SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW RHÔNE?

SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW RHÔNE?

By Leeann Froese

Do you know Rhône Valley wines?

It turns out, I know less than I thought.

Thankfully, at a trade event earlier in September at Vancouver’s Maenam restaurant, Michelle Bouffard, president of the local chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS), hosted and presented a discovery workshop and tasting, to help bring some Rhône knowledge back to the forefront.

img_1837

40 industry professionals: sommeliers, retailers, and media representatives alike, were joined by representatives of the Rhône Valley, Laure Vaissermann and Virginie Charlier, marketing and communication director of Inter-Rhône. Upon arrival to the event, each guest cracked open a fortune cookie, and inside was the name of one of five teams named after a few of the region’s famous varietals: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Marsanne and Roussanne. Once randomly teamed up we tasted 12 wines from the Rhône Valley during a blind taste test. Our goal was to guess the appellations or varietals as part of an interactive challenge under the evocative theme “So you think you know Rhône?”

It turns out, I do not.

I was on Team Grenache, with notable trade #winelover -s including Noel Hollet, Rachel von Sturmer, Iain Philip, Ron Wilson, and Si Man Lee. I was impressed by the tasting ability and knowledge at my table, although the table discussion revealed that my team members, like me, were also not 100% confident.

img_1835

Created from a range of 21 different varietals, Rhône Valley Wine wines are renowned for their depth and distinctiveness. The reds range from round and fruit forward, to full bodied and structured; the whites are floral and fruity or full bodied and deep, and there are dry rose wines as well, that range from fresh and bright to spicy.

It’s all about the blend; and while there are many varietals, for example, most blended reds are a combination of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. The wines’ blends and flavour profiles depend on what area or village they are from and the related terroir, as well as the laws from each area as it relates to how much % of varietal is allowed in each blend.

Once we heard from Michelle about the regions, blends and laws, we blind tasted and were quizzed, with our answers submitted electronically and then displayed on a screen for all to see. I was not doing well at all, and my teammates were doing only slightly better.

I did OK on identifying the building blocks of the wines; identifying the acid, alcohol and tannin characteristics, but that is where my success ended…

Luckily the results were collected and posted by team, so no one saw that I only got a few of the questions right. I am sure that I brought my team’s score down, and here I publicly apologize to them!

Where I really fell down was aligning the wine characters to their origin. Related: I have a lot of dusting off of my WSET notes to do!

Even seasoned experts can still learn something new about Rhône Valley Wines,” said Michelle Bouffard.

I wasn’t alone; there seemed to be collective groans in the room each time an answer was revealed. The fact that so many of us got responses incorrect provided a great chance to discuss why – for example why Ventoux in the foothills offers wines so different from the full-bodied and round Gigondas wines from further south.

Some other teams did much better, voting as a group and doing very well. Congratulations to Team Marsanne on earning bragging rights!

Bouffard adds “The region’s diverse appellations, soil types and flagship varietals make it a key wine region. What really turns heads are the wines’ versatility, as they pair wonderfully with a wide range of dishes, such as Maenam’s Asian specialties.”

img_1843

After the tasting and quiz was done and the whole room seemed collectively deflated, our moods were revived by the chance to taste these wines again and openly discuss, this time knowing what we are reaching for, and also now accompanied by hand-passed bites from chef Angus An.

KEY STATISTICS ABOUT THE RHÔNE VALLEY WINES

  • Ranks 2nd among French AOC vineyards in terms of volume;
  • 388 million bottles sold in 2015;
  • Over 50% of total production is certified organic;
  • 1 bottle of Rhône Valley Wines AOC is enjoyed worldwide every 12 seconds;
  • Over 10 years, the volume of Rhône Valley Wines exports to Canada has increased by 41%;
  • In 2015, 11% (in volume) of French table wines in Canada is from Rhone Valley Wines. An overall 20% increase in BC sales of Rhone Valley Wines during 2015 to 2016.

Disclosure: As a member of CAPS BC, I was an invited guest at this event, and I thank Rhône Valley Wines for the chance to taste and learn. For more information on Rhône Valley Wines, visit www.vins-rhone.com

 

Ghosts in the Original Grandpère Vineyard

Ghosts in the Original Grandpère Vineyard

“There’s history in those vines, that tell the story of  Amador. There’s ghosts in that vineyard.” – Marc McKenna, winemaker, Andis Wines

As part of the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference held in Lodi, California, some of us were able to secure a spot in the Amador County pre-excursion. Among many other delicious wine and winery events, we were treated to a speed-tasting session in Plymouth, at the original Shenandoah School House, built in 1876. Surrounded by rows of dusty vines, eight wineries poured special flights of wines that showcased the best of Amador wine country. Within these selections were three old vine Zinfandels from three different producers, sourced from one vineyard that pre-dated the schoolhouse itself, Shenandoah Valley’s Original Grandpère Vineyard.

