that makes you stop and take notice. That's how I felt when I had my first sip of this wine.
The last Pinotage I'd had was years ago and I remember it being insipid and not worth purchasing again.
This one from Lake Breeze is a whole different cat.
It's the only P-tage produced in Canada but if this is an indication of what it's like on a regular basis then I expect growers will be trying to get hold of some vines.
It big, full and rich with plenty of jammy richness on the palate. Shiraz lovers will find something here they can sink their teeth into. Garron Elmes, the wine maker, says it will improve with age but those rich flavours hued with cocoa and a hint of tropical spice may have you drinking your lot before much time has gone by. $25 at the cellar door.
18.5 / 20 Buy
The first viewers got to enjoy my typo which suggested trying Pintotage, a small 1970's wine made by Ford and subject to explosions when tapped in the rear.

Semillon, Merlot, Rose, Chardonnay

Township 7 Semillon 2003

About 400 cases

Light clean and crisp with some apple attributes. Very similar to many Sauvignon Blancs without the extra grassiness. It's not cloying like some Sems. A bit more full and round than an SB. Delicious. $14.90 at the winery
16 / 20 Buy some for the summer

Township 7 Merlot/ Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
650 cases
25% Cabernet Sauvignon

Nice nose of cedar and cassis with a palate of rich blackberry. Tannins provide good structure and are balanced. An extended finish. Rather young for this kind of blend but drinking suprisingly well. $16.90 at the winery.
17.5/ 20 Buy

Greata Ranch Select Chardonnay 2000
100% barrel fermented.

Rare to find an old BC Chard for sale in this kind of shape.
Fig/honey nose on a palate of pear and apple pie spices. The acid seemed very harmonious despite going to bottle at 8.1 grams/L. Oak well integrated. Drinking beautifully now with no sign of decline. $19.99 at the winery.
18 /20 Buy

Greata Ranch Rose 2004
just released
blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Nose seemed a little dumb due perhaps to recent bottling. There was some soft rose petal and a hint of raspberry. Beautifully balanced. The shadow of tannin gives rose that little backbone needed to match well with sliced, cold meats, chicken salad or fresh baguette and soft cheeses at the beach. Strawberry and pepper spices dominate the taste.
16.5 / 20 Buy
It’s great for summer.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Birth of a Winery

I'm currently assisting with the design of a new winery. I've been asked for input in regard to the function of the plant.
The brain being the thing it is, the crappy parts get easily diminished as time goes by and the good things get embellished. But I am trying to objectively recall what really worked well in each of the facilities I've toiled.

This is an open invitation to all wine makers, winery staff and owners to submit a couple sentences about what really works well in your winery. Also, what really drives you nuts about and/or inhibits the smooth operation of your winery. I'd like to hear from tasting room staff, cellar rats, warehouse people and the bottling staff and everyone else. Everything counts! Give me a line or two about environmental controls or concrete floors or lighting or overhead clearances.

As an example: in small operations, I can't stand having to move finished cases over and over before it gets sold. When it comes off the bottling line (in a perfect world) the next person to touch that case should be the customer. Wouldn't that be great? In any industry.

How does it go now?

Out of the bottling room. Into a warehouse. OOps! not enough room in the warehouse; send it across town to the leased space. Bring some back for the wine shop. Too much in the wine shop; send it downstairs. (two days later...) Okay bring that wine back up to the shop. Ad nauseum.

Thanks for allowing me to vent.

So, just add a comment when you can or have your favourite wine industry professional email me at:


Thursday, May 05, 2005

New wine maker photo and HMV shot

I updated my photo on my profile. I came across it cleaning out some old boxes. I had it taken when I was writing content for a short-lived marketing dealy called Targetpacks or something like that. They were custom contenting emails for people who signed up for their specific "packs" or newsletters so there were winepacks and petpacks and carpacks. As a bust start-up they were throwing money around so I cashed in.
Also I'm going to throw in a shot of Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards. This is the view from the deck, looking north-northeast up Skaha Lake towards Penticton in the Okanagan valley. I spent many hours looking at this view over all the seasons. HMV is over 120 acres of vineyards, dominated by Gewurztraminer. There's a charming old stone facade house that's almost a hundred years old that serves as the customer realtions center (tasting room). It's worth the 5 k. jaunt up the hill from Okanagan Falls.
The view from my old office.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Winery Owner or Winery Supplier?

When you land that windfall from your "work" as an international arms dealer or when the long hours spent in the grow op start to pay off, you may begin to ponder where you can launder all that cash.
Maybe you were thinking, "I've always wanted a winery of my own!". How romantic! Sitting in your cellar in a dim light, sipping old vintages at a rustic yet substantial oak table and counting money.
But wait - why not become a winery supplier? Instead of being bogged down by a farm and all the vagaries of farming you could just sell the equipment or the supplies that all the wineries need. If you wanted, you could operate 9-5 and be home with your family or cronies every night.
Ha ha.
What I'm trying to say here is this: if you're thinking about getting into the wine business don't forget the peripherals. There's good money to be made in the trades or supply side of the wine business. If you're unsure about the long, dirty, cold, wet hours in the wine business then consider selling packaging, electrical, marketing, renovation, plumbing, cooperage, accounting, computer or a host of other services.
If you play nice and become a favoured player you'll still get invited to all the cool parties.

