Every year thousands of visitors descend upon the Okanagan Valley looking for that little piece of what many of us take for granted. We live here and we can visit these places anytime but even within the valley we all have our favorites. We thought it would be fun to come up with our own list of the best kept secrets in the Okanagan. So we surveyed a few of our staff and asked them to share the best things about being a local in the Okanagan. We hope if you are here for a weekend or a week long holiday you will enjoy having a few insider tips on where to go and what to do.
Favorite Place to while away an afternoon?
Julie: On any of the lakes in the valley.
Christoph: Okanagan Beach, Penticton.
Felix: Horseback riding in Summerland.
Christie: The mice
Favorite Ice Cream flavour and where you go to get it?
Julie: Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel –Tickleberry’s
Christoph: Chocolate- Tickleberry’s, Ok Falls
Felix: Lemon and Passion Fruit Sorbet at Tickleberry’s, Ok Falls
Christie: Chocolate Chip Mine – Ogopogo’s
Favorite hill to ski or snowboard on in the valley?
Julie: Silver Star Mountain in Vernon
Christie: Mt. Baldy
Best summer event in the Okanagan?
Julie: Feast of Fields
Felix: My birthday so far…
Christie: Feast of Fields
Julie: Anarchist Lookout above Osoyoos looking north or south on a clear day.
Christoph: the view from Blue Mountain Vineyards over Vaseux Lake
Felix: Blue Mountain View of McIntyre Bluff
Christie: I am biased….
Best Beach in the Okanagan?
Julie: Powell Beach in Summerland
Christoph: Okanagan Beach, Penticton
Felix: There are beautiful hidden beaches in Naramata
Christie: 3 mile, Naramata
Favorite Drive or ride?
Julie: The old highway between West Kelowna and Vernon
Christoph: East – side of Skaha Lake
Felix: Trails in Naramata, Three Blind Mice
Christie: White Lake Road
Best place for lunch with friends?
Julie: Hillside Winery – have the duck confit sandwich!
Christoph: Barking Parrot, Penticton Lakeside Resort
Felix: The Hooded Merganser, Penticton Lakeside Resort
Christie: The Bench Market, Penticton
Most interesting tasting room experience at another winery?
Julie: Church and State Winery – love that you get to sit and relax while you taste.
Felix: Rustico Farm and Cellars
Favorite Okanagan Syrah?
Julie: Young & Wyse
Christoph: 2009 Syrah, Cassini Cellars, Osoyoos
Felix: Le Vieux Pin
Christie: Laughing Stock
Favorite Okanagan Riesling?
Julie: Tantalus Old Vines Riesling and Upper Bench Riesling
Christoph: 2011 Dry Riesling, Gehringer Brothers, Oliver
Felix: Tantalus & 8th Generation
Favorite Okanagan Blend?
Julie: Blue Mountain Sparkling
Christoph: 2010 Honest John’s Red, Road 13, Oliver
Felix: Osoyoos Larose
Best Breakfast or Brunch in the valley?
Julie: Patio at Wild Apple Grill at Manteo Resort
Felix: The Veras Special at the Elite Restaurant
Christie: The Bench Market
Best Fall Wine Festival Event to attend?
Julie: Gourmet and Grapes Iron Chef Showdown at Cabana
Christie: Westjet tastings
Best kept secret about the Okanagan?
Julie: All the talented chef’s we have in the valley.
Christie: Joy Road Catering God’s Mountain Dinners
Favorite Fruit Stand?
Julie: Blossom’s In Summerland
Christoph: Farmer’s Market in Penticton
Felix: Matheson Creek Farm
Christie: Matheson Creek Farm
Let us know what your favorites are and if there are some other Okanagan secrets that we haven't thought of.
For 10 days in late September and early October each year the Okanagan Valley comes alive with a celebration of the grape harvest. This is the only wine festival in North America held during harvest with over a hundred events taking place around the valley from vineyard tours to winemaker’s dinners, iron chef cook offs and educational seminars.