WBC16 Andis Grandpere

Andis Wines winemaker Marc McKenna with one of the original Grandpère Zinfandel vines.

County records suggest that the site was first planted to vine in 1869 (although some speculate that it may have been planted as early as 1865), but give or take a few years, this planting features the oldest living Zinfandel vines in the state. Originally planted by members of the Upton family, the vineyard changed hands over the years, eventually ending up in the hands of Terri and Scott Harvey, who purchased the site in 1984. At the time, the pair were married, and Terri tended the vines while Scott was a winemaker for a number of local wineries, including Santino, and later Renwood, where he utilized some of the Original Grandpère Vineyard’s low-yielding fruit. While at Renwood, cuttings were taken from the old vines and grafted to phylloxera-resistant rootstocks to create what is now known as the Grandpère Vineyard. Scott departed Renwood in 1995, and his marriage to Terri ended shortly thereafter as well. A trademark dispute ensued between Terri and Renwood, but once the Amador dust had settled, Terri was allowed to maintain the legacy of the site by naming it the “Original” Grandpère Vineyard.

Even though the fruit was sold to various commercial and amateur wineries for White Zinfandel in the 1980s, vigorous pruning and careful vineyard management drastically reduced the vineyard yields, while increasing its potential quality. Today, in a unique arrangement I’ve not heard of anywhere else, just four wineries are allowed to source grapes every vintage – Scott Harvey Wines, Andis Wines, Vino Noceto and C.G.Di Arie Winery. What’s most interesting is that each winery does not have one specific parcel or set of rows they are allocated to use, therefore their lot rotates every year.

WBC16 Scott Harvey 1869

Scott Harvey with his 2008 “1869 Vineyard” Zinfandel

I compare this civilized collaboration to the out-dated French Napoleonic laws of succession and inheritance, where an individual’s assets are divided between each child in equal shares, resulting in smaller and smaller parcels of land being passed to the next generation. Coupled with sky high federal inheritance taxes, the situation in premium winegrowing areas of France has become challenging and confusing. But the spirit of collaboration in Amador (even between divorced, but now friendly couples) results in some of the most complex and tasty wines in California.

Of the four wineries currently producing wine from the Original Grandpère Vineyard, we tasted selections from three. The Andis Wines 2012 Original Grandpère Zinfandel was first: delicate, but with rich tannic structure, this Zin showed notes of raspberry, black pepper and grilled red meat. I liked the way it showed now, but thought that a few more years in bottle would bring out lush fruit flavours. From the same vintage, we next tried the Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel. Winemaker Rusty Folena suggested that the wine has a mind of its own, and he favours non-interventionist winemaking techniques, allowing the vintage to express itself. Quite frankly, this philosophy was shared among the other Amador wineries, who also respect the vineyard enough to let it do its own thing. I thought that the Vino Noceto wine was similar to the Andis Zin, but with notes this time of a more pungent white pepper, balanced with sweeter red fruit flavours. Finally, we tried the 2008 vintage of “1869” from Scott Harvey Wines, poured by Scott himself. “Every layer of soil gives the wine a different dimension,” he said. Indeed, this expression cast off overtly spicy notes in favour of fresh, bright flavours of pomegranate, cherries and sweet earth, as if still wet from a recent rainstorm.

WBC 16 Vino Noceto

Owner Jim Gullett and winemaker Rusty Folena of Vino Noceto.

Special thanks to the Amador Council of Tourism, the Amador Vintners Association and to all the wineries for allowing us to taste the living history of this special region.

Coffee and Town Hall Brands

Coffee and Town Hall Brands

By Kathleen Beveridge

Today is National Coffee Day or as Howard Schultz would say, “I can’t imagine a day without coffee.”

funny-good-morning-coffee-meme-quotes-images-3

That being said I am not a coffee drinker, my choice of hot beverage has always been tea BUT there is something to be said about the smell of coffee brewing, the sounds of a coffee shop and the time spent with a warm mug in hand with friends, family and co-workers.

What I’ve noticed since joining Town Hall Brands last year is that our team loves coffee and that coffee is integral to our creative process to ensure we provide the best work for our clients. Whether creative design or communications you can bet each team member has a cup of coffee on their desk bringing focus and creative stimulation.