Wine on the Island - a great festival returns for year 3

Spring time on the wild Westcoast. The crashing surf and the solemn rainforest; a land and seascape that drives the poetic in all of us. And for wine fans, a great site for what's turning into a must attend event.

Tofino hosts the third annual Tofino Wine and Food Festival starting June 3 and running through that weekend. Friends of the vine will invade the the area for a number of events that celebrate good eating, drinking and the cultural expressions of the area.

There is no festival in B.C. quite like it.

If you can swing it, you should go. Click on the title to visit their website and make your plans now. Check out the photo gallery and see the funky tasting garden.

Winery Newsletter Anyone?

We've just finished the spring edition of the Stag's Hollow newsletter. If you're interested I can send you a copy by email. Just leave me a comment with your chosen email or contact the winery directly. There's a picture of me showing a dire need for the attentions of a hair stylist. Would anyone like to cut my hair for wine? I mean, any professional hair person?

Friday, April 29, 2005

The culture of wine

I've often pondered the reasons some people reject wine as part of the North American daily routine. There are so many different objections to wine. There seems to be a thread that ties the consumption of wine to hedonistic life styles. Essentially the myths created around wine, both positive and negative, continue to haunt the product. Tom Wark started me thinking about the culture of wine.

I believe a culture of wine (where moderate consumption is common, accepted and an unremarkable daily event) can be achieved in two ways: market education or carrot and stick assimilation. Let me explain.

From my days in retail, I can recall people's reactions to some of my more 'liberal' suggestions regarding the consumption of wine. These were not wine people - these were tourists and visitors from places (geographic and mental) where wine was rare. Maybe at a wedding or once a month with a spaghetti dinner. Opening a bottle for them was a big deal. Pull down the shades and cancel all appointments.

So when I would say something like,
"This wine is a great everyday wine; very versatile and ideal with lighter foods at lunch or supper",
I would get looks that alternated between bewilderment, shock, amusement and rejection. There was no culture of wine in these people. I might as well have asked them to create a daily ritual of bestiality. Perhaps I exaggerate, but I think you get my point.

These are the same people who don't think twice about cracking open a can of carbonated, caffeine-laden, flavoured sugar water to refresh themselves or accompany a meal. There's a culture of acceptance and in the case of soda, it's been manufactured over a century. There was a time when a cola beverage was marketed as a tonic. It's true; you do get a zip from drinking a beverage laced with cocaine. Since that time, carbonated refreshment beverages' image has been carefully honed to be wholesome and casual. Just part of everyday life. That's market education or some might say, manipulation.

In the case of Europe, the culture of wine was established by the carrot and stick method. Over centuries. I'm serious. People always think that the Romans conquered the world with their superior armies, efficient bureaucracy and a penchant for building sustainable infrastructure. Maybe these factors were part of the success. More importantly, the Romans would always bring their own wine. They would cut the local water with it. The soldiers would avoid becoming ill. As any general will tell you, healthy soldiers fight better and longer than soldiers with disrupted bowels. If you're feeling poopy you're not ready to take on the barbarians.

Years later, in countries like France, wine consumption was commonplace. Was it because the wine was so good it was impossible to resist? Were they forced to drink by royal decree? Was it fashionable? No, no and no. The water was no good. Sewage was an issue, to put it mildly. Life was short and brutish. Fermented grape juice made things seem slightly better. The carrot was the buzz, the stick was the threat of the plague.

So, short of poisoning the well, I think the wine biz should embark on a 50 year visionary plan to make wine an everyday event. All the bases have to be covered. Only a certain part of our audience will respond the to 'health' issues. The industry has to cover that and the sexy bits. We've focused too much on the sexy bits. Wine on this continent has been linked to seduction and hedonistic lifestyle to the point that there's a subliminal backlash. That's where carbonated beverages might have gone. But now it's everyday. That's how wine must go. Just like the soda pop dudes, it's the real thing. Always. The pause that refreshens.

Maybe then when I suggest to a couple from Coyote Droppings, Alberta that a glass of Pinot with that Wednesday night casserole might be a good idea I won't get a look like I just impregnated their teenage daughter.
Right there.
In front of them.
In a position that's not common to them.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Wine and Barrels: To oak or not to oak . . .

It's question of taste and culture.
Oak barrels have been part of the wine business for hundreds of years. Long before tankers, plastics, stainless steel and cheap glass there was only one way to move wine whether the trip was minutes, months or years.
The shipper had to use a barrel. Or maybe a goatskin (but we won't go there).
Slowly but surely the customer began to acquire a taste for the wood the wine was shipped in. And after awhile it was discovered that the barrel had some effect on how the wine aged.
Certain styles of wines are directly attributable to how the barrel was used in the process. The big exporting region of Bordeaux was always using new barrels because the last ones they had were shipped.
As much as things have changed they've also stayed the same. Wine makers always explore alternatives but many believe a portion of time in quality oak barrels is the road to excellence for many varieties, despite the imprecise characteristics of the wood from vessel to vessel.
The first step to building a quality barrel program for a winery is having a quality source for oak barrels. Artisan Barrels is a good example of the kind of company the has a passion for barrels. I had an opportunity to talk to Jerome Aubin from Artisan the other day. He really knows his stuff. But he's also a good listener. He let me yak and yak while he assessed what I needed and where Artisan could help fit the bill. As one pro to the other, it was a pleasure dealing with him.
artisan barrel logo

A couple Okanagan Wine Festival ideas

It's just a couple weeks now to the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival. If you're still thinking about booking an event for your group then I have a few recommendations.

