WBC16: Connection & Engagement

By Sujinder Juneja

We’ve said this many times before, including in a post directly following the 2015 event, but the Wine Bloggers Conference is more than just a conference, it’s a community. I’ll come back to this idea of “community” in a moment.

Leeann and I from Town Hall Brands attended the 2016 showcase in Lodi, California (August 11-14). This was my fourth conference in a row, and Leeann’s fifth. For the first time though, I was honoured to be asked by conference founder Allan Wright to moderate a panel discussion in front of an audience of 300 or so bloggers, journalists and other wine professionals. Gulp! Yes – I was thrilled to be asked and I was also nervous as heck. But more than that, I knew right away that I wanted to make it special, for both the audience and the panellists themselves.

Sujinder at WBC16

Sujinder onstage at WBC16. Photo courtesy of Becca Gomez Farrell.

My panel was a dream. I got to moderate the Panel of Wine Blog Award Winners, featuring five winners of the 2016 Wine Blog Awards. The awards have been in place since 2007 (the year before the first Wine Bloggers Conference), honouring excellence in online wine writing. This year’s panellists included Sophie Thorpe from Berry Bros. & Rudd, Mary Cressler from Vindulge, Jill Barth from l’Occasion, Susan Manfull from Provence Wine Zine, and Jerry Clark who received Best Blog Post of the Year.

Within my job in communications, yes, I do get to talk about wine and winemaking all day long, helping to celebrate the stories behind the labels of our passionate winery clients. But any success we have with the media comes down to the relationships and connections we build with the writers, editors, and producers that help share our client achievements. Within this panel and within the audience itself, I wanted to make sure to build that same connection and engagement.

First step: Google “how to moderate a panel.”

Check. This gave me the structure I needed to follow.

Second step: Arrange for some one-on-one time with each of the panellists in advance so that we could get to know each other better and to flesh out ideas for discussion.

Check. This, to me, was the most valuable part of the panel, as it connected us in a way that the audience could see, and that we could feel onstage. In each of our private discussions, we shared ideas, laughs and stories that solidified our personal connections, making us part of that community I mentioned earlier.

I will share that I was personally impressed and inspired by each of the very deserving award-winners, and what I was able to learn from each of them was a gift. Here are some of the gems that I took away from each of them:

WBC Panel Selfie

Posing for our WBC Panel selfie. (Back L-R): Jill Barth, Susan Manfull, Sophie Thorpe, Mary Cressler, Jerry Clark. (Front): Sujinder Juneja

Sophie Thorpe: Maybe it’s the Brit in me (my mom is from Reading, England) but I LOVE Sophie’s dry sense of humour, which you can see both on the BB&R blog and on her own, Raised on Champagne. She taught me the subtle excellence of opening the curtain to show the personality behind the writer, and how to let her readers know that they’re in on the joke, shared just between you and them.

Mary Cressler: Mary’s love of wine, photography, food and her family (not necessarily in that order) are infectious. The first time I saw Mary’s photos… the light, the texture, the delicious mouth water-inducing amazing-ness of her work, I knew that better was possible. It will take me some time to get even close to Mary’s talent, but she motivates me to try.

Jill Barth: Once you start reading her blog, L’Ocasion, you won’t stop until hours (maybe days) later. In fact, I whiled away about 45 minutes just prepping to write this little intro! Arguably, that is what made Jill a double award-winner this year: the ability to draw in her readers in such a way that they are sucked down this wine-filled rabbit hole of stories and adventures.

Susan Manfull: ‘P’ for Provence and ‘P’ for Passion. Susan has a heart of gold, which is easy to tell by speaking to her, or by reading her work. The tender care that she puts into each article is wonderful. Our first phone call could have gone on for hours, it was such a joy to speak to her.

Jerry Clark: One of my favourite pieces of wine writing, Jerry’s award-winning piece was evocative and emotional. He invited us into an intimate world, which all of us, including non-wine lovers, can relate to. His thrilling use of the written word remains incessantly inspiring.

Overall, the greatest thing I took away from these talented people is that a gifted wine writer, especially an award-winning wine blogger, is one that gives of themselves, that opens up in a personal way, revealing details not only about their subject – whether it be about a particular wine, an international travel adventure – but one who shares details about themselves. It is this, among many of the other things I learned above, that I hope to incorporate into my own blog when it launches this Fall.

See you in Sonoma at WBC17!

