Wine: History, Health and Truths [is wine an aphrodisiac?]

We hear it all the time; wine is good for our health! But is it, really?

Let’s remember that wine is a product for sale and marketing directives are there to encourage us to increase consumption and profits. Providing good reason to distrust some news sources. Let’s also not forget that alcohol abuse is often seen as the culprit behind the breakdown of families and society as a whole. Neither side of this debate is new.

And my, how perceptions change!

Let’s begin by sharing a brief history of the attitudes of society towards alcohol over time.

Attitudes to alcohol in the Medieval and Renaissance periods

In medieval times, wine is seen as an important contribution to health. What’s the proof? Monks live longer lives than the rest of the populace all because of the benefits of moderate and regular wine consumption! Even distilled spirits are named ‘Aqua Vitae’ or ‘water of life’ and praised for their medicinal value.

Later, in the 1600’s, wine is spread throughout the world as it becomes a vital part of the transatlantic trade. Samuel Pepys writes of using caudle in his famous diaries, a mixture of gruel with wine or ale, as an effective treatment against sea sickness.

Then, attitudes shift.

The time of the revolutions: Industrial, French, and American

In the UK, gin develops an association with higher crime rates and the working classes. Public drunkenness is at an all time high and the Gin Act raises excise taxes on the product but is soon repealed. Despite these efforts, gin sales continue to grow.

 

Gin bad; wine good…
An 18th century leaflet, "Wine is preferable to water."

Peter Shaw’s treatise The juice of the grape- or wine preferable to water (1724) cc

Gin’s image suffers immensely in the 1700’s because it is considered the cheap alternative to the more prestigious elixir of wine. Wine must be imported from foreign countries. Gin can be made anywhere at low cost.

So wine therefore, captures an association with the upper classes. Poets strengthen this connection between wine, aristocracy and polite society in their writings.

Not that there was a shortage of inexpensive plonk in the world. The working classes in England just couldn’t affort it as 18th century lawmakers slapped expensive customs and embargoes on poor quality wine imported into England.

 

Wine spreads to most households

By the 18th century, wine is now a kitchen necessity and many recipes in England make food in ‘the French way’ by adding wine. Caudle, (mentioned above) is now a common household remedy; the wine being the remediating ingredient for many sicknesses. Wine reaches the middle classes.

What were attitudes to wine in the rest of Europe?

In the wine producing nations of France, Spain and Italy, wine  is not separated along class lines in the same way as it is for Brits. Wine is drunk by everyone and seen simply as an extension of food. In fact, even today most Italians do not distinguish between wine and food. To Italians, both food and wine offer the same benefits; providing necessary nutrition in their diets.

Sketching of London Slums during the Industrial Revolution

London Slums; Gustave Dore(1872) cc Wellcome Images

Essentially, society views drunkenness as fine if you live on a farm and don’t have to report to anyone else for work. But this is the Industrial Revolution. More and more people are moving to cities and factory owners want sober, reliable workers. Protestants especially view binge drinking as anti-capitalist and inefficient. Even moderate consumption is a sin. Women’s movements grow and recognize alcohol abuse as a main cause of domestic violence, child abuse and lost wages.

Disaster strikes

Before the turn of the century, a louse spreads and kills most of the vineyards of France, Italy and Spain, wine and Cognac sales and quality plummit. Suicide rates rise as farmers see no reason why their vines and therefore livelihoods are dying en masse. At the time, wine is the #1 Whisky sales take the place of both wine and Cognac and supported by all classes.

A Man Pours Whiskey into a flask (1869)

A man pours whisky into a flask; Erskine Nicole (1869) cc BY.

 

Another twist this century…

Society again takes serious issue with alcohol consumption during WWI. This is where we see the global rise of temperance and prohibition forces. As the world’s greatest powers battle for supremacy, alcohol is seen as a dangerous disturbance; one that could spell the downfall in war efforts.

Even Czar Nicolas II bans vodka in Russia in support of the war. Routinely, the directives aim largely at the working classes. Certainly Nicolas still enjoyed Champagne and vodka during this time.

And somehow, wine is again exempt from most boycotts especially in Catholic areas where it is used in the sacrament of Christ during mass. The United States and almost all of Canada vote for full prohibition (Quebec bans spirits but as a Catholic province continues to allow beer and wine sales).