At only $10 per head the best deal has to be the custom tasting at Hawthorne Mountain Vineyards. Just call up and book your group anytime during the regular tasting hours and you'll be treated to six current releases plus a sneak peek at the upcoming vintage. It's all done in the Major Fraser private tasting room. It's being booked through the sister winery Sumac Ridge. Call 250 - 494- 0451. The stunning view from Hawthorne is worth the trip alone.

If you're in the south half I'd make a point of heading to the Toasted Oak Bar and Grill in Oliver to take in the Six Wineries Under One Roof dinner. For $120 you'll get a unique experience to taste the products of six local winemakers and a superb six course meal. Wineries in attendance: Golden Mile, Gehringer, Inniskillin, Hester Creek, Tinhorn Creek and Domaine Combret. No word if there'll be a battle royal. 250-498-4867

Beyond Chardonnay and Merlot . . .

The wine makers of the Okanagan make some great wine. Especially among the easy to market varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and all the others. The average consumer keys on these names and half the selling is done. What would happen if more wineries made Zweigult or Tempranillo? How much education would be required?
I think there would be some measurable interest in more exotic varieties. It would be up to the individual producers and the marketing team to establish and exploit the niche market.
The Australians are getting into some new varieties in a big way. "New" probably isn't the right word as these are established grape types that have been making excellent wine for centuries in their own regions. Check out Vinodiversity for a look at what's happening in Oz with some of these 'different' vines. This is the blog link but from there you can link to the full website that has more developed stories and articles.
I wonder if Tempranillo and Sangiovese will become more popular in the Okanagan?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Great Wine Country Accommodations

My friend Schuyler Lighthall has recently begun offering unique properties in the Okanagan for vacation rental. I can't think of anybody better suited to this enterprise as she has an intimate knowledge of this area and passion for the good things in life. Visitors to the Okanagan, especially the Penticton and Naramata areas, can rest assured that they'll have accommodation that will suit their needs.
Schuyler knows about travel - she boasts an impressive list of worldwide locations where she's worked and played. She's got first hand knowledge of the things a traveller craves.
Incidentally, part of her business includes looking after people's property when they're away from the Okanagan.
If you're looking for a vacation rental check out her website at:
Okanagan House Check and Vacation Rentals.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Wine Loving Couples Wanted

Vancouver Island readers should take note: one of the best all inclusive tours of the the Okanagan Spring Wine Festival still has a few spots left for avid tasters. If you've always wanted to do the Spring Festival in style then this is the package to look at. Look at what Wilf at Fruit of the Vine Consulting has put together:
The tour is a three day event and includes all meals, including a a five course winemakers dinner at the Eldorado Hotel with Quails Gate's Family Reserve wines, other VIP tastings, 2 nights accommodation, transportation to and back from the Okanagan to Victoria, taxes and gratuities all for $595 per person. We leave on Friday morning May 6 and return May 9th. If this sounds like something you're interested in contact Wilf Krutzmann at

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Urban Winery - are you ready?

Everybody enjoys a tour through wine country. The ambiance, the wine, the people. But sometimes you can't get away as often as you'd like. Now the winery is coming to you, right in the heart of the city.

In San Francisco, a new winery called Crushpad has opened in an old mayonnaise plant and is meeting with resounding success. BC residents and other jurisdictions are familiar with U-brews and U-vins but this is nothing like that. This is premium and ultra premium wine makingin a community setting. This is a full-fledged licensed winery, producing their own proprietary labels and inviting the public to participate in the process every step of the way.

An individual or group (a group is more fun) walks in and starts by selecting the grapes and style of wine they would like. Wine makers on staff guide your endeavor every step of the way. It's a hands on experience - you can expect to get a little dirty and to put in some time. It's also popular with wine makers who can't afford the capital for their own free-standing winery and restaurants that would like to produce their own upscale house brand.

If you think your stuff has got the right stuff, they'll help you go to the market with full post-production support.

Crushpad has quickly evolved into more than a storefront production facility. People are using it for kind of a hang-out. They drop into see what's fermenting, talk wine with the pros and fellow amateurs and just generally soak up the vibe.

People are even making their own private brands long distance. Their website highlights a group in Missouri that calls in their instructions to one of the staff wine makers. In the end, they'll have a premium California wine without leaving home.

This isn't about getting the cheapest wine your can. There's a 25 case minimum and the cost runs anywhere from $13 to $20 a bottle. This is pretty much in line with your average winery prices for premium and ultra-premium wine.

If you're happy with drinking plonk from a kit made at the strip mall, then carry on. If not, let's hope somebody seizes the opportunity and brings this concept to the urban areas of BC.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Wine Camp - Coming Soon

If you're headed to the Okanagan this summer, be prepared to take your wine touring to the next level.
Okanagan Wine Camp will be launching this summer. It's a fun and interactive workshop-style tour that lets you learn about the wine scene from the inside out. You'll visit wineries with the wine makers and participate in eclectic exercises that will deepen your understanding and enjoyment of wine.
Want to know more? Email

Monday, April 04, 2005

Vineyard Update.

