Wineries to watch

While we may not – yet – be able to visit wineries the way we used to, many are now getting ready to re-open for tasting experiences. Curbside and non-contact pick-up has become the norm, and buying wine online is generally seamless.

Before heading out to a winery be sure to check their website and social media channels for updates, or grab the phone and call for info on tastings as they now may be by appointment, held outdoors, and will be limited to smaller groups.

As these experiences become part of a new reality, consider checking out a winery that’s new to you; that may mean a virtual experience, or maybe buying a wine you’ve never tried. Here are a few to watch. Some new to the scene, some with refreshing and exciting changes.

Marionette Winery, Salmon Arm: the winemaking team of Amanda Eastwood and Jamie Smith gained their skills in Europe, where both have pursued a formal education in viticulture and oenology. Jamie’s hometown is now home to this small production, focussed on low intervention, describing the vineyard as its own living ecosystem. Try: 2017 Wild (Merlot). 

Winemaker’s CUT, Oliver: If the artistic labels don’t draw you in, the story surely will. Comparing its winemaking style to the director’s cut of a film, the vineyard also has a soundtrack. Classical music is played to the vines. Winemaker Michal Mosny hails from Slovakia, bringing a decidedly unique view and style to the Okanagan Terroir. Try: 2019 Grüner Veltliner. 

Play Estate Winery, Penticton: A spectacular view over Skaha Lake, new theatre-inspired labels, a new winemaker, and a new chef in the bistro. Stephanie Bryers established herself in Ontario, then travelled to hone her winemaking. Chef Dominic Dibartolomeo comes from several long-heralded winery bistros in the Okanagan. Try: 2019 Rosé de Syrah, Play-to-Go takeout/delivery meals. 

Mt. Boucherie, West Kelowna: Many changes await a grand re-opening, from the brand new gorgeous construction of a wine and visitor experience centre, the addition of The Modest Butcher bistro, and new faces; Brett Thiessen in the vineyards, and Jeff Hundertmark in cellar, another transplant from Ontario. Try: Mt. Bubbles (Frizzante-style sparkling). 

Ex Nihilo, Lake Country: The winding road is an adventure unto itself, and if you haven’t travelled it in a few years, prepare for a new dining and lounge space indoors, in addition to the outdoor wood-fired pizza. “Out of Nothing” and inspired by art came the winery under owners Decoa and Jeff Harder, now with winemaker Jim Faulkner. Try: 2018 Pinot Noir.

There are a number of wineries, breweries, distilleries, and cideries that anticipated a stellar 2020 season as their first in business, or they might have just hitting their stride after investing in their business for several years. No doubt this year will be like no other, but despite current challenges, here’s to raising a glass and still making positive memories.

No-touch tasting rooms

Pre-pandemic, this would be the time to talk about upcoming events throughout the region, break out the Google calendar, and start planning who gets to be the designated driver to and from festivals, dinners, and outdoor concerts.

Now, that planning will change. While wine, beer, cider, and distillery tasting rooms provide a sensory experience, inviting you to swirl, sniff, and sip, how will we experience this when the doors cautiously open? No contact curbside pick-up already feels somewhat normal – and wonderfully convenient – but what about walking up to a bar for a taste?

On the positive side, we have plenty of outdoor space to use. Many wineries and others have patios, perhaps even an outdoor bar, that can be used for social distancing and avoid bringing people inside, which would require extra time for sanitizing.

In other parts of the world, outdoor town squares and streets have been converted to dining piazzas. Using these public spaces for alcohol tastings in B.C.? Likely a big stretch given provincial liquor laws… but wouldn’t it be great, just for the summer? Or for a smaller producer to be able to buddy up with a restaurant that has a large patio, and “borrow” their outdoor space for tasting appointments?

Those options won’t be readily available without policy and licensing changes, but planning for a new kind of experience can start now.

“Now is the time to look at tables, chairs and the space you may have in the vineyard, for example, that can be turned into an outdoor tasting experience,” suggests Sandra Oldfield, co-founder of Fortify, an annual business conference and trade show for artisan fermenters and distillers.

And with social distancing in place for some time yet, appointments to try your next favourite drink may be “the new normal” for all tasting rooms, no matter what’s being poured.

No more crowds occupying a small space, thrusting wine glasses forward through the group? Maybe this will be a reboot to have more educational, thoughtful, and intimate (even two metres apart), tastings.

Many businesses have reservation systems in place, and to that end, Oldfield invites those in the alcohol sector to contact her to learn about a tasting room reservation option that will be available at a significant discount until May 15.

So much has changed in these last six or seven weeks. We may never get back to what we became used to, but maybe, just maybe, this will lead us to innovative and inspiring ways to showcase the terroir, the stories, and the unique flavours we have here in the Okanagan and across the province.

The rise of sourdough

What’s with all the sourdough?

