June Report From The BC Vines

Hello! I’m Eric, former sommelier-turned-storyteller. I’m the founder of Taste Whistler—I work in marketing with hospitality, wine and film industry clients; manage wine lists for heli-ski operations in northern B.C.; I text wine recommendations to friends when they’re at the liquor store; I’m a part-time cellar rat whenever I can be and a full-time all-around wine geek—and along with Samantha Rahn, I’m one of your 2016 Cornucopia Ambassadors.

This year, Cornucopia—or as I like to call it—Christmas in November, is celebrating its 20th vintage and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it. Twenty years! Think about it… Back then, Hootie & The Blowfish was a thing, texting was not, and most of today’s top B.C. wineries didn’t even exist!

The number of wineries in British Columbia has grown from 30-something to over 250 since the first edition of Cornucopia… and most of all that wine is consumed right here in the province. We love our local wine and it shows, and since we drink so much of it, I thought I’d check in with some of our local winemaking friends to see where we sit with the 2016 vintage.

It’s no secret that since the cooler 2011 growing season, the whole Pacific Northwest has seen a string of consecutive warmer vintages. Some even say that 2015 might be the best vintage British Columbia has ever seen. So how does the start of 2016 stack up to previous years?

From north to south, the growing season in the Okanagan Valley has had a very early start this year. In the northern part of the Valley at East Kelowna’s Tantalus Vineyard, they’ve had the earliest bud break on record. “Our Old Vines Riesling flowered two and a half weeks earlier than last year. That’s 25 days earlier than a regular season,” says David Paterson, GM/Winemaker. “But then again, who knows what a regular season is anymore.”

Further down the Valley, I get a similar story at Tightrope Winery on the Naramata Bench. “It’s looking really good, we’re right on track with 2015. A mild winter and the hottest April we’ve had makes it easier to control the plants,” says Whistler’s own Graham O’Rourke, owner/viticulturist. “Down south, they picked cherries for the first time about a week ago, that’s 3 weeks earlier than average, that’s a good sign.”

At Laughing Stock Vineyards, owner Cynthia Enns says that their “Perfect Hedge” vineyard at the southern end of the Valley, in Osoyoos, is about three weeks ahead of normal: “When we’re usually worried about spring frost, we were 10°C over normal.” The Enns are already making changes based on last year, and are planning for the earliest harvest Laughing Stock has ever had. When asked to compare 2016 to the previous years, Cynthia told me, “We went from warm to warmer, to hot to hotter, to off the charts!”

In Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, Sarah Chapman, vineyard manager at Unsworth Vineyards, shares the same enthusiasm: “We’re 3 weeks ahead from last year, even our Pinot Noir is 90 per cent flowered!” Like some of her peers from the Okanagan, Chapman went on to say that 2015 was a record-breaking year at Unsworth and that was without the heat waves they’ve had so far this year. “We’re 5 to 6 weeks ahead of a normal season. I’ve never seen that,” she said.

Everyone I talked to agree, the 2016 vintage still has a long way to go and Mother Nature’s cooperation will be key as usual, but B.C. wineries might just be hitting it out of the park with another record-breaking year. As Cornucopia celebrates a benchmark, our local winemakers seem well on their way to celebrate one as well. We wish them luck and we can’t wait to share their stories (and most importantly their wines!) this November

I must admit, all this hot weather and B.C. wine talk made me a little thirsty… Here are a few wine and pairing recommendations to keep you going until next time:

Pinot Gris with Sunny Days and Patios:
Everyone and their mother-in-law makes a Pinot Gris in B.C. It’s a grape that does well in our province. Oaked, unoaked, fruity to bone-dry, it comes in a wide range of styles. At Tightrope Winery, it’s always one of their top sellers. It’s a fresh, fruit-forward style with juicy acidity and beautiful minerality. Their 2015 is outstanding—period. The tropical notes explode in the glass. Think goat cheese salad, spinach, pecan, nectarines and light citrus dressing. Nesters Liquor Store usually keeps a good stock… when they can get their hands on it

Riesling with Hot Wings… Yes, Hot Wings!
Riesling is another grape that does well in B.C.. Tantalus is a Riesling powerhouse; year in, year out, the balance between sugar, acidity and minerality is always on par. The 2015 is crisp, floral, citrusy and d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. Of course, spicy Asian cuisine is the classic pairing, but I’ve had it with hot wings and it worked perfectly. Who would’ve thunk? On a good day, it’s available at both Nesters and Blackcomb Liquor Stores.

Cabernet Franc with Weeknights
I love Cabernet Franc, I really do. It can be bright and fresh with tons of aromatics. B.C.’s Tinhorn Creek Cab Franc fits that profile perfectly. Solid fruit, fine tannins, a hint of spice, it’s a great, versatile “go-to” red. It works well with both burgers on the BBQ and tomato-based pasta. BC Liquor Stores carries it but you’ll get a better deal at Nesters Liquor Store.