In this part of the world spring is upon us.
If vineyard owners haven't finished their pruning they'd better get on it.
The vines are pushing; sap is running from the fresh cuts and buds are swelling in anticipation of bursting in just a short time.
Vineyard crews are busy tying canes into position and taking advantage of the 'no-foliage' situation to tighten trellis wires and other hardware along the rows. I've got a special project coming up involving pull-down wires in the Pinot Noir.
Migrant birds are back, Tickleberry's ice cream shop has re-opened and the local ski mountain has shut down. The outdoor flea market has opened again on weekends; a colourful display of wretched cast-offs. The Pope's demise has been a hot topic of discussion. We're all hoping that Cardinal Donald Cherry will be selected as his successor.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Great Time of Year in the Wine Cellar

grapes and bottle
I really enjoy this time of the year in the winery cellar. The '03 reds and some fresh '04 whites are making their way to bottle and anything staying in the cellar gets a thorough assessment.

It's been about six months since the reds of 2004 went to barrel (Chards too). Now's the time they're starting to emerge from their rough and tumble youth and beginning to take the form and character that they'll carry into the bottle.
For the Chards, I'm beginning to make some blending decisions and trying to determine which lots will get a little extra time in oak, if any.

All this requires a lot of tasting.
I put on some music (big reds get big tunes; yesterday it was Creed: My Own Prison) and get out the glasses. I make copious notes. I try to get a sense of what the wine has done and what it's going to do down the road. At this time, there is the opportunity for critical intervention, to borrrow a term from my first aid training. If there's potential for a flaw, this is the time to set things right.
After this year's exercise I'm quite pleased with the way things are shaping up. I'm taking a vacation away from my usual skeptic's stance and enjoying the uniform of an optimist for a day or two.

The Curse of Ice Wine: the Frozen Outlaw.

There's no denying the runaway success of Canadian ice wine made here in B.C. and in Ontario.

The conditions for it are perfect. Both regions experience the kind of temperatures that are required to freeze the grapes on the vine before they're picked. A period of time at -8 C is the warmest they can be. The result: a cordial-like sweet dessert wine that displays intense flavours and aroma. Balanced with enough acid, the wines somehow avoid being cloying.

For the wine maker and the winery, the success can be a curse.

The natural rhythm of the winery means that after the autumn crush the ferments slowly dwindle and the cellars begin the long, stable aging processes. Everything gets a thorough cleaning (or should) and sanitized surfaces help prevent the spread of microbiotic spoilage.

And then in December, or January or February (!) a big load of sticky, half-rotten grapes arrives to start filling the air with yeasts and whatever else. The whole procedure of warming tanks and fermenting starts again. Icewine just happens to be one of the slowest fermenters in the business. It's not unheard of for ferments to last up to six months.

Talk about inconvenient. It's a good thing it's sold for about $50 CDN for a 375 ml. portion. For a small winery it can be a nice cash flow crop. But it can also potentially disrupt the production of everything else in the cellar.

Large wineries have less to be concerned about. Their resources allow specialized facilities that are dedicated to ice wine production, keeping their other wines safely segregated.

Once you start fermenting products "out of season" the winery passes from a function of the harvest to a kind of factory where wine can be made year round.

The decision to make ice wine is more than a financial risk, it's also a lifestyle change. Forget about booking that great deal to Cuba at the end of January. You may have to be a the beck and call of Mother Nature, waiting for the big freeze.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Pressed for time

Originally uploaded by Extraordinary Wine Maker.
Another day on the crushpad and a good photo to try Flickr

Sunday, March 27, 2005

2003 Pinot Meunier, Lake Breeze Vineyards

Walking through the vineyards of the Naramata Bench, it's easy to pick out the occasional lot of Pinot Meunier. The leaves of the vines appear as though they've been dusted with a little flour which relates to the principal translation of 'meunier' as 'miller' in English.

This grape is a stalwart of the Champagne industry and by some estimates is the number one grape in that region by tonnage, exceeding its more famous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir cousins.

Occasionally, wine makers will use it to produce a red still wine. It never quite reaches the lofty heights of Pinot Noir but can result in a pleasantly fruity wine that drinks well young.

Garron Elmes at Lake Breeze Vineyards on the Naramata Bench does a stand-up version of PM.
Note: At this writing the website was not functioning.
If this is corrected I'll edit this post.
Please notify me if you're able to connect
The colour is as expected; don't look for Shiraz purple. The clarity is brilliant. There are fresh berry flavours like strawberry and raspberry that yield to some light spice notes. It's a light bodied red; I suspect it would mesh well with summer foods off the BBQ but avoid thick, spicy sauces and over-powering vinaigrette. I'd definitely consider popping it into the fridge for 10 minutes or so to keep the fruit aspects lively. The nose has some mushroom and earth; some wine drinkers may need to stretch their perspectives a bit to accommodate these nuances. It finishes a little dry taken without food. It's something I'd stock for drinking this season with a few bottles in reserve to see how time treats it. 14.5 / 20 Buy

Wines of Fairview: Big, Bold, Elegant

Bill Eggert runs a winery in Oliver, BC that is the definition of a successful, small operation.

Fairview Cellars grows and vints everything on the property. Bill handles it all from vineyard work to sales. And he's doing something right as Fairview wines are approaching cult status. This year's releases ( all red) will probably sell out sometime in the summer - leaving his fans clamoring for more.

The winery and vineyards are worth a visit. Located just outside Oliver on the west side of the valley, the winery could have been called Fairway being adjacent to the Fairview golf course

Getting hold of Fairview cellar wine is straightforward. Almost everything is sold through the cellar door. You'll have to contact Bill and have it shipped or drop in to the winery and pick it up yourself.

