The tasting room at Blue Mountain is a place that from a visitor’s perspective possesses a sort of mystical quality. With its high ceilings, and windows looking out to the infamous view over Vaseux Lake and McIntyre Bluff, it feels totally removed from my normal reality. In short, it's a beautiful place to come and taste some nice wines, but it is also a beehive of activity — most of which happens oblivious to people like me who normally spend their time in front of the tasting bar, gazing out the windows, and sipping my way into an ethereal wine high.
Recently I awoke from that wine daydream when an invitation was extended by Christie to come work a shift in the Blue Mountain tasting room to see what really goes on in a typical Saturday. As a more-or-less behind the scenes marketing and social media consultant for the winery, my inner wine geek jumped at the chance to get my hands dirty so to speak.
Right from the get go I had to question my own sanity for accepting this temporary role! I am exaggerating of course, but from my first step onto the tasting room floor everything was more complicated and busy than I could ever have expected.
The first visitors in for the day were tasting with a fairly intense looking notebook filled with detailed observations about each wine, and their questions were nothing short of expert. It was only 11am and I was already well out of my depth.
Julie, who is a regular host in the tasting room, acted as my mentor for the day and upon seeing the look of bewilderment on my face, smartly sent me to the back room to deal with dishwasher and glass polishing duties.
While I've loaded and unloaded many a dishwasher in my day, it became apparent that I was not actually that great at this. The sheer number of tasting glasses that get used in a day creates a constant need for glasses to be cleaned and polished. While I was thorough, I noticed that I worked about half the speed of Julie. When it came time to carry the glasses I could carry maybe four or five at best, Julie can carry twice this amount — my technique is clearly lacking.
After several rounds of dishwasher duty, I find myself back in the tasting room where I am running boxes of wine from the warehouse to the front as the supply levels dwindle in front. Also, with the number of white wines that Blue Mountain tastes it's always important to have the supply fridge stocked with the next few rounds of Sparkling Brut, Pinot Blanc, etc., so that the visitors can enjoy their wine tastings at the correct temperature. I'm breaking a sweat, but this is apparently normal.
Finally, just after lunch, the tasting room erupts into pandemonium…at least for me.
While I'm still sweating, Julie is looking quite calm dealing with the four groups of five or so that have just shown up. I see a chance to make myself useful, and bring glasses to the waiting folk and start pouring some wines in the small groups that have formed while waiting.
By this point I have become fully aware that about all I can do competently is be a good host, tell some bad jokes, and keep people happy, which in some sense is what wine is really all about — fun times, good people, and good conversation — simple moments. Still, I’m looking over at Julie for approval as I’m starting to realize that things are a bit different on this side of the bar.
Around mid afternoon I finally start to hit my stride, and this whole tasting room adventure is becoming less stressful and much more fun. The sheer variety of people that come into the tasting room is fascinating, and there are literally people from all over the world that come to visit. Older folk, younger folk, wine connoisseurs, and newbies, that all share a common interest in wine.
Everything is going swimmingly until the barrage of technical questions begin in my sidebar tasting group. First a question about battonage, then carbonic maceration, then electric fencing in the vineyard, then Methode Traditionnelle champagne making, then about French Oak and forests in the nether regions of France, then about vineyard microclimate, then about corks vs. screw caps, then about…well, you get the idea. Thankfully by this point Blue Mountain's winemaker Matt Mavety has stepped into the tasting room and is able to answer all of these inquiries in great depth.
By the end of the day my feet are tired, I’ve talked to a couple hundred people, and I’m starting to wonder where I left my half-eaten sandwich. Perhaps Nikita or Chablis the vineyard dogs ate it while I wasn't looking.
Over the course of the day I had memorized most of the information available on the back of the bottle, and also picked up a lot of interesting knowledge from Matt & Julie. Most importantly though, it was a fun day for both me and hopefully for the people I had the opportunity to chat with.
While it was a completely humbling experience, I come away from this with a great appreciation for how much there is to know about wine, and the level to which many wine drinkers really want to learn about the craft of winemaking.
