Learning while sipping

A few years ago at a wine tourism conference, one of the presenters spoke of an emerging trend in tasting rooms: the growth of educational offerings. 

Think of tutored tastings and experiences that you book in advance, maybe sitting down to learn about the wine-making process or food pairing.

A tip to wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries: statistics show that visitors, in particular, are up to 80 per cent more likely to book an experience online than by any other method, and if they have a seated tasting, they will generally buy more of your products.


When you have the full attention of the winemaker, for example, or a well-trained host, you pay more attention to what’s in your glass, have the opportunity to ask questions, and are more invested in the entire experience. 

Couple that with the growing trend of consumers wanting to know where their food comes from (and that includes what’s in your glass), and you’ve got a winning combo. 

As the tourist season ramps up, even if the weather is not quite co-operating just yet, consider booking your guests and yourself for a bit of “summer school” at one of these suggestions. 

The more our visitors learn about our region, the more likely they will come back, and tell their friends to do the same.

Intersection Estate Winery in Oliver has created The Vinstitute wine school, described as educational outreach dedicated to increasing awareness and appreciation of B.C. wines as a whole. 

Classes are led by an instructor and range from weekly “vinsight” classes to special seminars during the summer.

Also in Oliver, Culmina Family Estate Winery offers reserve and portfolio tastings that are in-depth seated tastings booked in advance, though drop-ins are welcome at regularly-scheduled reserve tastings if space allows. Book a vineyard and winery tour as well.

At Pentage near Okanagan Falls, book a tour in advance to explore the property, including the 5,000 square foot natural rock cellar. During the busy season, this experience is offered at 3 p.m. daily and requires a reservation, though the tasting room (with comfy stools) is always open for visitors.

On the Naramata Bench, Red Rooster now offers a Sensory Room Experience. 

Ever wonder how your favourite wine snob can identify the difference between nutmeg and cinnamon when sniffing wine? Sign up for one of these sessions at 11a.m. or 2 p.m., and you’ll learn how to identify scents and flavours.

At Mission Hill in West Kelowna, book a sommelier-guided experience, from one-hour to 90 minutes. The sommelier experience includes a stroll through the vineyards to learn about viticulture, followed by a visit to the barrel cellar and a guided tasting. 

The wine-and-artisan-cheese experience is just that: after a tour, sit down for a flight of wine paired with local cheeses.

Booking a specific experience or not, if you are bringing a larger group (perhaps six or more), call the wineries you plan to visit in advance to give the staff a heads-up so they can prepare, especially on busy weekends when tasting rooms may be packed. 

Everyone will have a more enjoyable and comfortable experience.


Sipping Lisbon's wine

Part one

When I told people that I was heading to Portugal to explore its wines, I was asked if I was going to Porto, or the Douro regions…or maybe the Algarve.

All three more commonly known as wine regions (“bring me some port!”) than the capital city area.

But there is much to learn in and around Lisboa.

Portuguese hospitality began for me, coincidentally, with a Penticton couple sitting at Pearson airport waiting for the same night flight to Lisbon.

Imagine a stranger’s grandparents insisting that you share their homemade sandwiches, bananas, and treats because that would be much better than Timmie’s.

This was a good omen, and it was the best egg sandwich I have ever had. (If these are your relatives and they come home talking of a writer they met in the airport, that was me.)

Looking at a map, of course, anyone recognizes how close Lisbon is to the Atlantic, but I didn’t truly comprehend this geography until I realized the landing gear was lowered while we were flying over a lengthy beach, and then suddenly we were on the ground, surrounded by tiled roofs.

And the point was driven home by lunch at Adraga, a restaurant that is not next to the beach, not across the street, but on the beach.

Perhaps the most Instagram worthy seafood spot in all of Europe. Barnacles (yes, they are edible, and they taste like the sea), shellfish, sardine paté, and cod so fresh you’d swear it jumped out of the ocean onto the plate.

The owner carefully selected wines from the Lisbon region to pair with these delights; the first taste of the terroir for me. Fresh, vibrant whites with a briny-ness that matched the dishes perfectly.

And no wonder. Nearby, a stone’s throw from the ocean, there are vines growing in the sand. Not just in sandy soil, as we have here, but in the sand in Colares.

Buffered by wind guards, the sand keeps the grapes warm, and you’d think you had walked into a garden of vines. The briny-ness now accompanied by apple elements from an orchard next door.

The facility at Adega Viuva Gomes – its wines from Casca Wines – is dripping in history, like the sea spray that hit our windshield. Its wines are making their way here, but not soon enough.

And then, Casa Santos Lima. Again, steeped in history but with a modern facility attached to an estate that looks like the set of a turn-of-the-century movie. Familiar grapes – chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer – and, to my surprise, even a late harvest botrytis affected dessert wine, to compare with our own late harvests.

It’s not all just about the port, as evidenced by Vinhos Cortem.

Picture this: a pair of semi-retirees, she German and clearly a chef in another life, and he a British Robert de Niro lookalike.

Both Helga and Chris worked in sound for films. And now I have had fantastic organic wines made pretty much entirely by hand by a guy who worked on the sound for the movie, The NeverEnding Story.

