Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hot Bits and Savoury Snippets From WBC13

The truth I'm facing is that I'm a tad behind in my posts - and that would be using the phrase "a tad behind" while wearing my rosiest of "wineglass half filled" glasses. Realistically, I don't see any detailed posts about the recent 2013 Wine Bloggers' Conference in my immediate future. Since a week has already passed since the Conference concluded, I figure I should at least pay homage to some of the highlights - of which there were many - by writing my own little WBC13 Top Ten List. These lists may be somewhat ubiquitous, but this might be the only way that I can get something out there in a timely fashion.

1) This year, I was lucky enough to be able to participate in one of the pre-conference excursions and there wasn't a mis-step to be found in the jam packed program that was created by Tourism Kelowna. Any one of the visits to - or meals at - Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Tantalus Vineyards and CedarCreek Estate Winery is more than a worthwhile story on its own but I've got to say that it doesn't get any better than the pairing of winery view, Old Vines Riesling Brut, waffle buffet and crème fraîche infused with Arlo's Honey that we were fêted with at Tanatalus. Chef Mark Filatow can come and cook me breakfast anytime, anywhere.

2) Meeting April Yap-Hennig of @sacreddrop and Hawks View Cellars early on was most serendipitous. I enjoyed her company so much that all the tweets celebrating our fun times were making my man at home all kinds of jealous. What he really should have been jealous of was the impromptu tastings that April and Hawks View held throughout WBC13. Girl had me at White Pinot on the first night while we were still in Kelowna but she just kept the surprises coming when we hit Penticton:  including a tri-state Syrah (Washington, Oregon and California grapes) and an assortment of Pinots (tasted with a few friendly Pinots that she'd met along the way). I'm trusting that this conference was only the start of a long friendship to come (although the fact that she's a Portland Timbers fan does rub my Whitecaps sensibilities the wrong way).

3) She might not admit to it now, but April was also the driving force behind our Bed Surprise Vine video loop. Poor Gloria Chang of @IMBIBEandSAVOUR was the victim of our nefarious deed but I think we all ended up laughing until the tears were flowing. I'm not sure that I remember the last time I laughed so hard. Gloria's "Oh My God" and April's "Ha Ha" at the end of the video still leave me giggling and while the video didn't exactly go viral, it did spawn not one but two sequels.

4) The How To Be A Wine Judge session was interesting enough on its own but who knew that Erik von Krosigk, winemaker for Summerhill Pyramid Winery was such a quote monster. The other members of the panel - Sandra Oldfield (Tinhorn Creek), John Clerides (Marquis Wine Cellar) and Harry Hertscheg (Vancouver International Wine Festival) were hardly slouches but Erik's throwing out bons mots like "If you're going to put something into your mouth, you'd better like it" and "If a butterfly farts in Brazil, it affects our Pinot" were above and beyond.

5) Opening night of the Conference saw everyone whisked off to See Ya Later Ranch for an incredible combination of views, wines, food and camaraderie that was hosted by Constellation Brands, their Okanagan wineries and Joy Road Catering. Bubbles, oysters, riddling bottles, salmon, porchetta, First Nations dancing, the night had it all and, boy, the bar was set awfully high for the rest of the conference. I have to admit though that the highlight of the evening was seeing Twitter meet real life when I got to share a sip with Sandra Oldfield in her vintage De Soto avatar. I've been called a lot of things in my life, but being called "junk in [her] trunk" by Sandra was nothing but good.

6) I was very impressed by all the effort Wines of Uruguay put into their appearance at WBC13. This was their only event in North America. They arrived in Penticton, treated us to four separate opportunities to taste a collection of their wines and then flew back to South America. That's some sort of commitment, especially given that I don't think any of their wines are even available in the local market. Special kudos to Leslie Fellows and her Artesana wines. Leslie was the consummate rep and she made it abundantly clear that there's always room for more Tannat in one's life.

7) Breakfast in the Park, sponsored by the Downtown Penticton association was yet another treat. I now have an even greater appreciation for bacon tomato relish - if such a thing is possible - and I will definitely check back with Brodo Kitchen the next time I'm in Penticton to see if they've started selling it by the jar (or tub). Add to that sweet and savoury crêpes, pastries and wine-soaked Greek dako and you have a breakfast that even topped last year's "breakfast of champions" - Voodoo Doughnuts and a sweet vin doux naturel Muscat that greeted us one WBC12 morning in Portland. Kudos to the City and restaurants for such a tasty spread and, of course, for setting up the Penticton Farmers' Market right next door for us.

8) I've got to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the keynote speech by best-selling author Jim Conaway as well. He might not have been as flashy as some previous speakers at Wine Bloggers' Conferences but his insights into the wine industry and into writing were most intriguing. His story about detecting a person's politics by his or her choice of wine was classic. I will never be able to look at or taste a bottle of Screaming Eagle or Frog's Leap without thinking "big, jammy" Republicans or "structured, food friendly" Democrats again. I do know that, following his talk, my summer reading list expanding by three. As if I have any time to read.

9)  I truly wish that I could have taken in all five of the Friday afternoon excursions but we had to limit ourselves to just one. Five local wine associations designed an event to highlight their sub-region. Each excursion featured a loose theme - geology, farming, paddle-boarding, hiking or history and cooperage. Using my best intuitive skills, I'd hopefully deduced that the Okanagan Falls Winery Association would conclude with a Joy Road dinner on God's Mountain (an iconic summer event in the region). Turned out that my deductive skills were more than a little off but the hike up Peach Cliff and the views at the top were spectacular. The initial climb ended upon our reaching a shelf that offered a panoramic view of to the north of Okanagan Falls. Suckers for punishment were escorted for a further 20 minutes of climbing to the top of the cliff where an additional vista of the southern part of the valley swept open before us. Thankfully, the horizon before us was worth the strenuous climb because, for the most part, I think it's safe to say that hikes like that are pretty much 15 years and 30 pounds behind me.  

Miraculously, there was a full wine tasting station set up at our initial destination to quench our thirsts and appetites in the glorious sun.  All twelve of the wineries that make up the Association participated in the outing and, as such, we hikers were treated to some stellar wines.  If you ask anyone to name some of their favourite BC wines, I'm willing to bet that some of those names are members of OWFA. Okanagan Falls calls itself the "heart of wine country" and, there's no doubt that, I ♥ many of the region's wines. Whether it's stalwart wineries like Blue Mountain or Wild Goose, recently anointed stars like Painted Rock and Meyer Family Vineyards, or brand new efforts - with seemingly great futures ahead of them - like Synchromesh and Liquidity, the region's wineries rock it. I suppose it's fitting that we climbed one of the region's biggest rocks to emphasize that fact.

10) I'm going to end my highlight list with the fact that it was truly enheartening to hear that so many of our out-of-province guests enjoyed WBC13 as much as they seem to have. Whether it's stereotypical or not - just look at the recent brouhaha surrounding the internet discussion of BC's "retarded wine culture" - Canadians are often painted with thin skins. We like reassurance and I think there was a collective sigh of relief when it became clear that the Conference delegates liked us. They really liked us. If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read something positive about the Okanagan and its wine, I'd have been able to pay for a lot of the wine I brought home with me.

As for those wines that I brought home and how the "No Buy Leash" just didn't seem to work effectively or be tight enough, those stories will just have to wait for a post down the line.

In the mean time, a big thanks goes out to all the participants and the folks that worked so hard to pull off WBC13. I suppose the task at hand is now to catch up with my posts so that I won't be so far behind when it comes time to head off to Santa Barbara and the 2014 Wine Bloggers' Conference.