5 Takeaways From My Okanagan Vacation

Photo credit: Jessie Tolmie

Well, this drunken sommelier is back on the grind after a leisurely week spent roaming the lands and getting tipsy with the faces of the South Okanagan, namely those in Oliver & Osoyoos.

And there's been several revelations, if not full-blown epiphanies, that have occurred to me in this time. Let's get going.

1) If They Say You Can't Do It, Do It Anyway.

Nothing bothers me more (for a few reasons) than the age-old story of "everyone thought we were crazy" that wine producers in emerging regions seem to constantly tell and that so many folks glom onto and attempt to spread and confirm.

But let me tell you why.

First of all, why would you take such a massive financial and logistical risk on something that you genuinely thought was a bad idea and unlikely to work out? How is it that so many people that were early to the party just by chance turned out to be correct? I ran into a farmer in the Similkameen Valley named Greg the other day. He told me that he planted the Passion Pit Vineyard made well-known by Orofino Vineyards' Cabernet Sauvignon. He said he sat on his orchard and watched the sun beat the hell out of this gravel pit day in and day out. So he bought it and planted Cabernet Sauvignon vines on it.

Was that crazy? Or was that just a calculated risk as a professional grower of things that he made?

I had a supposed wine person comment on an Instagram post I made the other day about a red wine from the Similkameen Valley. This guy noted the wine as an excellent "example of the potential of the valley". I was kind of annoyed by that because I thought the potential, if not realized entirely, was already realized obviously, by exactly the wine I had posted about and by so many others like it. We already know it's really good. Sure, it can get better. But that won't be surprising, because it's, like, already so good. Potential?!

When are we going to stop acting like this whole British Columbia wine industry is an accident or some fluke that Anthony (von...really!!!) Mandl stumbled upon randomly and recognize that it's been there all along, ready for willing minds and bodies to draw out its nectar?

It works because it works and because smart people did smart things and inspired other smart people to do smart things. And the fact that so many people who aren't that smart can still get their shit together to produce something remotely drinkable is just a testament to A) how good the region is for winegrowing and B) how it didn't take outright maverick geniuses to figure that out.

Anyone who said, "You'll never make good wine in British Columbia, you're crazy! You're an idiot!" was clearly an idiot and shouldn't have been listened to in the first place.

Let's stick to the facts and to the smart people who looked for solutions instead of reasons not to take action and not do something cool.

Let's give credit to the region. Let's give credit to those who were smart enough to see that the region would bring delicious rewards and disciplined enough to dig in and bring them to us.

And let's stop acting so surprised that the wines are decent.

2) Young Wine Regions Need Space & Time

To experiment. And breathe. And experiment again. On this recent trip, yes, I drank Bordeaux varietal wines, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, etc., but I also drank Zinfandel, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tannat, Orange Muscat, and Syrah. The latter half were arguably more memorable, and sure, perhaps it's because of the relative rarity of their presence in the Okanagan (with the exception of Syrah, which, to me, is undeniably suitable to the region as a whole, in various styles), but perhaps it's also because certain growers have been willing to take chances, fight the good fight, and continue to try to see what works, trusting their winemaking teams to produce something that's quantifiably good enough to match what's already been produced throughout the region's short history. It's challenging to continue to buck trends and bottle a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre/Malbec/Viognier blend instead of the straight Malbec or Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon when you know there's a clearcut customer who knows the names of the latter varietals but might struggle to open their mind to a creative interpretation of resources indicated by the former. It might cost a producer revenue dollars in the short term, but in the long term it provides the industry with examples from which to draw answers, and more importantly, inspiration.

It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile//Be yourself, no matter what they say

-Sting, 'Englishman in New York'

3) Wine & Golf Go Together Like....

...lamb & tuna fish. Or something like that. There's something to be said for the affinities between these two modern industries. First of all, there's the privileged history and exploitation rampant in perpetuating both. But, there's also this weird mysticism about both of them that seem to bring otherwise sound intellects to shambles, confusing and confounding, perplexing and perpetuating anxiety amongst all those who take either (or both) seriously. There's the landscaping, the horticulture. The common aesthetics, and the beautiful moments when those aesthetics are defied. The affinity of participating in both simultaneously. The intense levels of conversation that often ensue. The night walks through vineyards. The secret and and stumbled rounds of night golf. The oft-illegal nature of both. And the profound desire to keep participating even though we get it wrong more often than we get it right, along with the fact that it's rarely a smooth process in either case.

4) Vines & People Have Similar Tastes

We like some heat. We like the sun. We thrive on a little exercise.

Some healthy stress does us good.

And we also need some downtime. We need a cool breeze to chill us out once in a while.

We need some quiet to clear the cache. To reset.

We need diligent pruning. Good habits.

And the things we leave behind: the music, the art, the literature, the photography, the memories.

They are, indeed, meaningful.

They matter. They're letters to future iterations of ourselves.

5) People Matter More Than Wine

Lovely people and experiences can make ordinary (or even flat-out shitty) wines taste redeemable.

And assholes can make great wines intolerable.

If we pay more attention to the quality of the people we surround ourselves with, the quality of the wines will follow if we want it to.

On another tangent of the same title, land & labour are essential to our love of wine. It's important that we at least do our best to bring awareness to the situations that produce those fine bottles that we enjoy. It's important that we at least understand where shortcomings may occur and where they might be corrected or advocated for.

It's a messy world. I want to believe in justice, and I want to believe in decency. Occasionally, those things are easily obscured by the comfort of our privilege, or simply the human condition that comes calling so regularly, albeit in varying degrees, for each of us. This makes it challenging to understand the experience of anyone else; when we feel inundated with the struggle that inevitably presents itself.

I guess what I'm saying is that people matter, and conscious choices that we make have the ability to affect the recognition of those people. Whether those people have had land taken from them or have been mistreated or have simply been ignored.

If our thoughts inform our ideas and our ideas inform our actions, let's not be afraid of new thoughts.

Because those thoughts have the ability to form new ideas and new actions.

And I think it's worth trying to drink this stuff in an overall better way tomorrow than we did today.

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