Now there has been studies that say coffee does not increase creativity however, for the team here I’ll respectfully disagree. Coffee keeps us fueled up and when we need those mental breaks the walk to the coffee shop usually clears the mind enough that productivity is when returning to our desks.

In case you were wondering here’s how the each team member enjoys their coffee!

Leeann

I like my coffee with just a little bit of milk and I like it to be strong. When I have a latte I like four shots of espresso and soy milk. No sugar. I’m sweet enough.

Andrew

Depends on whether it’s good coffee or not. If it’s good coffee it’s black.

Felicia

Often. With lots of cream.

Sujinder

With two (almost) vegans and one with dairy allergies in the house, we rarely have regular (cow’s) milk in the fridge, even though that’s my personal preference. That, and half a teaspoon of brown sugar. Always brown. I rarely get a hot cup of coffee at the home office, but my Stanley mega-thermos keeps it hot enough for the commute to Town Hall HQ. Other than that, I have a Nespresso ‘pixie’ which has served me well for years. My favourite pod is the Arpeggio. It’s intensity is 9/10. Just like me. And for the record, being environmentally-conscious, we scoop the grinds in the compost and recycle the aluminum. Love you, mother nature!

Laurisha

COFFEE IS MY EVERYTHING. IT DESERVES ALL THE ALL CAPS. I need it to be piping hot, fresh ground, and something like Kickinghorse, Ethical Bean or Salt-Spring. I like cream and sugar in it (not too much of either).

Amy

Americano black.

Kathleen

Tea please! Any and all kinds. Or if I have to choose a coffee make it sickly sweet-Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Mocha’s, Carmel Machiattos. I may love the smell but the taste not so much.

Grace

Office coffee with 2 creams every morning. Sometimes with sugar if I’m feeling lazy and go to a café.

Genevieve

I like plain Jane drip coffee with almond milk and HONEY.

Cheers to National Coffee Day! May your day be filled with your favourite brew.

Five Reasons to Love Okanagan Crush Pad Winery

Five Reasons to Love Okanagan Crush Pad Winery

Okanagan Crush Pad is Five today!

5glass

1. Summerland

This winery is located in beautiful Summerland, heart of the Okanagan Valley, and is one of the Bottleneck Drive wineries. The surrounding views are breathtaking and the hospitality and community are so welcoming in this small town.

The view from Okanagan Crush Pad.

The view not far from Okanagan Crush Pad.

2. Respecting history to make wines of today

Since constructing its state-of-the-art winemaking facility and visitor center in 2011, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery has been regarded as one of the most innovative wineries in Canada. One of these reasons is because of its return to yesterday’s wine making techniques using the science and knowledge of today. The use of concrete tanks and clay amphorae really work to bring out the terroir of their Haywire and Narrative wines, which personify where they are grown.

_ltp5159

Haywire natural wines with an amphorae.

3. International insights

The Okanagan Crush Pad Winery team has pulled in consulting minds from Alberto Antonini and Pedro Parra, who have used their global perspective to help the Okanagan Valley shine.

 

14457483_1164251366961450_7393452582593729622_n

The OCP team learning about the soil at Garnet Valley Ranch with Alberto and Pedro.

4. For the love of the earth and all of its animals

Switchback Vineyard, where Okanagan Crush Pad Winery is located, is certified organic. Garnet Valley Ranch, where vines are grown for Okanagan Crush Pad Winery, is also organic from day one. There are animals onsite, including chickens, ducks, dogs, sheep, cows, worms and bees, which help to keep the biodiversity alive.

ocp-chickens-sbv

Say hello to the chickens at Switchback Vineyard.

5. A dream team

Owners Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie have assembled an amazing team around them: Christine, Steve, David, Alison, Matt, Julian, Jordan, Megan, Tyler, Theo, Duncan, Kristina, Mike, Lisa, Rebecca, Amy, Rebeka, Paula, Alberto, Pedro, and many more, and we are proud to be part of it!

14500342_1165269270192993_4773192746410873691_o

The OCP team on the day Switchback Vineyard became certified organic in 2015.

Congratulations to the entire team at Okanagan Crush Pad Winery on your fifth birthday; we are so proud of all of you.

2016 BC Grape Harvest In Full Swing

2016 BC Grape Harvest In Full Swing

 

Would you like images, an interview, or to learn more? Contact Sujinder Juneja for assistance.