Prohibition in the US destroys the wine industry of Napa. It’s not until the late 60’s that the area begins to revive itself.

 

But is it healthy?

Ironically, the reasons for alcohol’s success equally has to do with it’s benefits for health as it does for for it’s harm. For a long time, alcohol is safer to drink than water!

Remember, this is before sewage systems and water purification pumps of modern municipalities. This played a major role in alcohol’s rise in popularity over the ages whether it be wine, beer, gin or other spirits.

Yet check out this poster from the Temperance movement in Canada circa 1912. As the quality in public drinking water improves, alcohol is demonized; drinking water is now de rigeur!

 

Modern-day Science and Wine

And what is science telling us today?

Many articles promote wine consumption and particularly red wine consumption as being good for us.  Supporters point to a component in the skins called reservatrol which act as antioxidants. However, according to Medical News Today, eating grapes and berries (especially cranberries and blueberries) provide a better source of reservatrol than wine.

 

Wine and Heart Disease

Wine and Heart Disease

Wine and Heart Disease

Wine is also said to promote heart health in various ways such as reducing heart disease by the way it affects the gut microbiome. And although there is much evidence to support this, the truth is that the research is still not conclusive.

Other studies show that moderate wine drinking boosts levels of omega-3 fatty acids in plasma and red blood cells. These are the fatty acids that are found in fish and are linked to lower rates of heart disease.

There’s also evidence showing that ethanol in wine helps to metabolize glucose (and it’s non-alcohol ingredients may help too). One study focused on Type 2 diabetes patients and found that red wine significantly increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and brought the total cholesterol down (the bad type). Unfortunately, the study was only a 2 year project using a small sample of 240 patients – not conclusive, but promising.

Wine as an Aphrodisiac?

As it’s Valentine’s Day, I just had to include this part.

Evidence does show that red wine affects sexual function in a positive way, but it’s not clear if it’s more due to diet, exercise, genetics or a combination of all of them. They do know that people with excellent diets, who exercise regularily and drink moderately have lower levels of stress and better sex lives.

A couple in love viewing the sunset

Love cc Giuseppe Milo

 

Your best bet for a healthy sex life is to eat a Mediterranean diet, one filled with vegetables, fish, legumes and grains. It’s linked to lower levels of sexual dysfunction (in a study of 600 women) as well as lower levels of erectile disfunction.

It’s true that wine may elevate our mood and therefore sexual desire, and even improve blood flow. Wine contains quercetin – an anti-inflammatory property that increases circulation. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are also known to improve blood flow so it’s possible that wine (which can increase the level of omega-3 fatty acids in our blood cells) does as well. So wine can improve your sex life, if your problem is low blood flow.

These possible benefits can only be seen when consuming MODERATE amounts of wine (and not beer, not spirits, just wine).

Of course, alcohol dependence and overuse does just the opposite in men and causes mulitple sexual dysfunctions including erectile dysfunction.

 

More Science

With the advent of scientific reserach, we can now say that there is a indeed a problem with alcohol – when it is overused.

Over consumption of high-alcohol spirits contributes to cirrhosis of the liver which causes death. In intimate partner relationships, alcohol use is strongly correlated with physical and sexual abuse. Studies also show that the victims of assault are often under the influence of alcohol. There are many more known problems related to alcohol consumption.

A graph displaying increase of alcohol consumption contributing to societal ails

As alcohol consumption increases and is abused, society suffers.

Market Research

And this information is not lost on the Millenial and Z-Generations. Millenials are that group who were born roughly between 1980 and 1994; Z-Generation between 1995 and 2005.

Previously, marketing studies prepared us to get ready for the Millenial takeover in wine consumption. Since they are the largest numerical group born after the Baby-Boomers, they were poised to become the largest consumers of wine, beer, and spirits. What would they choose to drink? Which one would sway their hearts and minds the most?

But then, something happened. These groups choose to look out for their health instead. They want to drink less, way less. Social acceptance of binge drinking is at an all time low.

This mindset is also forecasted with the Z-Generation as they become of drinking age. Not only are they congnizant of their health and welfare, but the phenomenon is coupled with stagnant wages and less certaintly in economic stability. Remember, Gen-Z’ers were raised during the financial crisis of 2008.