Syrah with Backyard BBQ Sessions
BBQ season is on… all year long at my house. Syrah’s dark fruit and spice kick make it a great match for the smoky sweetness of BBQ. Laughing Stock’s bottling is lush, floral and toasty. It’s got plenty of “oomph” for your buck. So gather the crew around the Q, crack one of those big boys and let ‘er rip! It’s also available at both Nesters and Blackcomb Liquor Stores.

Life is short. Drink good wine. Cheers!

Samantha Rahn Welcomes You To Cornucopia 2016

Let me introduce myself.  I’m Samantha, your friendly neighborhood Whistler Wine Girl.  I’m Wine Director for Araxi Restaurant, Bar Oso and The Cellar by Araxi, reserve wine list curator for Steeps and Christine’s, 2013 BC Sommelier of the Year, have my own namesake ‘Samantha’ wines (currently offering an un-oaked Chardonnay and killer Gamay) made at Okanagan Crush Pad, Pemberton back yard veggie farmer, downhill mountain biker, and one of your 2016 Cornucopia Ambassadors

This year marks the 20th Cornucopia, a celebration of Whistler’s vibrant food and wine scene.  The lifts have barely stopped spinning for what was an awesome snow season, so let’s plan for what fun we can have when the snow flies again in November! Cornucopia is going to be running a little later this year, from November 10th – 20th, and the schedule will be packed with amazing dinners, lunches, seminars, tastings, parties and more.  Tickets are now on sale, with more to be added as we continue to firm up details. Check back often, but don’t delay in making plans to be in Whistler this November!

My job(s) pretty much come down to bringing pleasure to the people through food and wine.  I’m big advocate for getting you to try new things, but also making sure that you get something you’re actually going to like.  That’s always been my success and my failure as a Sommelier – I listen and try my best to give you what you want.  I can recommend a different Cabernet for you, but still can’t convince you to drink more Syrah.  I can pour an obscure white that is fabulous but can’t convince most that it’s better than that certain grape from that certain small country that smells like tinned jalapenos and my cats’ litter box.  After 15+ years writing wine lists and guiding guests, most of you still won’t believe me that Riesling is the greatest grape on the earth, that it’s not all sweet, and that the sort of sweet, and really sweet ones too, are DELICIOUS.  But I refuse to give up!

I’m turning 40 this June, and excited for it and the great food and beverages that are going to come with the celebrations. So, on that theme, and some likely menu items (hot dogs) for Gemini birthday season, here are my late spring wine and food recommendations to get you thinking about the summer and start to get pumped for all the fun and learning of Cornucopia 2016 this November.

Pairs with sunny lunch on the patio (and hot dogs): dry Rose

Vintage after vintage, Le Vieux Pin in the Okanagan has hit it out of the park with their delightful rose, Vaila.  It is made from Pinot Noir grapes grown purposely for making rose.  It is bone dry and zippy, a great match for summer salads, seafood and poolside sipping.  It also pairs well with hot dogs topped with Dijon mustard and cheese.  You can pick up a bottle at Nester’s Liquor Store, and manager Dave can show you many of their other fantastic wines as well.

Pairs with the impossible, and in season, asparagus (and hot dogs): Gruner Veltliner

A great white wine grape of Austria, Gruner Veltliner is beloved by sommeliers around the world for its ability to pair with difficult ingredients like asparagus, which when tasting with most other types of wine, can give the impression of chewing tin foil.  It is also great with other tricky items like artichokes and pickles, and wonderful with poultry and pork, especially schnitzel, and hot dogs topped with spicy mustard and sauerkraut.  Laurenz V ‘Singing’ Gruner is available at the Marketplace BC liquor store, and a fine example from a family that is now in it’s 6th generation producing it in this historic area north west of Vienna.

Pairs with BBQ, summer pasta dishes (and hot dogs): Barbera

When grilling season starts kicking into high gear, I start craving Barbera from Piemonte, south of Torino and the Alps in northwest Italy.  It has super high natural acidity that makes it a match for all kinds of food, from tomato pasta, meats and cheese, to BBQ too, as most have light to moderate tannin that doesn’t compete with the sweet and spicy flavours.  My recommendation is Maccario ‘Lavignone’ Barbera d’Asti, and this year we are pairing it with BBQ pork ribs, pasta with Pemberton morels, cream, and rapini from my garden, and hot dogs on cheese buns, with ketchup.  It’s often available at Nester’s, or if you’re down in Vancouver, at Kitsilano Wine Cellar on West 4th.

Pairs with Asian foods and sunny afternoons (and hot dogs): Riesling

I am a well-known Riesling advocate and must recommend a  Riesling as we head into summer.  Washington’s Chateau Ste Michelle is the world’s largest producer of Riesling, and they really know what they’re doing.  You can pick up a tasty bottle of their regular, off-dry (that means just a touch of sweetness) version at the Marketplace BC liquor store for just $15.49 plus taxes.  It’s the perfect pair for sushi take away from one of Whistler’s great Japanese restaurants, or spicy curry or stir-fry.  It’s also great for simply sipping with friends and is lower in alcohol than most other wines.  And, it’s an excellent match for a hot dog on a nice soft white bun with any toppings you like, because Riesling is a miracle, and goes with everything.  Just try it! You might even like it.

Until next time, your friend in wine, Samantha.