According to the BC Wine Institute (BCWI), BC’s cool-climate grape crop is on track for another excellent vintage this year. Hot and dry conditions in the spring led to the earliest bud break on record and the earliest harvest ever for some wineries in the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan. The low average temperatures and high rainfall allowed BC grapes to have more time to ripen on the vine and to accumulate flavour and aromatic compounds. This contributes to wines that are fresh, complex and balanced with higher acidity that make them versatile food pairings.

On Vancouver Island

Bailey Williamson, winemaker for Blue Grouse Estate Winery in Duncan on Vancouver Island, is expecting another excellent harvest at the Cowichan Valley estate. A strong growing season in April and May, followed by a cooler June and July than the previous year, led to an elongated flowering and fruit set cycle and allowed the grapes to mature and ripen to classic levels. The Blue Grouse harvest started on September 10, beginning with the popular Siegerrebe, an aromatic white varietal which tends to ripen earliest. After that, there will be a break in harvest until the end of September, when the rest of the grapes will be harvested in earnest. Compared to all the vintages since 2012, this year’s harvest started within a week of normal.

bg-winery-01-creditderekfordsmall

Blue Grouse Estate Winery in Duncan.

In the Fraser Valley

Conditions on the mainland were similar to Vancouver Island. Andrew Etsell, GM and viticulturist of Singletree Winery in Abbotsford notes that with the warm and dry August, the grapes developed beautiful flavours with balanced acids and sugars. Singletree began its harvest on August 25 – one full week earlier than 2015, and the winery’s earliest harvest on record. “We started with our Siegerrebe, which is evolving into one of our most popular wines,” Andrew shares. “We’re also keeping a close eye on our estate Pinot Noir, which we have just harvested for our first-ever estate sparkling wine. Other estate varietals, such as our Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc, will follow after that. This year’s harvest will not yield as much fruit as 2015, yet the fruit will be clean and very high quality.”

It’s harvest time at Abbotsford’s Singletree Winery.

In the Okanagan – Naramata Bench

After an unseasonably warm spring, followed by an early summer, Serendipity Winery’s Katie O’Kell was concerned that the harvest would take place much earlier than normal at her estate Naramata vineyard. However, the cooler, wetter weather moved in, which allowed the grapes to mature a more moderate pace.

Serendipity’s harvest started on August 29 with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and continued on August 31 with Viognier. With a dry and cool climate, the phenolics (flavour and aromatic compounds) will eventually catch up to the brix (a measure of potential alcohol) that is currently sitting in the low 20s.

serendipity-vineyard-4

Serendipity Winery’s estate vineyard in Naramata.

Okanagan – South

Likewise, Lawrence Buhler, director of winemaking for ENCORE Vineyards, which produces wines under the TIME Winery, Evolve Cellars and McWatters Collection labels, is also in the middle of an active harvest. Compared to last year, Buhler and his winemaking team saw a two-day early start to the season on August 17. Harvest has almost been completed for the still whites, with additional harvests to take place in the next two to four weeks for red varietals.

Regarding the balance of the 2016 harvest, Lawrence says the reds are maturing well and the cooler weather is excellent for proper fruit development and sugar accumulation in the berries.

Harry McWatters, president and CEO of ENCORE Vineyards said recently to Global Television, “we had record-breaking temperatures in April and the earliest bud break that I’ve seen in my history in British Columbia. This is my 49th vintage in the wine business and I’ve never seen a harvest this early. What it does is even in the fringe areas, where the grower may be pushing their limit as far as what they’re growing or the amount of crop they’ve got, it gives them a bit bigger window to mature that fruit to its optimum level. It’s a good thing.”

Indeed it is, Harry. And although the wineries – from Vancouver Island to the Fraser Valley to the Okanagan – are right in the middle of an exciting harvest, we already can’t wait to taste the finished wines starting next spring.

evolve-vineyard

A view towards the lake at Evolve Cellars in Summerland.

 

Town Hall Brands: Specializing in wine, food and hospitality

Town Hall Brands, based in Vancouver BC, build brands and promotes them. We offer marketing strategy, graphic design, packaging, promotional campaigns and PR, and social media outreach.

Can we help you with a story? If it comes to a story in need in wine, we can help or send you to the right place.

BCWI Colour 2016

BCWI Colour 2016

British Columbia Wine Institute‘s Fall VQA Tasting, Colour, is on the horizon. An event for trade and media to mingle with winery principals and winemakers while tasting new releases.

Later on, at “ChefmeetsGrape” the public will be able to taste the new vintages, accompanying delicious food pairings from hot restaurants.