Next time I'm in for a tasting I will have an understanding of just how hectic things can be in these summer months, and will appreciate the knowledge of those behind the bar much more. Who knows, I may even moonlight on the other side of the tasting room again again if the good folk at Blue Mountain will let me.
The stories and happy visitors made for a hectically satisfying day!
Chris Stenberg is a guest contributor to the Blue Mountain Winery blog.
By day he is a media producer and online marketing consultant to the winery, and has spent a good deal of time around the wine industry in the Okanagan, but still considers himself a humble student, learning as much as he can one glass at a time.
On May 31st we had the opportunity to visit some of our neighbours in the OK Falls Winery Association. This was an opportunity to get to know some of the people in our association and also find out a little bit about each of the wineries and what makes them unique.
Our first stop was to see Jeri and Josh at See Ya Later Ranch who were very welcoming and did a great job sharing all the wines SYL is producing. As their new patio is constructed they are encouraging people to enjoy lighter fare out on the grassy lawn in front of the winery for picnics under the shade of the trees.
Cheese boards and charcuterie are available on site everyday with featured specials on the weekends. Wine shop hours are 10 am till 5 pm every day.
Our second stop of the day was at a new winery in Kaleden that neither of us had visited before. Top Shelf Winery has a hockey theme and the wine shop has a great memorabilia area. Myra and Len are in their first year of operation and have three wines to try. All of the wines have great hockey theme names like Slap Shot Chardonnay, Point Shot Pinot Gris and Over the Top (OT) Merlot. The tasting included great cheese from Village Cheese in Armstrong to complement the wines. They also sell gelato!
On June 30th they will be celebrating their grand opening from 2 – 6pm and invite everyone to visit for some great food and entertainment.
Next door to Topshelf is Kraze Legs Winery, also relatively new. The entire winery is themed around the 1920’s and has a great area to bring your own picnic or purchase an assortment of cheeses and crackers onsite. With stunning views of Skaha Lake from the west side a really unique place to spend a few hours. All of their wines are named after dances from the 20’s like “All that Jazz” and “The Bees Knees”!
A quick stop at Bighorn Ridge to meet Carla and see the magnificent view from her Guest House was greeted with a brief rain shower on our arrival but we were dry and comfortable under the shelter of the guest house. What a peaceful place to stay in the Okanagan. Rustic elegance in wine country. Also pet friendly!
On our return Noble Ridge was the next stop. We visited with Katie and Tamsin and sampled some of the wine’s from Noble Ridge including the King’s Ransom. Noble Ridge is open 10 – 5 each day and has a stunning deck to enjoy a picnic. You can bring your own or take a sampling of local cheese and charcuterie available at the winery. They have a great assortment of gift items and are hosting some interesting events in the coming weeks. June 30th is their Calgary Stampede 100th Anniversary celebration Breakfast complete with white Stetsons and great food and entertainment. Stop by before you start touring that day!
Our final stop of the day was at Meyer Family Vineyards on Mclean Creek Road where we sampled our way through the majority of their portfolio graciously hosted by Jak, Sharon and Van Dorin. After lots of laughs we were on our way back to Blue Mountain. Meyer Family Vineyards also offers private Sommelier led tastings. These are completely customizable and must be booked in advance with the winery.
Alas we were unable to visit all off our neighbours due to time constraints but we are hoping to get out to Painted Rock, Blasted Church, Wild Goose and Stag’s Hollow another day. Thanks everyone for making us feel so welcome and we look forward to sending visitors to all the unique wineries in the Ok Falls Winery Association this season.
Things have been busy in the vineyard this Spring, but our winemaker Matt Mavety, managed to conveniently escape for a couple of days to Vancouver. He refuses to confirm this, but we believe it might have something to do with the lack of sun over the last week.
While attending tastings of our latest vintage at a few Vancouver wine dealers, Matt managed to catch up with John Schreiner, who has been an ardent supporter of BC wines, and of Blue Mountain from the beginning. Check out what he penned about Blue Mountain and the Okanagan wine scene over at John Schreiner on Wine.
Thank you John for your continued support of Blue Mountain wines, and of the entire BC wine industry!