The core of the Fairview stable are the Bordeaux varieties. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and blends of the same make up the bulk of the offerings. Current releases all show great character and definition. I tasted several this weekend and was particularly impressed with his work on the 2001 Cabernet Franc. The nose has that hint of pencil shavings that sets it apart from Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich berry notes give way to a palate loaded with dried cherry, plum and currant. The wine has good weight and an extended finish. Tannins and acid are in balance and assertive enough to promise a stable cellaring. I'd give it a 15.5 / 20 and a BUY recommendation. Chances are the rating on this wine will go up after a little time lying around in the dark.
I was also treated to several Merlot/Cab blends and a full-on Meritage. More about those in later posts.

You can reach Bill at Fairview by email at or call at 250 - 498 - 2211

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Rating of Wine

There's a different way to judge wine for every day of the year. Most scales are based on 20 points, 100 points or something akin to a report card with A's and B's et cetera.
There's lots of yak out there right now (see the Fermentaions link down the left side and the Professor Bainbridge site).
A lot of wine people want to put a value segment into their assessments. I think wine judging or rating is full of subjectivity as it is. Value adds another wild card. I say, just state the price and let the reader decide if there is some value to purchasing that wine experience.
I use the 20 point system. One of my reasons is that Wine Dictator doesn't use it.
Roughly, the 20 points are assigned thus:
  • 4 for clarity and colour. My least favourite category. When you buy a case for the cellar it will probably taste the same whether you still have your eyesight or not in 20 years.
  • 5 for bouquet, aroma and nasal heat (irritation)
  • 5 for taste, texture, varietal or other style.
  • 3 for finish, balance
  • 3 bonus points should the wine create an epiphany or other spiritual event.

At the end of it all I ponder, "Would I buy this wine?". Generally anything over 14 is worth considering.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Township 7

Only 107 cases of this wine were made from select Okanagan fruit. The result is a majestic effort that is at once subtle yet forthright.
Big fruit and rich flavours star in this feature. The wine is still very young and will continue to develop over the next few years. I strongly recommend a little air time. The last glasses of this bottle really began to open up. So decant.
Look for currant, plum and cherry throughout with that edge young Cab exhibits. The work of the oak barrels is well-integrated, taking a supporting role rather than a starring one. The finish is particularly good with hints of humidor, chocolate and vanilla. See the Township 7 website for availability.
17.5/20 Buy

Township 7 Winery Has Two Locations

Winery owners Gwen and Corey Coleman really rack up the kilometres.
Their superb winery has two facilities; one at their original location on 16th Avenue in Langley and the newest outlet in Penticton.
The family-run premium winery produces award winning chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and more. Having two units to their operation means a visit from one location to the other means a 3.5 hour commute (one way).
The Township 7 Langley location is just 45 minutes south and east of Vancouver and was an instant success with daytrippers when it opened a few years ago. The small acreage is picturesque and conveniently located for urbanites on a "Sunday drive" on any particular day.
The wines have met with resounding success in the restaurants of the province, especially in Vancouver where the stock must be carefully allocated to make availability fair.
Grapes for their wines are sourced from experienced growers in the Okanagan Valley and from their own Langley property. They must be doing something right; one of the Township 7 Chardonnays was selected as best white in Canada a short time ago and things continue to proceed along the same general direction.
The Township 7 Penticton location made an appearance last year and is home to the production facilities. The wineshop had a "soft" opening with little fanfare but quickly became a favorite stop for the wine touring public. Located right at the beginning of the Naramata Bench, it's one of the first winerys encountered as you leave the city of Penticton.
The wines are all worth having, right across the board. These tasting rooms are a "must" for anyone wanting to enjoy one of the top producers in the province.
Check out the Township 7 website for more information.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

These Boots were made for Winemaking

I've worn some godawful footwear while slogging my way through various vintages. And I've seen some inappropriate foot gear on people who should know better (Right Ian?). If you buy nothing else for yourself this year at the winery, buy a good pair of boots. There is nothing in the Canadian marketplace that comes close to Blundstone boots for function and comfort.

I don't plug for products unless I truly believe in them. Blundstones, made in Australia for over 130 years, are the boot. I wear them every damn day. There's no laces, they've got acid resistant soles and they're as comfortable as a pair of slippers. I recommend the #500 model. Nothing fancy.

A couple of years ago I thought I'd save some money and buy some copycats from Zellers sold under the Snap-on label. Cruel shoes! They make my feet ache.

The Blunnies are pricey. But if you treat them right you should get about 3 good seasons out of them. If you can't get what you want from the link above you may find it easier to drop into Robertson's in Kelowna. They have them there as well.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Spring Wine Festival Only A Few Weeks Away

The Spring Wine Festival in the Okanagan Valley gets underway May 5 from Osoyoos to the Shuswap and everywhere in between. In Oliver, Penticton, Kelowna, Summerland and Vernon; the valley will be bursting with wine festival events.
Almost every winery and scads of restaurants, bars and accommodators get into the act with special dinners, tastings and musical events. With over a hundred events scheduled, there's too many to list here. But try the website to get a full picture. Some are serious and traditional; some are whimsical and some are really out there.
I've picked out a few I think are, well, interesting ideas:
  • Mastering Wine Through Golf - Harvest Dining Room, Kelowna. Wine tasting, putting and a 5 course dinner
  • Miami Vice Nights - My Martini Place - Kelowna. Enjoy the 80's and a three course dinner.
  • Volare at the Vineyard - a five course dinner and ballet at Gray Monk winery
  • Cleopatra will serve Egyptian food in the Pyramid at Summerhill Winery.

