Up Close & Personal with Local Winemakers

June 29, 2011 at 8:00 AM


If you are invited to my house for dinner, be prepared to cook! I won’t make you do the dishes, but I want you to feel as comfortable in my home as you do in your own.  Since Kelowna is my home in a sense, I want the same for anyone visiting the Okanagan Valley.  Last week when I was a tourist for a day in the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region, I wished I could have felt a little like I had a found a home away from home.  So I started to think about what would have made me feel a little more akin during my visit.  I realized the Okanagan Valley is more than vineyards and wineries to me because I know the people who grow the grapes, make the wine, sell the wine and drink the wine!  I was missing the sense of place and belonging I feel in the Okanagan Valley… but how do you get that feeling when you are only visiting somewhere?  I was hoping someone would include me in their experience and let me in on something I couldn't find out anywhere but from being there.  My friends and I have discussed with plenty of passion how we want to convey our hard work during harvest and why we love every minute of it!  So how do I as a visitor get the message myself as a winemaker wants me to get?

A great opportunity presented itself while I was in Chile last year.  I received an email wondering if I could fill in as an instructor for a wine course.  As I was away at the time, I could not, but promised to contact them upon my return.  That began a conversation about wine studies and courses that could be developed through Continuing Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.  One such course is the ‘Okanagan Wine Ambassador’.  Its concept comes from my time spent in Whistler and bits of all those conversations with my friends. Offered this past spring, it is intended as an introductory course for the local tourism and hospitality staff in order to provide context for the local wine industry.  It is a certificate program designed to empower the student, whether it is a summer job or a start of a new career, to take ownership of their role in the education and accommodation of our visitors to the region.  We discuss how their personal touch can bring the story of the winery to life, as well as the surrounding wine region.  The students that have attended the course have really enjoyed the content, and I am happy there is a small movement of Okanagan Wine Ambassadors to make our guests feel included in our journey!

A new summer course, 'Wine: Up Close & Personal' is geared to the wine tourist (or local) looking for a more intimate and casual setting for learning about wine in the Okanagan Valley.  Beginning July 9th, we will meet at a different winery each week to learn about the Kelowna sub-region of the Okanagan Valley.  The Kelowna sub-region is the oldest and third largest of the five sub-regions, and now includes over 20 wineries!  We will discuss the grape varietals grown, whether estate or sourced, and vineyard practices for the growing season.  As we taste the wines, the winemaker will not only discuss the wines, but the work involved in owning a winery, their wine philosophy and their vision for the region.  The seminars, as a series or individually, provide the student with the opportunity to meet the people and hear the stories of the winery and region firsthand.  The benefit of the course to both the winery and the student is the introduction and discussion of our vision as we expand and grow as a region. As a representative of the local wine industry, I want for everyone to feel a sense of pride and excitement for our future.  I hope the experience creates a memory, and I hope that memory stays with you as you taste the wines of 2011.

What I love about this opportunity to write the blogs for okwineries.com is that I can bring my home to you if you are unable to visit us in the Okanagan Valley.  The videos that Martin has produced for the website really capture the same sense I want to create in the wine courses.  A lot of winemakers believe the wine is a time capsule for the season, and I think our website allows for so many more to be a part of our experience.



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.  Contact Barb through email at barb@okwineries.com with your comments or questions.


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