 

Is there a future for spirits?

Even cocktails, traditionally the realm of spirits, are changing. Industry experts at Just-drinks.com say that new cocktails are incorporating wine; port, red and white wine instead of spirits. All this to lower the amount of alcohol in drinks. Further, wines with lower alcohol may actually take center stage over the big, ballsy reds of the recent past. Spritzer, anyone?

 

How much wine is safe?

For most women, safe consumption is to have one glass of wine per day. For men, you may have 2 glasses. And both of you, leave 2 days of the week open to consume no alcohol at all!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

***Much of the medical information was obtained through Medical News Today and links to recent research papers from there. Media Bias Fact Check rates MNT as providing information from legitimate science based research.

 

3 Reasons to Celebrate Canada Day!

Happy Birthday, Canada!

For the rest of the year, I get to be my critical self and decry all of the reasons why Canada is not living up to the highest standard of what I wish her to be. But today, on Canada Day, all of that washes away. Today, is YOUR day, dear Canada (and to all my fellow Canadians), this is our day to celebrate everything that makes us truly wonderful! Certainly, this is also an occasion worthy of opening some really good wine.

Reasons to celebrate? Many!

1) The great outdoors.

Lakes of northern BC

Yes, Canada indeed has many wide open spaces of quiet. Juxtaposed against our busy iphone social media lives, these quiet spaces give us a more complete feeling of our interconnectedness in life. If you want to care about other human beings more, leave civilization and wifi range behind for a few days and venture further into Canada’s wilderness. Empty your wine into a Platypus Preserve pouch you can buy at any MEC – Mountain Equipment Co-op – a Canadian icon outdoor store. It keeps the wine fresh and keeps the pounds that you have to carry low (without the heavy glass bottle).

Yes, even in Canadian cities, you are surrounded by images of this. I’m not a city person myself, but after spending a week in New York, I realized that the beauty of Canadian cities lies in the fact that we preserve so much space for greenery within its confines. This is the view of English Bay from Stanley Park in Vancouver.

We have deserts too! These pictures are taken from Kumsheen Resorts in Lytton, BC on the Thompson River.

Choosing good friends to spend time with is just as important as choosing your wines. To the left is David Alexander – outdoor extraordinaire, happy, humble and outgoing. If you ever see this man in person, he will talk to you FIRST and probably invite you to go rafting with us.

When you select wines for the outdoors, don’t pick the wine you’ve been cellaring for a long time as the relaxed situation will not do justice to light complex notes. Think fresh, vibrant and simple because you may be drinking from your metal coffee mug or your rubber camping bowls. If you have a choice of container, pick the metal as it won’t carry the curry spice flavours from your last meal in them – however, this can work beautifully as well.

Chateau Coureillac Bordeaux, France $14.99 at BC Liquor Stores

Georges duBoeuf

Inexpensive Bordeaux fits the bill nicely. Tart red fruits and a touch of oak make it a quenchable choice after a hot day on the river.

Or bright bing cherry Beaujolais made from Gamay such as Georges duBoeuf for $16.99.

2) We are trying to respect the indigenous cultures of Canada.

When you visit Canada you may notice that many presentations now begin with the words, ” We would like to begin by acknowledging that we are fortunate to be able to gather on the unceded territory of the _____________ Peoples.”  Here you fill in the blank with the name of the tribe in your area. Not only does it give me a sense of belonging with the First Nations of this country, it’s also amazing that us whiteys are attempting to pronounce indigenous words and hopefully, thereby, bringing them into the mainstream.

Nk’Mip Rosé

While discussing our beloved indigenous cultures, allow me to recommend a wine from British Columbia’s only first nation’s winery, Nk’Mip (pronounced ink-a-meep). $17.99 a bottle, this is dry but quite fruity and forward with fragrant wild strawberry fields that follows through on the palate. Rosé all Canada Day, I say!

