Jun 112013
 

I returned this week from a visit to Penticton, British Columbia, which was the location of the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. Penticton is at the heart of the Okanagan Valley Wine country. As noted in an earlier post, I’d never been to this particular area and knew very little about it. But, wow, what an amazing place.

Okanagan Valley Wine: View from Tinhorn Creek

Having grown up outside of Detroit, I’ve had a lot of, um, exposure to Canada and Canadians. Since the drinking age in Canada is 19, Windsor was calling my name long before I could legally imbibe in this silly country. In addition, I’ve recently discovered that the Canadian influence over the dialect of my home town is more profound than I knew, eh. It’s also probably why I like gravy on my fries (which I recently discovered, when you add cheese curds is a traditional dish called a poutine). And the people are the loveliest, most polite, and friendliest bunch you will ever meet.

Okanagan Valley Wine: View from Penticton Lakeside ResortTo be frank, however, I had rather low expectations before the conference. I don’t know, I’d only tried Okanagan Valley wine a few times since the stuff is so damn hard to come by in the States (more on that in a later post). What I had previously sampled was okay, but nothing special. And not knowing anything about the region, I figured it was some backwater that happened to have some vineyards. Boy, was I wrong.

The sheer beauty of the place was enough to make me stand up and take notice. Nestled against a series of very deep, and very blue lakes, Okanagan Valley wine country is the stuff of which postcards are made. The vineyards rest on benches, terraces, and steep slopes at the foot of the mountains that surround the valley. Crystal clear air and water abound. We stayed at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, which was easily the prettiest place that has ever held a Wine Bloggers Conference. In fact, Okanagan Valley is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve been.

Okanagan Valley Wine: First Nation DancerThe history and culture of the Okanagan Valley is quite rich. The valley is the traditional home to the Okanagan First Nations people, an interior Salish people who lived in an area that ranged from the head of Okanagan Lake down into Washington. Various bands still call the area home. They appear to live well together with the non-native Canadians, and there seems to be a mutual respect that has developed. First Nation land includes not only casinos, but vineyards as well.

The winemakers somehow capture this beauty and culture  in their wines. They a stunningly clean and fresh, with just a touch of desert terroir minerality. Regardless of the variety (or varietal), the wines have a pureness that is both compelling and comforting. All but a few of the wines I tried from the area were either solid or rocked my world. There wasn’t a stinker in the bunch.

There is so much to cover, that it isn’t possible for me to cover everything in one post. I’ll be breaking it up into multiple posts for readability and suspense. Stay tuned for more from Okanagan Valley.

Jun 032013
 

VESTAThe Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) curriculum retreat on June 1 in Niagara Falls brought together more than 40 top academics and administrators to work together to develop and refine the world’s best practices on subjectslike courses in viticulture, enology, and wine marketing.

It was a great group of people, all working hard to get us to the next level.  And it was great to see some old friends there, and enjoy what they brought to the meeting:  Ray Johnson of Sonoma State University, Patty Held from Missouri, Pat Howe from ETS Laboratories and Cornell University, John Giannini from Fresno State, Paul Gospodarczyk from Chicago…

And Michelle Norgren from VESTA itself…

Bright people.  And a great program.

Jun 012013
 

AntinoriAmazing day yesterday in Chianti Classico.

We started with a visit to Antinori‘s stunning new world headquarters and winery in Bargino.  Half space ship, half homage to Mother Earth, it’s a futuristic vision of wine, combined with a museum of over 25 generations of Antinoris.

And the wines were just what you would expect from Piero Antinori: sleek, stylish, and impeccable–all presented by a very professional and enthusiastic staff.  This place sets a new standard for winery experiences in Italy.

And then to Mazzei, where Francesco Mazzei himself regaled us with stories of Philip Mazzei and Thomas Jefferson’s early viticulture in Virginia. He then tasted us through a magical selection of wines that were focused, concentrated, and full of finesse.

A hard act to follow.

Mazzei vineyardsDinner that night was an experiment in the new event center for Chianti Classico: the Santa Maria Monastery in Prato.  Here we watched demonstrations by seven female Michelin-rated chefs cooking dishes matched to Chianti Classico wines.  All great–but we were too polite to push our way through the throngs to get much food.

No worries.  After a brief discussion, the hosts set up a table for us in a quiet room of the monastery and served us three of the dishes:  a chicken-liver pate with mandarin oranges; a spaghetti with bread crumbs and diced anchovies; and a two-part dessert of cheese cake over a layer of toasted pistachios and a base of chocolate mousse, and a ball of stunning sour-cherry gelato over a bed of chocolate ganache.

Nice way to end a memorable day.