Disclosure: In exchange for a reduced rate to the Wine Bloggers Conference, attendees are required to write at least three blog posts about the conference either before, during or after.

Okanagan Crush Pad partners with PNE Prize Home Lottery

Okanagan Crush Pad is proud to partner with the PNE Prize Home Lottery to raise funds for variety of non-profit programs.

This year’s Grand Prize Home features one of the biggest Prize Homes yet, with a large open concept and patio space perfect for entertaining. It is adorned with stylish furniture, modern appliances, an outdoor hot tub and sauna and a floor-to-ceiling wine cooler.

Global TV's Kristi Gordon infant of the home's wine cooler

Global TV’s Kristi Gordon in front of the home’s floor-to-ceiling wine cooler holding a bottle of Haywire Pinot Gris.

This West Coast modern home will be perched on a breathtaking lake view property right on the Naramata Bench, looking across Okanagan Lake to Summerland.

Overlooking Summerland from across Okanagan Lake

Looking across Okanagan Lake to Summerland and Okanagan Crush Pad from Coolshanagh Vineyard in Naramata. The prize home will have a similar view.

How fitting that Okanagan Crush Pad, a Summerland winery, located on a 10-acre Switchback Organic Vineyard, is playing a role in the grand prize package. The winner and new neighbour will receive a personalized VIP tour and tasting at the winery to welcome them to the community and give them a chance to fill their wine cooler.

In Summerland, the winner will get a chance to enjoy a unique winery experience. At Okanagan Crush Pad, a spectacular guest center and private upstairs tasting lounge are built into the heart of the winery, offering an in-depth view into the art of winemaking. Visitors wander past large concrete tanks, clay amphorae, sparkling wine cages, barrels and a small still, to learn how vineyard inspired natural wine and spirits are made. Here time-honoured, generations-old winemaking techniques are married with the most advanced technology with stunning results.

And the wines: the critically-acclaimed Haywire and Narrative wines celebrate the distinctive beauty and exceptional growing region.

The PNE is on now until September 6 and the exhibition’s crowd favourite has people dreaming of what life would be like if their winnings swept them away to the rich landscape of valley vineyards and desert hills of the Okanagan.

Tickets can be bought at the fair, or onsite here.

Finding Wine Culture in Amador

By Leeann Froese

Finding Wine Culture in Amador

Amador County landscape

Amador County’s rolling  landscape as seen from the Kennedy Mine

I feel pretty lucky that on the eve of my 20th year in the wine industry that I’ve had the chance to taste wines from all over the world, and had the pleasure of visiting wine regions in a few different countries. What I am focused on these days as I look at the different regions is to see how they build their culture, welcome wine visitors, and how the people live and work.

For a pre-excursion leading up to the 9th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference, I was delighted to visit and learn about Amador, a region I previously knew nothing about. I am pleased to share brief impressions of the Amador County wineries.

Wine Bloggers Conference Pre Excursion to Amador and our amazing driver, Chip

Wine Bloggers Conference Pre Excursion to Amador and our amazing driver, Chip

A flight to Sacramento puts you within an hour’s drive to this small region, which is relatively unexplored by Canadians, but definitely belongs on a wine tourist’s map. The landscape is peaceful, with grassy foothills and winding river canyons, all backed up by the Sierra Mountains.

The towns in the Shenandoah Valley have a gold rush heritage look

The towns of Amador County have a gold rush heritage look

The Amador Vintners have 45 member wineries with tasting rooms in the Shenandoah Valley, the historic towns of Fiddletown, Sutter Creek, Amador City, and other surrounding areas. Each of these small towns have an ‘old timey’, historic feel, as the region first rose to notoriety in congruence with the 1849 gold rush.

Families (or young men) from all over Europe came to California to settle and seek fortune. One of the major demands of many primarily young, single men was a steady supply of alcohol. In response, farmers of Italian, Serbian, Iberian, French, and German background planted grapes. Vineyards emerged, and several wineries sprouted up – many of whose vineyards are still in use by wineries today.

Amador Vineyards - head trained

Amador Vineyards for Bella Grace Vineyards – head trained

As this region was founded, there were many languages spoken, common diligent work habits developed, and one thing was for sure: they all shared a passion to turn the grapes that the granite-rich, sandy loam soils gave them into delicious wines to be enjoyed by all.