Bannock made on a wood-burning stove

3) Canada Day celebrations in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Kamloops, is my home town. Since growing up there, I have been to Canada Day celebrations in Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Penticton, and Whistler and no one does Canada Day like at Riverside Park in Kamloops. Most places sell hot-dogs. Kamloops has every ethnic community you can think of representing cultures with food, dance, sword-fighting, you name it. The food vendors are not the local businesses either. They are non-profit community groups who come out once a year to represent their cultures to feed local Kamloopsians. Welcome to the Kamloops Indo-Canadian Community whose booth sells butter chicken, samosas and vegetarian dishes. You want Thai? Head over to the Thai Cultural Community booth. You want bannock? The deep-fried gooey goodness bread and staple of the First Nations cultures of BC, go over to the Kec Kec (Sister’s) Group of the Lillooet First Nations booth. You want Chinese? German? African? This is not a commercialized event. The people working behind the counters are the mothers of our communities, the backbone of our society and it is fabulous!

My little cousin, Oliver in Kamloops on Canada Day

There’s a stage packed with entertainment. Watch the Ukrainian dancers, the Irish Step dancers from the Kamloops Irish-Cultural Community Center, drumming from the Kamloops Highland Games Society, and sword fighting from the Shire of Ramsgaard using pre-17th century techniques. I remember finding the tartan colours of my mother’s maiden name in a catelogue at one booth and next going to the Japanese booth to have my name translated into Japanese characters and written on a scroll for me to take home.

Yes, Kamloops has fireworks over the Thompson River at night and ‘Art in the Park’ too. A message to every other town in Canada-land. Step up your game, Kamloops is the benchmark.

Since open alcohol isn’t allowed in municipal parks, we won’t talk about wine here. Except to say that discretion, and containers that aren’t see through (think about a coffee mug with a lid that has never been used for coffee before) and making sure you have a ride home is the plan. Muah-ha-ha-haa!

4) Canadian food!

Bannock – the deep-fried goodness that is amazing when fresh. Lightfoot Gas, now owned by Chevron, still sells bannock. My favourite is either plain or just dusted with sugar.

Cleto Chiarli L. di Sorbara

To drink with this, try Lambrusco! – the bubbly wine from Reggio-Emilia in Italy. Lambrusco is not just one type of wine. There are many different colours made from the different bio-types of grapes – from light-salmon hued to opaque purple and from light bodied to medium, and dry to off-dry. The are great for hot days because they are much lower in alcohol than other wines – usually between 10-11.5% abv.

For wine trained palates, you should try the Vecchia Modena Lambrusco di Sorbara Premium from Cleto Chiarli e Figli for $25, it is paler in colour, light salmon and is really tart due to its high mouthwatering acidity. Think red-currants and tart cranberries and rhubarb. This Lambrusco would go best with the plain bannock.

Scardova Ermes from Medici Ermete wines

Medici Ermete Concerto Lambrusco

Poutine!  – The richer ingredients of gravy and cheese curd on french fries require a more meaty Lambrusco. Try the more serious Medici Ermete ‘Concerto’ Lambrusco 2016, Reggiano DOC made with Lambrusco Salomino. Bright purple fruits on the nose with violets, a touch of stewed plum and lots of cherries and finishes with a slight apricot pit bitterness. Scardova (pictured on the right) is a frequent visitor to Canada and the wine is as welcoming as Scardova’s smile. The ‘Concerto’ wine won the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 3 wine glasses award for the 10th year in a row!

Happy 151st Birthday, Canada. You don’t look a day over 100!

Please share! What wine did you treat yourself to on this Canada Day?

Top Champagnes and Bubbles

This is part 2 to ‘Champagne’s Dirty Little Secret’ where we questioned the higher prices of Champagne sparkling wine and discussed marketing practices. If you would like to read that first, click here

Is it worth it for us to spend the extra money on a bottle of Champagne?

Champagne does indeed have a unique terroir – the soil, the climate, and the complete natural environment – is unlike anywhere else.

A Vineyard in Champagne

The marginal climate is wrought with frosts and fungal diseases and the grapes just barely ripen during long, cool seasons that create this region’s calling card . The high diurnal temperature fluctuations between daytime and nighttime help to maintain the steely, mouthwatering acidity that Champagne lovers crave and which allow the wines to age for decades in a cellar. Veritably, grapes intended for bubbled Champagne would not taste good if made into a still wine. They are too austere; too lacking in flavour; too acidic for any other kind of wine. Therefore, as high yields cause dilute, uninteresting wines in other regions, here it works beautifully. The purpose for great bubbles is to avoid concentrated flavours. Therefore, as the CIVC (Comité de Champagne) sets the yields each year to ensure that there is never an overproduction of wine – as opposed to them setting a limit to maintain quality – fits in Chamgapgne as the bar for quality remains high.  As Tom Stevenson points out, it is ‘ripe acidity’ that is the perfect result of Champagne’s climate.