This couple’s counterparts could likely be found in the Okanagan many times over, in winemakers and owners whose passion brought them to a vineyard.

Next column, we’ll travel back to the Okanagan. But watch for part two of Portugal after that, and how our two regions compare when it comes to wine tourism.

Toast this reading list

Instead of breaking out the Kindle or iPad for reading books at the beach or on the patio this summer, why not grab the actual book?

A glass of wine or a craft beer, your snack of choice paired with one of these reads, and you’re all set.

Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries, by John Schreiner – This is a gorgeous hardcover book. Keep it on the coffee table as a reference point or for guest to pick up and thumb through while sipping a glass.

Dozens of wineries are profiled, following a detailed introduction by Schreiner that explains the selection process for the book. Several wines per winery are included with tasting notes and a handy “drink now” note.

Need a wedding gift this summer? Start the happy couple’s wine cellar with this book and a few bottles highlighted in it.

Lure: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the West Coast, by Ned Bell with Valerie Howes – Chef Ned Bell is a champion of the sustainable seafood movement and responsible management of the bounty our oceans provide, as reflected in this well-organized cookbook.

The book is organized by white fish, shellfish, fatty fish, and sea greens, and by course (salads, soups, sandwiches and so forth). It also includes a handy “back to basics” section with fun charts, and, of course, a primer on how to cook fish.

The Okanagan Table: The Art of Everyday Home Cooking, by Rod Butters with Kerry Gold – Okanagan-ites will be familiar with the growing restaurant portfolio under the guidance of Chef Rod Butters (RauDZ, micro bar – bites, Terrafina, and Sunny’s).

It's filled with mouth-watering photos and recipes sorted by the time of day, like “sunrise” and “twilight." The recipes also embrace the flavours and freshness of the Okanagan with an occasional twist. The Cauliflower and Saffron Wedding Soup is divine.

One of the best parts of the book is a list of local farmers, producers, and suppliers.

The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me, by Nina Caplan – A lyrical journey through wine regions, from England to France to Italy, that at one point were part of the Roman Empire. This book is part travel journal, part personal exploration, and part wine writing.

It may make you want to retrace the writer's route, or simply let this transport you to another realm that explores what wine can do for each of your senses, and what memories a certain wine can make or revive.

Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California, by Frances Dinkelspiel – The title just about sums things up.

This is the true story of a day in 2005 when a warehouse of wine in California went up in flames, the costliest destruction of wine in history. If you like true-crime stories, this meticulously researched book is for you.

It addresses many things in the underbelly of the wine industry, from personal tensions to wine fraud.

Next on my reading list? Eating Local in the Fraser Valley by Angie Quaale, and Food Artisans of Alberta by Karen Anderson and Matilde Sanchez-Turri.


Protect your wine

I’m not ashamed to admit that I've ruined perfectly good wine in mere minutes.

In fact, I once ruined a bottle of one of my favourite Okanagan syrahs with a callous attitude of, “It’ll only be in the car for a short time, it’ll be fine.”

It wasn’t. Less than 15 minutes in a hot car with no air conditioning – a 1995 Honda Civic Hatchback, in case you were wondering – and the wine:

  • overheated in the bottle
  • the cork smelled like a wet paper bag
  • it had an unpleasant essence of cabbage soup.

The wine may have been faulty to begin with, but the fault lies with me for not taking better care of the bottle.

When you or your summer visitors are out buying wines — craft beers, ciders, or spirits — plan to protect your purchases from the blazing-hot Okanagan sun.

It only takes a few minutes to damage one of these beverages.

Not many of us properly prepare for wine touring in the heat, thinking we'll just hop in the car, hit a few wineries and head home.

But as you're loading wine into your hot car, keep in mind that your new purchases can be in jeopardy faster than ice cream melts in your gin and tonic.

Wines under screw cap may do a bit better, but wine under a cork will not stand the heat.

A hot car can dry out a cork in record time, ruining characteristics of the vintage inside. The air in the warm bottle expands, causing leakage and exposing the wine to oxygen and oxidization.

If you can, tour at cooler times of the day. Temperature will be lower, and the tasting rooms may be less crowded in the morning or late in the day.

And your palate is fresh in the morning.

An insulated, re-usable shopping bag can protect a few bottles for a short time. The bags, for produce and dairy, are usually found beside regular, cloth shopping bags.

Cool the bag in the fridge or freezer overnight and throw an ice pack in the bottom. Better yet, take a cooler with an ice pack or two to protect your wines from direct sunlight and a rapid rise in temperature.

And finally, if you drop into a winery on the spur of the moment and are totally unprepared, ask the tasting room staff for a box or two. Put your wine in the box with the lid closed.

At the very least, the cardboard will block out the sunlight and keep the temperature a bit lower. The trunk is probably a better spot for storage — it's dark and likely cooler than the passenger area — unless you are running the air conditioning up front.

Failing all that, you can always take your box or bag into each winery for safekeeping, and enjoy your tasting worry free.

Just don’t forget to take your case(s) when you go.

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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