The Okanagan Fall Wine Festival is ranked among the top 100 events in North America and it is right in our backyard. So book early, plan ahead and take in some of the great food, extraordinary locations, amazing wine, music and people the Okanagan celebrates each fall. This year's festival kicks off September 28th and runs until October 7th. Pick your weekend or weekday, visit and celebrate with the people who make the delicious BC wines you enjoy all year long.
A full listing of events is available on the Festival website. Some highlights include:
September 30, 2012 Gourmet and Grapes, Iron Chef Throwdown VIII at Cabana Restaurant, 6pm
Gourmet & Grapes is a mixing, mingling and grazing event that boasts some of the Okanagan’s top Chefs. There will be a selection of some of the areas most renowned wineries pouring alongside these Chefs. Included in the evening’s festivities is Round 8 of Iron Chef Okanagan! Filmed, narrated and broadcasted throughout the event. This event has become one of the most exciting wine festival events of the season. Sells out every year! www.cabanagrille.com
A new event this year is Alexis de Portneuf, The Young Chefs on October 4, 2012 at Infusions Restaurant, Okanagan College.
Alexis de Portneuf is challenging nine BC Interior young Chefs to get creative. The challenge is to create an appetizer, main or dessert course using cheese. Guests will sample these creations and will vote for their favourites. Come celebrate the young culinary talent in the Okanagan. www.selectyourtickets.com or 250.717.5304
The final weekend wraps up with the Valley First Grand Finale Consumer Tastings October 5 & 6, 6:00 pm at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre.
Over 60 wineries will be pouring with over 240 wines to sample. There will be live entertainment at this safe ride home event. This is a great way to sample wines of the Okanagan without having to drive around. Weekend Passes are available to make sure you get to sample everything; allowing participants to sip white one night and swirl red the next. Tickets at www.valleyfirsttix.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars is pleased to participate in a wine dinner, October 4, 2012 at the Harvest Golf Club 6:30 pm.
This is a great opportunity to savour the flavours of the elite wines from Blue Mountain. Treat your senses with a locally inspired five course culinary creation from Executive Chef Dan Werry and his culinary team paired with Blue Mountain wines. Live musical entertainment. Reservations required.
Chardonnay is a wine that many people either love or hate, perhaps due to the wide range of styles on the market. Our winemaker Matt Mavety explains some of the choices involved in making Chardonnay, his own personal philosophy on the varietal, and some technical aspects involved in cultivating a nice Chardonnay wine. As always, at Blue Mountain viticulture is paramount to creating the best possible bottle of wine.
You can check out the latest Blue Mountain Chardonnay vintage here, or stop by the winery for a tasting!
In June the Euro Cup was held in Poland and the Ukraine. You wouldn’t think this is a big deal to a bunch of Canadians who didn’t even qualify, but here at Blue Mountain Vineyards it was. This year we have 3 staff members from Germany and one from Poland. I myself have a British/Dutch heritage so soccer or football as they call it in Europe was very much a part of growing up. Needless to say the discussions around the lunch table and the interaction between the guys in the cellar and the office staff were pretty focused on the games. It made it kind of fun to all unite around a common subject. Sport. Sadly none of our teams won but we enjoyed giving each other a hard time and commiserating when our teams were eliminated.
Two of our Euro Contingent are permanent staff. Tomasz from Poland who does restaurant and retail sales in the Okanagan as well as helping in the office and tasting room and doing a lot of packing. Felix is also here on a more permanent basis as well and makes up part of the German trio. Felix assists Matt with the winemaking and Christoph and Christine are here on internships until the end of harvest. Christoph is working in the cellar and the vineyard and Christine is helping us in the office and the tasting room. As part of our conversations I thought it might be interesting to get to know these Euro staffers a little better and so I asked them a few questions. Here is what they had to say.
How did you become interested in wine?
Tomasz: I first got introduced to red wine back in Poland, around 12 - 13 years ago. At that time there was almost nothing available so when I arrived in Canada 10 years ago I was pleasantly surprised to see all the wine from around the world.
Christine: I was raised on my parents wine estate so I became familiar with working in the vineyard and cellar. I also represented my village as a wine princess and decided to study International Wine Business.