But critics are correct to point out that the question of ‘terroir’ for Champagne can be easily debunked. Most Champagne’s are blended; from different villages, across from the five major districts, from various grape varieties and often from different vintages. In fact, Krug has over 200 separate wines that it draws upon to produce its non-vintage brut. The purpose here is to produce the same consistent house style from year to year, devoid of vintage variation, and it seems to follow that it is therefore, devoid of terroir. Furthermore, the style of each Champagne is just as dependent on what the winemaker does to the base wine, blurring the footprint of terroir further. As my friend argued, Champagne is defined mostly by winemaking techniques.

And yet, there is just something about Champagne…!

No where else can you achieve such racy acidity (if this is what you like, and I do!).

gyropalette for ageing and riddling Champagne. Photo: CC Olivier Colas

pupitre at Pol Roger. Photo: CC Thomas Er

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Realizing the expense and effort that goes into each bottle is worth mentioning. The wines are held back for a long time before being sold. Even the non-vintage wines must be aged for a minimum of 15 months before they are disgorged and rebottled. Have you seen the way that the bottles need to be spun a quarter turn every day until they are upside down (sur pointe)? Pol Roger has 5 people who do this every day by hand during the ageing process. Others must buy a gyropalette, a massive machine that mimicks this process.

 

Here is a selection of some of my favourite Champers…

Delamotte Brut Champagne $62.99

Gloriously creamy and crisp and lasts forever in your mouth.  The style is elegant; the brioche, and macademia nuts are enveloped in lemon juice and white flowers and finishes crisp and long. In fact, if you ever see any Delamotte on the shelves, it’s worth picking it up. Their vintage Champagnes are only made in the lesser years. Why? Because in the good vintages, it’s bottled as Salon, one of the most sought after Champagnes for sommeliers.

 

Pol Roger Cuvee de Réserve Brut Champagne NV, $65.99

This is more widely available than the Delamotte but offers that same crisp lemon juice finish. One of the amazing feats of Pol Roger is they still riddle their bottles by hand to move the lees to the top of the bottle. Pol Roger is another elegant Champange with a crisp finish as the one above.

If you prefer richer, more toasty Champagne’s, buy Louis Roederer Brut Premier featured on the right. $67 in BC Liquor Stores

 

Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Extra Brut

This is a grower’s Champange (not owned by a large negociant house who buys grapes from other producers) and a husband and wife team who farm their vineyards biodynamically (organic and then some). Taking a large step away from commercially produced Champagne, this couple keeps yields down to a measly 50hl/ha which is less than half of what the maximum yield is in Champagne. This is also a 100% Chardonnay. It is leaner and has less bubbles than the previous two Champagnes (because there is a lower dosage (Extra Brut) it. For those people whose stomachs can’t take all of the persistent bubbles of Champagne, this could be for you (Shawna L – I’m talking to you!).

And as Champagne is not in everyone’s budget. Here are some amazing bubbles at more affordable prices.

For those of you fortunate enough to live in British Columbia Canada, I have an even better option for you.

Blue Mountain Sparkling wines. I can’t believe the consistent quality the Mavety’s produce. Their family owned vineyards in Okanagan Falls have a large temperature range (diurnal) between daytime and nighttime leading to this incredible mouthwatering acidity throughout all of their wines. Most of their sparklers sell out each year and top restaurants and wine shops who have formed long term relationships with the Blue Mountain vineyards get an ‘allocation’ each month or year.

 

Blue Moutain Winery in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, Canada

 

Thank goodness they released the Gold Label Brut last year (pictured on the right), the only non-vintage wine in the lineup with higher production levels so you are more likely to find this wine in private liquor stores in the province (think Liberty Wines and Marques in Vancouver or Blackcomb Cold Beer and Wine in Whistler). Excellent crisp sparkler without the intense toastiness of other wines (yet still aged for 24 months before release) and for $30 it is an amazing find.