These are the big ones:

Bacchanalia - A celebration of fine local food & wine $50 Penticton. From my perspective this one seems to be getting better each year as the organizers fine tune the event. It's at the Penticton Lakeside Resort and over 40 wineries are booked.

Kelowna Consumer Tasting - $40 The Laurel Packinghouse can get a bit stuffy but where else can you get a chance to try the work of 35 wineries?

Unless you can work magic, you can only attend one of these as they both fall on May 7.

Also worth noting these "sub-regionals":

Raising the Bench - Naramata Bench Wineries Association present an afternoon of barrel tasting with local foods and cheeses

1st Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend - six participating wineries of the Golden Mile area (Oliver)

If you like to build up a little stock in the cellar, a spring tour is ideal as the wineries are full of new releases, some of which will not even make it to a conventional retail outlet.

Radical New Changes in BC WINE biz

It may not be apparent to the average BC wine drinker but the provincial industry is currently going through a regulatory refit.

The provinical government is working on introducing the new BC Wine Authority. This body will operate as an autonomous organization and will take over many aspects of the wine and grape quality program now run by BC Wine Institute through the VQA program. The VQA program will continue as a marketing, education, sales and advocacy instrument of the Institute.

All BC wineries will participate in the Wines of Marked Quality regulations administered by the new Authority.

Some of the features of the new Authority will be:
  • a registration system
  • wine standards
  • recognition of geographical indicators (sub-regions, vineyards designations etc.)
  • assessing compliance
  • establishmet of taste panels including eligibility of tasters and procedures

The point of the exercise has been to try and create a level playing field bewteen the larger interests and smaller, independent wineries. The program will be supported by proposed user fees that will be proportionate to the production levels of each winery operation.

On the surface, consumers may not see much change in everyday operations. But wineries will have an opportunity to try a new system that will attempt to harmonize regulations regarding quality and day-to-day opertions without the present bias towards larger operations.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Great Wine at the Hill

As many of you know, when I'm not making wine I volunteer with the local ski patrol at Apex mountain. The skiing wasn't great but the wine was! This weekend featured a mini-wine fest at the hill and about a dozen Okanagan wineries were represented.
A couple worth noting:
Red Rooster 2003 Pinot Noir: This is typical Pinot Noir from the Okanagan Valley. There is a lack of forceful character. The wine is well made but I think the fruit failed to gain complete phenolic maturity. There's lots of fresh strawberry, some red licorice and a hint of spice. The body is a bit lean and the finish was one dimensional. 13/20
Hillside 2003 (?) Cabernet/Merlot : Great balance and fruit expression. The cabernet segments (both Franc and Sauvignon) are restrained and mesh well with the Merlot. There is good blueberry and raspberry in the palate. The nose is full and hints at caramel and oak. The oak is subdued throughout as are the tannins. I'd have to verify the vintage. Good effort and worth buying. 15.5/20

Congratualtions to the mountain staff for putting on a successful event. I look forward to next year.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Bottling the Wine - it starts now.

Schedules have tightened up in my wine world as I rush to keep deadlines set for the bottling plan. I'm juggling various wine projects while stumbling towards the finish line. The wine has to be re-checked for flavor profile and various chemical parameters like alcohol, residual sugar and SO2 levels. Add to that the co-ordination involved with packaging and it's a wonder I get break from wineland to add anything to this epic.
I'll be away for the weekend but next week look for more store reviews, some wine reviews (NEW) and a personality profile.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Wine Stores = Wine SERVICE

Wine stores are like every other retail category. If the store doesn't have something special to offer, what makes it stand out from the herd? I hope to make that one of my criteria as I begin to sift throught the inventory of wine stores in BC to help the consumer determine what they offer.
While it helps if you can actually drop in to talk to staff, let it be known that most of these stores can arrange shipping. So if one store has that certain bottle you're looking for, don't hesitate in making a virtual visit.
One of my favourite stores is Discover Wines in Kelowna, BC. Suzanne Mick and Tracy Gray have set up a very attractive establishment and have staffed it with quality personnel. These people really know their wines. This is a VQA store, with many difficult to find titles. Service is the key word here; you won't find some gum-chewing, catatonic cashier idly waiting for your money. The staff at Discover is keen to find you exactly what you want from their list of hundreds of wines.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Wine Can Be Fun

Take a moment to check out the
Silly Tasting Notes Generator
Just when you thought you've see some far-fetched wine descriptions.
Makes your own references to "kelp" seem tame.