Felix: My grandpa and uncle farm vineyards in Germany. As a little boy I already helped out in the vineyards.
Christoph: Grew up in a traditional wine region and worked at my parent’s winery.
Favorite wine region in the world?
Tomasz: I haven’t seen that many places, but I think I like the border of Spain and France.
Christine: There are lots of great wine growing regions and to my mind each is individual and fascinating. There are nice regions in Germany like Pfalz (palatinate), Baden especially the Lake Constance area and the Douro Valley in Portugal and of course the Okanagan Valley.
Felix: The Pfalz in Germany. The second largest wine region with 23,000 ha and the most beautiful. The world’s best Rieslings come from there.
Christoph: Wurttemberg, Germany
Favorite grape varietal and why?
Tomasz: Chardonnay because it is so beautiful and so underrated nowadays.
Christine: I really like Riesling because this grape is so changeable. This means that you can produce brilliant dry wines which can be fruity or have mineral qualities, on the other hand it is possible to create great sweet and noble sweet wines. Riesling has great flavours of green apple, peach, grapefruit and a high acidity which leads to a fresh wine.
Christoph: Riesling - There are many different styles and types are possible. Typical for Germany you can find it anywhere in Germany.
Felix: Definitely Riesling. No other variety is so versatile and expresses the terroir like Riesling does.
What you like best about being in the Okanagan?
Tomasz: Once the summer arrives, there is no better place to be in the world. First class outdoor activities, mountains, wine, lakes...everything is here.
Christine: Friendly people and customers, beautiful landscapes and nice weather.
Christoph:The friendly, helpful and relaxed people.
Felix: Meeting new and interesting people. Beautiful landscape and good wine.
What do you miss most from home besides your family?
Tomasz: Homemade perogies and white borsch over smoked sausage.
Christine: German breakfast, driving without a speed limit.
Christoph: My fantastic friends!
Felix: Beer, sausage and sauerkraut and my girlfriend of course.
What do you hope to learn from your experience at Blue Mountain Winery?
Christine: To get an insight into the Canadian way of producing and selling wine and the wine market. To get to know some new wines with a different style.
Christoph: How to produce high quality wines and how to manage all of the important sequences of work. Also to improve my English.
Felix: To make good wine, getting more independent and more experience. To gain insight into a successful run winery.
So if you see them in the tasting room or out on a tractor say hi or give them a wave. They are happy to share their experiences and talk with visitors. Thank you to all of our Euro connection for being such great sports. I am sure we will learn as much from them as they are learning with their Canadian experience. Hopefully their time here will leave them with a soft spot in their hearts for Canada in the future. Go Canada go!
Food and wine pairing can be complicated. It takes lots of practice and if you get it wrong it can be mediocre at best. If you get it right the experience can be magical. There are lots of excellent food pairings that have a history of going well together. Things like Sauvignon Blanc and Goat Cheese, Pinot Noir and Duck or Wild Mushroom Risotto, Pinot Gris and Oysters. Here is an easy one to get you started on your road to food and wine pairing success and to wow your friends or family the next time you are hosting an event! Makes a great light starter especially if people are arriving at different times. Serve with well chilled dry Sparkling wine and celebrate life!
How to make truffle popcorn!
Popcorn- we pop ours in an air popper
Melted Butter - about 2 -3 tbsp
Truffle Oil - start with a little and taste regularily until you get the right amount. It can be very strong so a little goes a long way.
Salt - we use sea salt infused with fresh thyme
Fresh cracked Pepper
Pop your popcorn in an air popper into a large vessel. We use a large pail so we can distribute the butter, truffle oil, salt and pepper evenly.
Drizzle with ⅓ of the melted butter. Shake or toss. Repeat a couple more times.
Drizzle with a small amount of truffle oil. Shake or toss. Taste and repeat if necessary.
Grind salt in a spice grinder with fresh thyme infusing the salt with the thyme flavour. It will look bright green to begin with but as it drys out will take on a dried green colour. You can make a fair amount of this and store it in an airtight container for future use.