I noticed a trend, you’ve probably noticed it too, or have been part of it. In these times of self-isolation, we are baking up a storm.

And we’ve gone nutty for sourdough. 

I wondered why. Not being a baker myself, though I recently made an amazing cornbread, I asked a few foodie friends for their thoughts. Why sourdough? Here are there observations.

Kristin Peturson-Laprise, who together with her partner Martin Laprise, runs The Chef Instead in West Kelowna, and was the supplier of cornmeal for my cornbread: “In my humble opinion the boom in baking sourdough has to do with a few things. People are looking for something to do, especially a task that makes us feel like we accomplished something at the end, and baking sourdough bread takes time. I’m sure it was at the top of lots of lists for ‘what I’ll do when I have more time.’ Now many of us have plenty of it.”

Angie Quaale, owner of Well-Seasoned, a gourmet food store in Langley, who has been giving away yeast as stores run out including to my mom for UBC cinnamon buns: “Fresh baked bread, actually anything freshly baked and homemade is just plain comforting for so many people. It takes people in their minds and hearts back to a simpler time and let’s face it carbs are delicious. I think sourdough has always had a cult following, people have always wanted to try making their own.”

Jason Whitfield, pastry chef for RauDZ Creative Concepts restaurants in the Okanagan, including the Okanagan Table in Kelowna that is currently offering online orders for a variety of gourmet treats: “The sourdough craze is really all about ‘time and structure.’  We have the time now, and caring for our sourdough gives us some structure to our day. You need to get up, and is it bubbling? Does it need to be fed? Then feeding it, does it need to be halved and discarded? What to do with the discard? Time to make more bread.”

Jennifer Cockrall-King, author of Food Artisans of the Okanagan, co-author of tawâw with Shane M Chartrand, and faculty member of the Pandemic University of Writing (who recently recreated the Denny’s Super Bird for me, on her own sourdough): “It was lurking as an Instagram trend, but suddenly it was every third post in my feed. Perfect round loaves, side-lit on a linen tea towel. I know that it’s a very human thing to go back to cooking in times of stress, and comfort food is always a fallback. And many of us want to be of service, to feed people. But it was almost like… if you didn’t post a photo of your sourdough loaf, did you even ‘pandemic’?” 

The smell of fresh bread is comforting. Kneading dough can be meditative. I’m grateful that the current barter system – bread traded for a bottle of wine, or locally-made lollipops, or even an organic avocado – saves me from trying to sourdough myself.

Wine industry has right spirit

Spirited industries giving back

In spite of world events, there is activity in the wine and libations industries, and not only is it Easter this weekend, April is B.C. Wine Month.

Stocking up the cellar may not be top of mind, and maybe you’ve already exhausted the emergency chocolate you keep stashed behind the baking soda in the pantry, but there are safe ways to purchase while also giving back.

Most (perhaps all, if they didn’t sell out before the world changed), wineries have put measures in place to keep your wine supply in check, from curbside pick-up to online shopping to free shipping right to your door (check for codes you may need at online checkout).

A number of businesses from wine and beyond are “shipping for a cause” to support the B.C. Hospitality Foundation. With each online order (minimum four bottes), Township 7 (both Penticton and Langley), will donate $10 to the Foundation.

Rust Wine near Oliver is donating $5 for every magnum sold of its 2019 Gamay Noir, now available in a six-pack.

Summerhill and Corcelettes wineries are donating $1 per bottle purchased as well.

Foxtrot is donating 10% of its online sales to support restaurant workers.

The Drinks List liquor agency is partnering with several B.C. wineries, cideries, breweries, and distilleries to help support the Foundation: for every case of wine, beer, and cider sold to restaurants, the program partners will donate funds to organizations that support hospitality workers in need.

A $12-donation will be made for each case of wine shipped to restaurants, as well as a $6 donation for each case of cider or beer.

The initiative will continue for as long as dining room restrictions are in place.

Blue Grouse Winery in the Cowichan Valley is donating $1 from every bottle sold to the Nourish Cowichan Society, a charity that provides nutritious breakfasts to school children, with the owners matching donations.

Vanessa Vineyard in the Similkameen has already donated 100 meals to Meals on Wheels, and will donate two more meals for every six bottles purchased.

And you likely have seen stories about the distillery industry stepping up to produce hand sanitizer:

  • Legend Distilling in Naramata
  • Alchemist in Summerland
  • Dubh Glas in Oliver
  • Okanagan Spirits in Vernon
  • Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland.

Prioritizing the need for medical services, check online or give your favourite distillery a call to see if you can purchase a bottle, often by donation.

And with Easter this weekend and grocery shopping a bit challenging, consider going with a takeout or delivery option from your favourite spot.

Ask if they have a special Easter menu, and don’t forget to order bottle of B.C. wine to pair with it.

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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