TRADE: In order to plan your strategy for tasting your way through the day, Town Hall Brands is going to give you the inside scoop on each of our PR clients that are attending and what you can taste from them.

Since the tasting will be organized alphabetically (we hope), let’s start at the top:

Evolve Cellars

Evolve Cellars

Evolve Cellars, located in Summerland, offers a lineup of wines that are fruit-forward and approachable.  Believing every choice has intention Evolve encourages everyone to #raiseaglassto those who inspire them.

Principals attending: Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond, director of sales and marketing

Wines being poured:

  • Pink Effervescence – NEW bubbles!
  • Effervescence – NEW bubbles!
  • Pinot Blanc 2015
  • Riesling 2015
  • Cabernet Merlot 2015

Okanagan Crush Pad

smallOKCrushPadsept2015-Mike West kneeling in Switchback Vineyard-credit Taryn Liv Parker

Located in Summerland, Okanagan Crush Pad is home to Haywire and Narrative Wines. The winery team’s aim is to produce distinct, terroir-focused super-premium wines from the Okanagan Valley.

Principal attending: Christine Coletta, owner

Wines being poured:

  • Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2014
  • Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2013
  • Narrative XC Method NV
  • Narrative Rosé 2015

Serendipity Winery

Serendipity-Vinessmall

Nestled among the rolling hills of the picturesque Naramata Bench, a visit to Serendipity is about discovery, surprise and warmth. The journey began in 2005 following a serendipitous turn in the road made by owner Judy Kingston, and continues with each new vintage of wines crafted to be paired with food and shared with loved ones. Judy, a former lawyer, brings her smarts and wit to the wines and their labels. Each bottle has a story.

Principal attending: Judy Kingston, owner

Wines being poured:

  • Next Step 2012
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2015
  • Rosé 2015

TIME Winery

Wine making is about time and place, and that’s what TIME Winery proves with each new vintage. As what will be Penticton’s first urban winery, spearheaded by industry pioneer and icon Harry McWatters, these wines are complex yet approachable.

Principal attending: Harry McWatters, owner

Wines being poured:

  • Cabernet Franc 2014
  • Meritage (white) 2014
  • Meritage 2013
  • McWatters Collection Chardonnay 2013
These applauded BC wines call for an Encore!

These applauded BC wines call for an Encore!

Hot Client News!

Encore Family Shot

We’re taking a moment heading into the long weekend to #raiseaglassto one of our amazing clients and their winemaker Lawrence Buhler. The results of the NorthWest Wine Summit are in and it’s safe to say that ENCORE Vineyards, parent company of Evolve Cellars, McWatters Collection and TIME Winery, and their winemaker deserve a round of applause for their recent landslide of awards.

The Superlative Awards

“Best” Category – Evolve Cellars Riesling 2015

Evolve View and Wine-Chris Stenberg-6599

Jerry Mead Awards:

Best Value Wines: Evolve Cellars Rosé 2015, Evolve Cellars Riesling 2015

Gold

Evolve Cellars

  • Riesling 2015
  • Rosé (Merlot & Pinot Blanc) 2015

McWatters Collection

  • “HMC” Chardonnay 2013

HMC Family

TIME Winery

  • Meritage (39% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc) 2013

ckstenberg-8824Silver

Evolve Cellars

  • Gewürztraminer 2015

McWatters Collection

  • “Meritage” 60% Cabernet Sauvignon (three clones) 20% Merlot (two clones), & 12% Cabernet Franc (one clone) 2012

TIME Winery

  • Cabernet Franc 2014
  • Chardonnay 2013
  • Meritage (white blend: 68% Sauvignon Blanc, 32% Sémillon) 2014

Bronze

Evolve Cellars

  • Cabernet Merlot 2014
  • Pinot Blanc 2014
  • Pinot Gris 2015
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2014

 

ENCORE Vineyards Ltd., is a progressive Okanagan-based company, and home to TIME Winery, Evolve Cellars, and McWatters Collection.

The ENCORE team is led by president and CEO Harry McWatters, a 49-year veteran of the British Columbia wine industry. Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond is the ENCORE director of sales and marketing, offering lifelong wine industry insight. Lawrence Buhler is ENCORE’s director of winemaking, who has experienced more than 16 vintages in Ontario, British Columbia, Chile, Argentina, and Australia. He will oversee the company’s growing portfolio of premium British Columbia wines.

Congratulations winemaker Lawrence; the Town Hall Brands team awaits your encore!

WBC16: Connection & Engagement

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 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

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.