Sprinkle with thyme infused salt. Shake or toss.
Sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper. Shake or toss.
Enjoy! Particularly with Sparkling wine or a buttery Chardonnay.
Why do these two very different items go so well together? The yeastiness of the Sparkling and the earthiness of the truffle oil marry well as well as the saltiness of the popcorn and the refreshing effervescence of the sparkling. Try it ...we think you’ll like it....alot!
For a sampling of Truffle Popcorn visit us on Friday afternoons and taste it with our Blue Mountain Sparkling Brut.
The Penticton Farmer’s Market is the place to be on Saturday mornings. Not only do you get a chance to catch up with friends you also get to meet the people who grow the food you enjoy throughout the season. And in the Okanagan we are fortunate to have some amazing growers. One of these local producers is Zebroff’s farm in Cawston, BC. George and Anna Zebroff have been farming organically for 40 years near Cawston B.C. Their name has become synonymous with what organics is all about. You will see their son Yuri and his wife, Brandi continue that tradition under the name of Honest Food Farm. They not only produce and sell beautiful fruit, but organic juices, jams, dried fruit, salsa, and honey. Make sure you go and try their French Kiss plums!
One of our favorite staples from the Farmer’s Market is Joy Road Catering’s fresh fruit galettes. These beautiful pastries in either individual or group sizes make a great morning snack or the perfect end to your dinner party. Changing with the seasons these delicious pastries are filled with the freshest Okanagan fruits available. Their baking is made with only the finest ingredients bought at the market including certified organic flour, honey from the Similkameen Apiary, Organic eggs from their own chickens, organic unrefined cane sugar and real butter. Visit Cameron Smith and Dana Ewart at the market every Saturday but go early as they sell out quickly.
The Market starts in May and goes until October and is an excellent place to take your friends or family when they come to visit. There are great buskers, lots of arts and crafts and of course no end to great food to enjoy on-site or take home and make your own authentically local meal.
The Penticton Farmer’s Market started in 1991 and is believed to be the third largest farmer’s market in all of B.C. It runs three blocks long, along the North end of Main Street, every Saturday from 8:30am to 12pm.
Don't forget to look for Lisa's flowers, right across from Joy Road Catering!
We are extremely fortunate in the Okanagan Valley to have some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and also a widely diverse selection of fantastic wines. Spending an afternoon wine tasting in the Okanagan is one of the great pleasures of being in this area, and it’s our aim to make this experience enjoyable for all of our guests and show off this area that we proudly call home.
If you’re looking to spend some time touring the local wineries we have outlined some tips for you based on our own experiences around the valley.
Where Should I Go?
Well, we’re partial to Okanagan Falls and feel that this area is the dark horse of the local wine industry, but we may be a bit biased! Otherwise the entire valley is filled with stunning views and some great wine.
Okanagan Wine Regions
- Similkameen Valley (Cawston / Keremeos)
- Oliver (Black Sage Bench / Golden Mile)
- Okanagan Falls (Corkscrew Drive / Skaha Lake / Kaleden)
- Naramata Bench
- Summerland (Bottleneck Drive)
- West Kelowna
- Kelowna (The Mission / East Kelowna)
- Lake Country
What Should I Wear?
While there is no set dress code, we would imagine that most wineries adhere to a “no shirt, no shoes” policy. A good rule of thumb would be to dress as if you were going out for a casual bistro meal. Dress comfortably for the weather, and a day spent wandering around outside and travelling between wineries. Also, try to avoid heavily scented perfumes and colognes as this might interfere with your wine tasting experience and that of others.
Who Should I Go With?
Bring all of your best friends, or go it alone! Either way can be a great experience, but we do recommend a designated driver or tour service to make the day safe and enjoyable.
Do I Have to Drink the Wine?
Most definitely not. You are free to taste from available selections, and it is perfectly acceptable and non-offensive to spit discretely into the spittoon, or dump out the remaining contents of your glass. In fact, professional wine tasters always spit when judging wines as it allows them to keep their wits about them for the duration of the tasting day and properly taste a larger quantity of wines.