Work on BC Wine Issues Rewarded

One of the pioneers of the BC wine industry - at least the modern era - has received another honor recognizing his tremendous effort in promoting the industry.
Harry McWatters was inducted into the BC Restaurant and Foodservice Association's Hall of Fame yesterday. The move draws attention to McWatter's long career over five decades in the wine biz, most of which is centered on the Sumac Ridge Estate Winery and associated companies.
Sumac Ridge is BC's oldest operating estate winery and it was with Sumac products (in the 1980's) that McWatters managed to sell people on the quality that was beginning to emerge in BC wines after years of mediocrity.
McWatter's impact on the BC industry is substantial. Many successful wine people can trace their beginnings back to the influences of Harry McWatters and his businesses.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Bring your own Wine in Ontario

Legislation was recently enacted in the province of Ontario that allows members of the public to bring their own wine to their favourite restaurant. If that restaurant wants to go along with the idea.
Restaurants are allowed to charge corkage and set rules. As an example, some diners may have to pay up to $30 corkage and the wine must be something the restaurant does not carry.
I recall years ago when I worked as a waiter in Vancouver that often regular customers would sometimes ask to bring a special bottle. We didn't do it for Joe Blow but sometimes we'd allow the big spenders to bend the rules. On one occasion this fellow brings two bottles to share with his party of 12. We couldn't believe it when we opened the bag. The stuff was so low-end that I think our bus boys would probably give it a pass. Mr. Customer was very happy, though.
Check out

Friday, March 04, 2005

This Wine List is for Wine Lovers

Anyone in and around Vancouver knows the success that CRU is enjoying. It's a restaurant that provides superlative service up front and dynamite creations from the kitchen. To top it all off, Mark Taylor's human-friendly wine list breaks a few rules to produce a really cool tool for the customer. Old school wine lists are just, well, lists(!). It's as if the restaurant was saying: "Well, here are the wines. I've put them in little categories according to country and grape. Hope that helps. Have fun." CRU's list functions. Wines are colour coded and accompanied by section descriptions like 'crisp'. Who gives a rat's bum about what side of a hill in Burgundy the wine comes from? Is it mellow or crisp? Wine drinkers need a clue about what the wine tastes like, not the grape's parentage or the size of the farm. CRU has a website so check it out. You other restaurants - go ahead and copy the format after you talk to Mark. I'm sure he'll be flattered.

Gismondi Knows Wine

It's going to take awhile for me to build up this blog into the kind of resource that I know people will enjoy. In the meantime, let me introduce you to a couple of sites that are worth the visit.
If you like wine try Gismondi on Wine. Tony has been writing about wine and he covers a lot of ground. His site has a special section on the BC scene and he engages John Schriener to write a few pieces.
I enjoy Natalie MacLean's work as well. She's truly an internationalist but being based in Ontario means she's the source for checking the offerings of the LCBO. She's got a great writing style: light and little bit flippant. But not her wine reviews. They're dead on.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Be a Clicker

Make me glad.
Click on one of the google ads off to the right.
You don't have to buy anything.
Click all of them if you like!

Cork or Cap?

For the last few hundred years, a lot of special oak trees have been de-barked every once in awhile so the world could stuff bits of it into bottles. This was a "stopper". It stopped what ever was inside from coming out.
For some strange reason, the only mass produced beverage still using this closure is wine. Because it's an imperfect but natural product it has a tendency to spoil wine on occasion.
The solution is to use artificial 'inert' products to seal the bottles.
As you may have already noticed, more and more wine producers are turning to various manufacturers for a whole range of different closures.
And we're going to see more. But don't toss your corkscrew yet.
Corks won't disappear completely over the next few years but their role is diminishing. The replacements are various type of plastic blown or extruded to look like cork. The other big contender is the old reliable screwcap. This technology is growing fast and is eating up market share. Taste trials reveal that wine in a screw cap bottle may actually age some wines better than the traditional cork.
Wine makers feared the public would be put off when their expensive wine showed up in bottles with twist off tops. But early reports suggest the folks are taking it in stride.
Waiters and sommeliers are still trying to glamorize their tableside presentation. It's just not the same when you present the esteemed vintage and then casually rotate the top counterclockwise.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Our friends - the diatoms & Merlot

I just finished filtering the 2004 Vidal at Stag's Hollow winery. The Vidal is one of the better white hybrids for cool climate wine making. In years when the vitus vinifera have a tough go of it, the Vidal comes through with flying colours. It buds late. This is handy in case there is a spring frost. Late killing frosts are notorious for knocking production back by damaging tender young buds.

The Vidal also ripens late and by the time harvest comes around it seems almost impervious to the vagaries of autumn weather. The birds seem to eat it last. It's a great aromatic varietal. It makes a great patio sipper.

The filtering of wine consists of some kind of apparatus that holds the medium in place as the wine passes through it. The purpose is to screen and retain impurities of a certain size. Often the process requires substantial pressure to force the wine throughout the system and maintain the integrity of the medium.

Today I was using diatomaceous earth (DE). This is a substance used through out the beverage industry in its quest to satisfy the consumer's demand for clarity. It's also used in the filtration of non-edibles as well.

It resembles talcum powder when dry and gooey clay when wet. It's made up of the fossilized remains of diatoms. Tiny creatures that inhabit the ocean and leave tiny skeletons that have an affinity for forming complex web like structures when compressed on a filter screen.

The beverage is forced through the screens with the diatomaceous earth already in suspension. It creates a cake that continues to build as the filtration proceeds. The wine passes through the cake but any large particles are caught. The size of the captured particles depends on the type of DE used. DE is generally used for rougher filtrations at the beginning of the filtration procedure. Other media are used to finish or "polish" the product at the end.

Why filter? Lots of wine can emerge from the cellar visually brilliant. But many substances, including wine spoilage microbes, are smaller than what most people can see. Filtration allows wine to proceed to packaging in a more stable state. The wine maker can have more confidence that it will reach the customer as he intended it to be.