While the wines were plentiful and appreciated, the Amador wine region took a huge downturn, as most wine producers in the USA did during Prohibition. Fortunately, the region squeaked through. Home winemakers, permitted to make 200 gallons of wine each, kept the grape growers above water. All available grapes were scooped up and sold off nationwide, but times were lean.

According to Amador historian and author Eric J. Costa, between the repeal of Prohibition and the late 1960s, most grapes grown in Amador wound up in large tanks in bulk wine production, and only a small percentage of the grapes grown were kept and vinfied by small family wineries as premium wine.

This is still the case with many grape growers today but in 2016, the industry has evolved to have second and third generation owners, and those who have moved to the region for investment or second careers, all with an eye to excellence in wine production. Amador wineries’ acreage in 2016 is around 3,800 acres of vineyards with varying production numbers each year. The 2015 grape crush totaled 3,867,710 tons, down 7 percent from the 2014 crush of 4,144,534 tons.

The Birthplace of Zinfandel

Well suited to the sunshine and soils, Zinfandel has dominated Amador plantings from the beginning: Amador County is home to the oldest Zinfandel wines in America, with documented plantings dating back to the 1850s. Included in this is the Original Grandpère Vineyard, planted in Amador to Zinfandel before 1869, making these vines more than 140 years old. This low yield, 10-acre vineyard is home to the oldest documented Zinfandel vines in California, and today’s owner, Terri Harvey, supplies grapes only to a select few Amador wineries.

Throughout the region, there are other plentiful plantings of the American heritage Zinfandel, as well as varietals from all over the world, reflective of those that settled the region, including Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Barbera, Grenache, Petite Sirah, and more.

Community Club

As far as Amador’s wine culture is concerned, with a relatively small geography and a shared goal to grow the best grapes they can, there is a strong level of cohesion among wineries. In order to keep the community connected, wineries hold industry nights, community potlucks, and other activities that bring together the people who live in all these little towns throughout the valley.

A vintner we met, who stood out for sharing best practices, is Dick Cooper.

Jeri Cooper Swift and Dick Cooper

Jeri Cooper Swift and Dick Cooper

Dick Cooper, 77, was encouraged in the late 1970s by his father Henry “Hank” Cooper to get into grape growing. The Cooper family originally arrived in the foothills in 1919, and had a long history of farming tree fruits and nuts. So what started with five acres of Barbera grew to become Cooper Vineyards, and over the past 35 years Dick has worked to share all that he has learned along the way with those around him. In addition to his own vineyards, he has designed, planted and managed at least another dozen vineyards in Amador and El Dorado County. Known locally as the “Godfather of Barbera”, he has made many friends and earned the respect of the industry. Dick has provided cuttings, grapes and advice for much of the Barbera grown in the foothills, was an instrumental person in the establishment of the Amador County Wine Grape Growers’ Association, and has written a book on the relationship between viticulture and Amador County soil. This helpful openness to others, and willingness to share resources has helped build the community, and unified Amador growers.

Cooper’s daughter Jeri Cooper Swift, who was our tour guide on our excursion bus, recalls the ways in which the community and culture grew up with and around her. “The Shenandoah school house is the local meeting place once a month (but not during harvest),” she shares. “My grandmother Ruth Deaver Cooper, my grandfather Henry Field Cooper, also my father, Dick Cooper, and all of us kids, along with all the other farmers and their families – would go to a potluck dinner once a month. We called it ‘community club’.”

Shenandoah School House

Our taste around in the historic one-room Shenandoah School House

Our wine bloggers conference pre-excursion visited this one-room heritage school house for a meet and greet with several of the area winemakers. It was special for us to have a peek at this historical location, experience the community vibe and get a sense of the cohesive nature of the winery personnel.

Also in attendance at the meet and greet was a winemaker who openly shared his practices and experimental techniques: Mark McKenna from Andis Wines. On the flipside of nearly a century of the Cooper’s farming is the comparatively new Andis Wines, who bring a modern approach to Amador County’s winemaking region. Using both traditional and innovative winemaking approaches, such as wine aged in concrete (an old world practice made new), McKenna has quickly garnered huge scores with critics, and is leading a New World approach to make modern wines, with an integrated respect for and knowledge of, classical tradition and style. Sourcing grapes from the onsite estate vineyard as well as from several growers in the area allows Mark the opportunity to relationship build and share.

my selfie with Mark McKenna at Andis wines in front of their concrete egg fermenter

My selfie with winemaker Mark McKenna at Andis Wines, in front of their concrete egg fermenter – reminds me of our Town Hall Brands’ BC client Okanagan Crush Pad

So whether it is several decades of farming like the Coopers, or new practices in the cellar such as at Andis, the winemakers of Amador work together to grow, learn, taste and celebrate each other. This region may be small, but the culture is strong.