Are There Wine Tasting Fees in the Okanagan?
This depends on the winery specifically. It is common practice now for most wineries to charge anywhere from $2-10 per tasting flight. Some reserve or special vintage wines may be available to taste in addition to that. Many wineries waive the tasting fee with a purchase on a per person basis. Some wineries do tasting fees by donation to a local charity. Again, it varies from winery to winery, but in our experience it is best to bring some cash along for the day as it seems difficult to find an ATM when you need one.
How Old Do I Have to Be?
The law in British Columbia dictates that you need to be 19 years of age to consume alcohol, so basically you need to be 19 or beyond to try our wines at the winery.
What Kind of Wines Can I Try?
Most wineries pour a selection of their wines depending on availability. Typically many of the white wines are released in the spring around the Spring Wine Festival, with the big reds being released around the Fall Wine Festival, however, there are exceptions to this. Also, while the Okanagan is considered cooler climate, and well suited to grapes like Pinot and Chardonnay, we also get some intense heat and sunshine, particularly in the most southern parts of the valley, so we also have some nice Merlots, Cabernets, and Syrahs.
At Blue Mountain we produce Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and a Sparkling Brut. We typically taste 4 of these wines at any given time depending on availability.
While wine tasting can be a bit intimidating at first, the most important thing to remember is to have fun. Wine means many things to many different people, but ultimately we feel it is meant to be a part of a great social experience.
Whether you are a wine connoisseur or a first time wine drinker, we hope that what you take away from your wine tasting experience is an appreciation of the experience. We want you to have a fantastic time and go home with fun filled memories of your time in the Okanagan. Read our "How to taste wine for beginners".
Our tasting room staff is here to make your experience enjoyable, so please don’t hesitate to ask any questions while you are here. We are always more than happy to help you have the best experience possible.
The act of tasting wine itself can look a bit strange to the newcomer, so we’ve put together this handy beginner’s guide to wine tasting, so you can look like an expert on your visit to the tasting room should you so desire!
Step 1 - Select Your Wines
Typically the host will explain what is available for tasting and ask you which ones you’d like to try. Most Okanagan wineries will allow up to 5 tastings.
To maximize your experience, it’s usually recommended to start with the lighter wines and move to the heavier ones, as the heavier ones will have a dominating effect on your palate which would make tasting a lighter wine more difficult should it be done the other way around.
So typically it’s advised to taste from white to red, and within those two categories from light to heavy, or dry to sweet. Most tasting room menus are ordered in this way, so simply following from top to bottom on the list will usually suffice.
Step 2 - Swirl Glass
You’ll notice people swirling their glasses. Unless you’ve developed impeccable wrist twirling technique, it’s best to do this by placing the base of the glass on the counter and moving it in a circular motion. The purpose of this is to aerate the wine. The wine has been trapped in a bottle sometimes for a couple of years, so it needs to “breathe” a little to reach its optimum flavour.
Step 3 - Sniff
Stick your nose right in the glass, close your mouth, and breathe in giving the wine a good sniff. Take the glass away and think about what it might smell like. The scents that you pick up might remind you of cherries, raspberries, tobacco, chocolate, or leather in a red wine; while in a white wine you may detect citrus fruit like lime or grapefruit, stone fruits like peaches and apricots, grass, and honey.
What you pick up here is entirely about you. Don’t be swayed by what other people think, and feel free to come up with your own observations. If you smell waffle cones and butterscotch then that is what you smell. Everyone has a different point of reference when it comes to tasting wine.
Step 4 - Repeat Steps 2 & 3
It’s ideal to take another run at the swirl and sniff as often you’ll pick up more the second time around.
Step 5 - Sip Wine
Take a little sip from the glass and hold it in your mouth for a couple of seconds. Some people will take air in at the same time making a little gurgling noise. This is for the same reason as step 2. Otherwise give the wine a little swish in your mouth, and take note of the flavours. Often what you taste initially on the tip of your tongue will be a bit different than what you taste mid-tongue, or mid-palate after the wine has lingered a moment. Spit or swallow the wine as you desire, and then think about the flavour or aftertaste that remains in your mouth. This is described as “the finish.” Does the flavour linger for a long time, or does it disappear quickly? What does it taste like. If you breathe back into your mouth what flavours remain?
