Staff Wine Picks...The Local Way!

June 07, 2011 at 11:30 AM


Patio culture of Kelowna, BC, Image of Hotel Eldorado Patio,

My uncle gave me my first job in the service industry.  It was a summer job at his restaurant in Collingwood, Ontario and I trained as a hostess and salad girl for over a month before he even gave me a chance to serve my first table.  I wasn’t even old enough to drink the wine, but I could serve it to my guests each night.  I would recall my grade seven French lessons to keep Sauvignon Blanc straight from Cabernet Sauvignon and hoped my guests knew what wine they wanted to order. It was a chain restaurant with a corporate wine list and I was fortunate enough to benefit from their training program.  Sales representatives would come to the restaurant and talk about their wines and hand out corkscrews.  I listened. I was curious. 

A friend I had worked with was moving to Whistler and convinced me to move out west with her.  She had taken a position as a fine-dining server at one of the hotels.  I was intimidated by the experience required for the position and chose to work at a busy, family-run restaurant with a high energy staff and fun atmosphere for both locals and tourists.  I worked behind the bar and learned about our wine list from the bar manager as we did inventory each week.  Whistler is a fun place to live and ski, but work can be very demanding during the winter and summer seasons.  We prepared each spring and fall for the busy season by attending portfolio tastings hosted by the wine sales representatives, staff training seminars, and ambassador courses provided by the resort association to ensure the Whistler product was maintained for our seasonal guests. 


Image of Whistler, BC, Canada,

I worked hard and learned enough to land me a position at one of the top-rated restaurants in Whistler with a wine list of over 450 wines.I worked with one of the best sommeliers in Whistler, as he had been an avid collector of wine since he was 14!!!!  Not only did we attend the portfolio tastings and staff seminars as I had at the other restaurant, but now we had exclusive invites to tastings where Italian Marcheses would present their wines. Winery principals from all over the world would personally present seminars on their wine at our restaurant, and now, we ourselves, had to research and present seminars on the wine regions on our list to co-workers.  The passion of the people I worked with inspired me to learn more.


Image of Araxi dining room,

When I first moved to Kelowna, I could not find a server position that afforded me the same level of skill development as I had grown accustomed to in Whistler.  That is not the case in Kelowna these days, but back then, it was depressing.  Kelowna is a summer destination for many BC residents and neighbouring Albertans.   Kelowna was once thought of as a destination for ‘beaches and peaches’, but those days are fading as we pull out the orchards and plant grapevines in their place.  There is a need for knowledgeable staff as the consumer becomes more wine savvy and the region becomes a wine destination.  A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a training exercise for the staff of a local restaurant.  Each summer, the restaurant offers a wine menu of local wines alongside their year-round corporate menu.  Usually chosen by the proprietor, the menu offers an opportunity for staff incentives and provides tourists a chance to try a new wine.  This year the staff chose, and what a great idea behind the ‘Staff Picks’…if only something like this would have been offered when I first arrived in Kelowna.

The bar manager at the restaurant had set up day trips for small groups of staff to tour the local wineries.  Each day, the staff was provided with a list of wineries to visit, wines to try at the winery and a lunch for the staff to share.  Their task was to bring a single wine from each winery visited, the agreed upon favourite, back to the restaurant with them.  This collection of favourites will then be tasted by the whole staff to determine the wine offerings for the summer wine list.  The route planned for the group of which I was a ‘honourary staff member’ included Tantalus Vineyards, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, St. Hubertus and Cedar Creek.  We arrived at Tantalus Vineyards, our first appointment and greeted by Steph.  Everyone later agreed Steph was the most informative, as she introduced not only the wines, but the vineyard to us.  We had to make Tantalus our last stop of the day too, as we could not decide between the 2010 Riesling or 2010 Rose for our favourite. 




Our next stop was Summerhill Pyramid Winery…we were greeted by a sign out front welcoming our group!  What a great feeling!  Brenda led our tasting, and in between wines, challenged us with trivia questions on our restaurant history!  Everyone agreed the 2007 Organic Merlot was the one to take with us for a menu option.



The picnic tables at St. Hubertus Estate Winery were the perfect place for us to have the lunch that was packed for us, and once nourished, we chose the 2009 Oak Bay Marechal Foch to take away with us. 



Our last stop was Cedar Creek Estate Winery.  It is a destination for many who visit Kelowna, and is quite impressive as you turn up the driveway past a manicured embankment and gardens.  If you watch the video below, you will get a sense of the journey the family has taken to reach the point they are at now in the wine industry. 




We left with a 2008 Syrah to add to our small collection of wine for the menu.  There was much discussion in the car driving back to Tantalus as to which wine everyone wanted to take back.  We were split half and half for the Riesling and the Rose.  Everyone decided it would be best to try the wines once more if Steph would let us!  The winner… the 2010 Riesling…but that is not to say that everyone forgot the will be a top choice for MY summer wine selection.

I can’t think of a better way to choose local wines for a wine list.  What a fantastic way to get your staff excited about the wines, the region and selling their selections.  Thank you Mike!  I look forward to the final selections for the summer menu and some great times on the patio!


Sunday_in_Oliver_042_3.jpgBarb is fascinated by the rapid growth in the wine industry since she arrived in the Okanagan Valley, and is curious to see how we define ourselves as a wine producing region.  She loves skiing, learned to surf in Chile and literally dances to her own beat.  She is currently seeking a role in the wine industry as a winemaker, and lives for the moment when those first grapes arrive at the cellar door.


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