A terroir abroad

Ask a winemaker, vineyard manager, or anyone who works with the soil in our regional vineyards to describe the Okanagan “terroir,” and you’re likely to get a variety of descriptions.

The answer may depend on where you are when the question is asked, as you may be on granite, or sandy, or clay soil.

And you may be in a micro-climate affected by the temperature radiating off a nearby large rock face, or moisture from a lake or river, or the slope of the vineyard is just different enough in one block of vines to make “this” pinot noir different from “that” pinot noir.

In a nutshell, terroir is complicated.

I’ll save you the trouble of googling it: terroir, in short, means a sense of place. It’s the combination of soil, climate, environment, topography, sunlight…the elements that give a wine its distinction, and notes of where its from.

But, there is another aspect. Geo-politics. History, if you will. Not really a factor here in British Columbia, though government regulations certainly do play a role in agriculture, but an intriguing part of another under-the-radar wine country: Hungary.

If you’re in the wine business, and more specifically, the wine tourism business, attending the International Wine Tourism Conference, which visits a different wine region in Europe each spring, should be on your bucket list.

Not just for the seminars and networking, but for the familiarization tours. In my case, a media tour that encompassed film tourism and health tourism, along with wine.

The winemakers we met were young. Most are focused on two things.

First, reclaiming the vineyards and winemaking from the Soviet era of mass production, which sent low quality wine abroad.

Hungarian wineries are reclaiming their native grapes – Furmint, Hárslevelű, Kadarka – because they want to reflect the Hungarian terroir.

Yes, you’ll find Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc here, plus exquisite sweet wines from Tokaji made from a blend of grapes referred to as Aszú, but clearly, there is a passion for being uniquely Hungarian.

And why not? These grapes often grown on volcanic soil are truly terroir-driven.

The second focus is gastronomy.

Bistros located at wineries are high end. So much so that the restrooms are memorable, one with doors sliding open as if you were entering the Starship Enterprise. Nearby are boutique hotels that range from castles to ultra modern suites.

But the food…Instagrammers, charge your phone batteries. The days of goulash are fading. Grandma’s Chicken Paprika has been elevated to gourmet.

Foie gras, duck, and pork dominate (so does deer stew with pasta, I’d go so far as to call that comfort food), and Michelin stars are on their way. Pairing is essential to show off both the wine and the work of the chefs.

Yes, Hungary is a world away. The country’s history is complicated and often heart breaking.

But in many ways, our two regions are on the same path of discovery. Finding the authentic terroir upon which our vines grow.

More Okanagan Taste articles

About the Author

A creative thinker with more than two decades of experience in communications, Allison is an early adopter of social and digital media, bringing years of work in traditional media to the new frontier of digital engagement marketing through her company, All She Wrote.

She is the winner of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association's 2011 and 2012 awards for Social Media Initiative, an International LERN award for marketing, and the 2014 Penticton Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for Hospitality/Tourism.

Allison has amassed a following on multiple social networks of more than 30,000, frequently writes and about social media, food and libations as well as travel and events, and through her networks, she led a successful bid to bring the Wine Bloggers Conference to Penticton in June 2013, one of the largest social media wine events in the world, generating 31 million social media impressions, $1 million in earned media, and an estimated ongoing economic impact of $2 million.

In 2014, she held the first Canadian Wine Tourism Summit to spark conversation about the potential for wine tourism in Canada as a year-round economic driver.

Allison contributes epicurean content to several publications, has been a judge for several wine and food competitions, and has earned her advanced certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

In her spare time, she has deep, meaningful conversations with her cats.

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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