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.