Have you noticed a camaraderie and strong culture in any of the regions you visited? Please, tell me about it…

 

Wines tasted:

2012 Andis Wines 1869 Original Grandpere Vineyard Zinfandel

Planted in 1869, the Original Grandpere Vineyard is the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in America, with only four wineries having access to its crop. This is a bold wine, with prominent ripe red fruit, pepper and spice. Only 150 cases made.

2013 Cooper Vineyards St. Peter’s Church Zinfandel

This consistently awarded wine offers subtle fruit on the nose and a medium-bodied layered palate of berry and spice with balanced acid and tannins, and long finish.

Disclosure: In exchange for a reduced rate to the Wine Bloggers Conference, attendees are required to write at least three blog posts about the conference either before, during or after.

Singletree Welcomes the Harvest with Community Social

According to general manager Andrew Etsell, visitation at Mt. Lehman’s Singletree Winery is up more than 100% over last year. “We’re not just busy on the weekends, but every day, Wednesday through Sunday. This is because more and more people, especially from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, are realizing there’s a new winery literally at their back door. Through tastings at trade and media events, along with strong accolades from wine journalists, the word is getting out there about Singletree.”

singletree family

The Etsell family welcomes you to Singletree Winery in Mt. Lehman, BC.

Next up for #winelover-s is the winery’s first annual Mt. Lehman Community Social, on Saturday, August 20, from 5:30pm until late. It’s a free event for the community to connect, socialize, and come together as one. All are invited to bring a favourite dish to share at a potluck, family-style feast, with the Mt. Lehman Community Association sponsoring live music from Langley’s alternative folk-rockers, Prairie Dance Club.

New vintages of Singletree wine will be available for purchase by the glass or by the bottle, alongside craft beer on tap from a local brewery, and other non-alcoholic beverages.

Laura Preckel of Singletree says, “We want to bring old neighbours and new friends together. We’re inviting the Mt. Lehman community, their friends and family to bring a dish and to raise a glass with us. It’s about giving back to our community through sharing. And what a better way to do that than with a glass of wine?”

Indeed, wine lovers are increasingly adventurous and are not only seeking wine that reflects a sense of place, but are interested in unique vineyard experiences.

“We’ve been holding more winery events, including our popular concert series, and our (usually sold out)  painting parties in the vineyard,” says Andrew.

Singletree painting party

Singletree’s popular painting parties beside the vineyard are often sold out in advance.

The winery is very foodie and family-friendly. Visitors to the tasting room can purchase specially-selected local cheese, charcuterie, fresh breads and crackers from the wine shop, and take them to its newly-licensed picnic area, where they can also enjoy wines by the glass or by the bottle. It’s al fresco dining at its best!  Plus – the family lends everyone a picnic basket with glasses, plates and cutlery, to complete the experience. There are always games and toys for kids at the picnic area, and families are encouraged to get up close and personal with the vineyards that surround the winery and tasting room.

“We’ve also been receiving numerous requests for onsite weddings,” continues Laura. “Surrounded by vineyards and farms, with mountains in the background, it’s the perfect site for a rustic valley wedding.”

Singletree at night

Singletree at night offers fun and excitement for the whole family.

Up next for the winery is arguably the most important event of the year… the HARVEST!

The weather in April and May was extremely hot, which gave an early boost to the vines. Although June and July have been slightly cooler than normal, if trends continue, Singletree can expect another great vintage in the Fraser Valley. Bud break started in the first week of March, four weeks ahead of schedule. Andrew is projecting to start harvest in mid-September. This will be about two weeks later than 2015, but still earlier than average vintages. They’ll start the 2016 harvest with their popular and early-ripening Siegerrebe (“get siggy with it”), followed by Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, with Grüner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc to follow. Andrew is carefully watching his two acres of Pinot Noir, which he will use for Rosé and – spoiler alert – Singletree’s first-ever vintage of traditional method sparkling wine.

For more on Singletree, visit www.singletreewinery.com.