A wine could have a smoky finish, or some nice caramel on the finish. Repeat the process a second time or until the wine is gone.
Step 6 - Pontificate
Many people find it fun to think about the wine and share observations about it after. This can be educational, interesting, and sometimes even downright hilarious. Again, serious tasters will have very seasoned palates and astute observations, but this should not turn you off as wine is different for everyone. Try to form your own opinion, and remember that it’s okay to start with whether or not you like it. This is probably the most relevant piece of the puzzle.
Step 7 - Buy Wine
While you certainly don’t have to purchase wine after a tasting, if you do like one, some, or all of the wines it may be nice to bring some home for dinner that night, or to take some home to enjoy at a later date.
We welcome you in the tasting room Monday through Sunday from 11am -5pm, May through October.
Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars's Tasting Room/Wine Shop.
Ask a Winemaker
This is the first in a series of ongoing conversations with our winemaker Matt Mavety.
Today, Friday, July 20 from 9:30am - 2:30pm our very own winemaker Matt Mavety has been asked to speak at the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Conference (iC4) in St. Catharines, Ontario. He will be representing Western Canada and be part of a panel discussion along with winemakers from several other cool climate Chardonnay regions including Argentina, Burgundy, Australia and Niagara.
Growing up in the Okanagan valley, particularly in the summer, most of us would not have considered cool climate and Okanagan as three words that could be used in the same sentence. However, apparently that is what we, in parts of the Okanagan are considered. Here are the questions we asked.
So what exactly constitutes cool climate?
A cool climate wine region can be located anywhere in the world. A cool climate region is determined by the growing degree days which is the amount of heat accumulation during the entire growing season. A very cool climate growing area might have 1000 - 1200 growing degree days. We at Blue Mountain Winery have between 1200 - 1400 growing degree days so we are considered cool climate. In order to adjust for varying latitude a system was created called Latitude-Temperature Index (LTI).
LTI = mean temperature of the warmest month x (60 - latitude)
And what makes a cool climate so special for growing Chardonnay?
Cool climate allows for the retention of acidity and a slower maturation period. It also can enhance aromatics and have the capacity to produce table wines of distinction. “Cool climates help to preserve acidity which enhances the elegance of fruit around a core of minerality” Seb Jacquey, Winemaker, Le Clos Jordanne, Niagara.
What is unique about Blue Mountain that makes it considered a cool climate for Chardonnay?
1. Topography, at the latitude we are situated.
2. Lake Moderation - Vaseaux Lake moderates early and late
3. Geography - the narrowness of the valley in our section of
Okanagan Falls creates cooler days and in some vineyards a heat
effect from heat dissipated off the nearby rocks.
If you have any questions for Matt please feel free to submit them, and when he isn’t out in the vineyard driving the tractor we will get him to answer them.
The i4C event in Niagara is a great chance for consumers to taste some great cool climate Chardonnay and learn about this challenging grape, and for winemakers to meet and share ideas with other exceptional producers of Chardonnays that flourish under extreme conditions like steeply sloped vineyards, huge annual temperature fluctuations, high altitudes, ocean gales, etc.
All participating winemakers, and many other Ontario winemakers and industry professionals will join with consumers in structured tasting, interactive discussion and luncheon.
Catena Zapata (Argentina) – Assistant Winemaker Pablo Sanchez
Flowers Winery (Sonoma Coast, USA) – Director of Winemaking Jason Jardine
Blue Mountain Vineyards (BC, Canada) – Winemaker/Proprietor Matt Mavety
Decelle-Villa (Burgundy, France) – Winemaker Jean Lupatelli
Yabby Lake (Australia) – Director of Viticulture Keith Harris
Duarte Oliveira (Niagara, Canada) – representing Grape Growers of Ontario
Craig McDonald (Niagara, Canada) - Hillebrand
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.