Some people say that filtration diminishes the wine, that it takes something out. I say what's the point of selling wine unless you can guarantee the wines stability? I put so much into my wine that a little filtration isn't going to be noticed.

2003 Merlot - I promised this a couple of posts back. I'm in the process of doing a final blend on the Stag's Hollow Merlots for 2003. The estate is great and contains about 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. It will drink well on release but I don't think it will peak until a few more years of bottle age. Instead of a Renaissance version of Merlot this year Stag's Hollow has plans to produce a Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend for the first time. About 20% of the blend will be Cabernet Sauvignon from an excellent vineyard - Heritage in Osoyoos. The cab really comes through - cocoa and cigar box, a hint of kelp and eucalyptus. Hope you have a chance to enjoy it as much as I had putting it together.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Serve your wine with pride

It’s no secret, B.C. wines can compete with the best in the world. So why are B.C. consumers shy about putting it on their dining room table?
If you travel the world you’ll experience great diversity. If you’re lucky to enjoy hospitality in a citizen’s home of the nation you’re visiting chances are when the wine is served it will be something special. And there’s even a greater chance the wine will be actually made in the region you’re visiting.
It’s been a source of pride for many cultures over the centuries; when guests call you bring out the best of your land.
That’s not all always the case in B.C.
For years the wine made in this province was ordinary at best. I can recall many situations that would normally have called for something representative of our vineyards but what was served came from Germany or France or California; anywhere but here.
And for good reason.
Wine making here was sloppy and lacked any sophistication.
Now almost everyone agrees that can compete with the best the world has to offer.
It’s been this way for 10 years or so. Restaurants have caught on. Just about any eatery of any note features B.C. wine prominently on its wine list.
So why hasn’t the general public responded the same way?
A recent consumer survey showed wine drinkers were only using B.C. wine for at-home entertaining about 50% of the time. Some said they didn’t know B.C. wine was that good and others mentioned not wanting to appear na├»ve or unknowledgeable.
Even here in the Okanagan, the core of the B.C. wine renaissance, it’s common to be invited to a friend’s for dinner and be offered French bubbly or Australian Shiraz. We go out of our way to obtain lamb from Saltspring or fresh wild salmon but drop the ball in the wine game.
Don’t get me wrong, people should drink wine from other countries. It’s great to compare. But not when you’re showing off for out-of-province guests.
When I lived in New Zealand in ’99 it was common for the average Kiwi to drink inexpensive wine from Australia or Chile as their everyday wine – their supermarket special. But when I was a guest at their homes for a special dinner it was always top shelf New Zealand wines that were offered.
As a result, I grew to appreciate the wonderful wines of that country and remain a faithful fan.
Anyone can see how this demonstration of pride can convert to good economic practice. Serving B.C. wine to your guests in your home or business creates demand. And that’s good for the economy.
If you don’t already have favourites, here are a few guidelines to help you choose:

Don’t go cheap
I hate to use price as an indicator of quality but try to stay over $15 a bottle. There’s a far better chance of getting a good bottle above this mark than below.
Let’s talk about it.
Private and government wine stores are great sources of information and you’ll find trained personnel to help you out. Staff can take into account your tastes, your meal plans and your pocketbook limitations before picking the right B.C. wine for you.
Calling all winemakers
Most BC wineries are just like other small businesses – they enjoy calls from people because it often results in a sale. The smaller the winery the greater the chance you’ll speak directly to the owner or the wine maker. It’s a great way to get a personal perspective on a wine.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pruning has begun for Okanagan wine business

Throughout the Okanagan Valley, pruning and other springtime activities are well underway. Although pruning is best accomplished early in the winter, one can still wait around here as long as the sap hasn't started to run fast and the buds are swelling.

Wine growers are already anticipating a good season. With February almost over, the threat of a deep freeze that would damage the vine's potential is becoming less likely as each day passes.

Sure, it's possible. But harsh temperatures in the -20 C range are very rare in March around here.

What is more worrisome is the threat of a spring frost once the buds are already engaged in their growth phase.

Wine makers reflecting on the 2004 vintage are pleased. A cool and wet period lasting most of August last year slowed the ripening process. This created ideal conditions for developing complex flavours in the grapes; flavours that were passed on to the ferments. Most vineyards and wineries reported excellent harvest conditions once September and October rolled around.

At Stag's Hollow, all three whites produced are showing qualities worthy of praise. The award winning Sauvignon Blanc promises to be as inspiring as the 2003 (now sold-out) with less grapefruit notes in favour of a lush, tangerine expression. The hybrid Vidal, bottled as Tragically Vidal, is it's usual fruit salad character with slightly less alcohol than last year. It's the perfect off dry patio sipper. The Chardonnay is quite bold and displays unusual balance in the palate at such a young age. The Chard should emerge as another excellent example of this premium varietal. Look for the Vidal and Sauvignon Blanc this spring with the Chard going to the bottling line in August. However, Stag's Hollow Chardonnay traditionally is best after at least a year in the bottle so don't look for this one on the shelves until early 2006.

The 2003 Pinot Noir is the red that's drawing plenty of attention. Barrel samplers remarked on the huge fruit and deep garnet colour. Very rich and assertive. The plan is to bottle this spring and release it in the early summer. A Pinot like this will require another year or so in the bottle to harmonize all the robust components. The 2004 is more like a classic Pinot at this stage; plenty of soft berry flavours and spice notes.

NEXT: The news about MERLOT