For those who prefer ‘vintage’ wines that have longer ageing and more of that toasty, brioche complexity search out their other bubbles. They carry a Vintage Blanc de Blancs (crisp, lemon curd, creme brulée and toast made with Chardonnay and the 2009 was their last release) and ONLY $40 – can you believe it?!  The Vintage Brut Reserve (currently the 2009) is actually still available to buy online so snatch it up!

 

Brut Rosé RD 2013

My favourite! The Rosé is aged on on lees (dead yeasts) for 36 months (not as long as the Blanc de Blanc and Brut Reserve). So a little less brioche and toast and slightly more fruity. If you find this, buy it!! If you can’t find it, the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler sells this by the glass year round. Or go and sabre a bottle in their wine cellar.

 

 

Is it worth it to spend the extra money on Champagne? If you have it to spend. Otherwise, seek out other wines that are every bit as delicious and easier on the pocket book too.

Champagne’s Dirty Little Secret

In ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blonds’ Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend’ in a pink satin dress surrounded by dapper men in black tuxedos.  I’m a brunette and Champagne is my best friend?

 

 

Champagne and diamonds are two luxury products whose value is questioned because of their actual lack of rarity. It was the marketing genius of DeBeers that led to the perceived scarcity of diamonds. It is the Comité de Champagne (CIVC) that controls the amount of Champagne allowed to be made each year. This amount is based on the world’s demand for Champagne. Just like DeBeers, the CIVC makes sure that the growers will not sell enough grapes to cause a reduction in price (and following that, the perceived value) of Champagne.

Indeed, most Champagne houses produce bottles in the millions each year. In fact, Dom Perignon, does not even admit what their production is. Moët makes upwards of 30 million bottles: Veuve Clicquot sits at 13.5 million. Clearly, just as with diamonds, there is no possibility of the world running out of Champagne. This is Champagne’s dirty little secret.

How does Champagne market itself as a luxury product? First, by aligning itself with the upper classes. Roederer’s Cristal was made at the request of Tsar Alexander II. Champagne was a favourite of Napoleon Bonaparte. Sir Winston Churchill drank so much Pol Roger that they dedicated their top wine to him. Then in the 19th century, Champagne crossed the transatlantic and enraptured wealthy Americans via Champagne Charlie (Charles Heidsieck) and Lily Bollinger. In 1973, Bollinger partnered with the world’s greatest spy, James Bond and is featured in 13 Bond films.

 

Rap stars have also promoted the frothy fun. Tupac’s song serenades the recipe of ‘Thug Passion’ – one part Alizé Passion Fruit Liqueur and one part Cristal. Cristal is the cuvée prestige, the flagship or the top wine of the Louis Roederer house that sells for $300/ bottle.

Originally, Jay-Z also promoted Cristal. That is until the Economist interviewed the managing director of Roederer. When asked if the attention from rap artists was detrimental to the Cristal image, he responded, “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” It seems that rap culture may not quite bestow the polished image that all the Champagne houses are looking for.

In the follow up, Jay-Z took the comments as racist and promptly pulled all Cristal from his nightclubs. Then, business-savvy Jay wisely bought the Armand de Brignac Champagne house before  featuring the gold-laden ‘Ace of Spades’ bottle in his next music video, “Show Me What You Got”. Watch how he turns away the bottle of Cristal and then see how the girl’s eyes light up when they present the bottle of Armand de Brignac. Burn! Then quick move to positive product placement.

 

And since my sister celebrates her birthday this weekend, I just have to bring some Champers to celebrate the milestone. We’re staying at the luxurious Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon, British Columbia built by the owner of Swarovski crystal jewelry. The place is adorned with crystal chandeliers, snowflake crystal lights, crystal fireplaces, and more crystal throughout the steam rooms of the spa. Marilyn, you can take your child labour, environmental abuse blood-diamonds, I’ve got ethically made Austrian crystal to pair with my Champagne! (In fact, Marilyn Monroe was garbed in Swarovski crystal for the movie, not in diamonds.)

And if 20th Century Fox didn’t put out the extra dough for Marilyn to wear real diamonds, is it worth it for us to spend the extra cash on the coveted name of Champagne?

The answer: it depends.

More on Champagne and other sparkling wines in the next post.

 

 

 

The Best Wine Growing Region You’ve Never Heard of – Hugging Tree Winery and the Similkameen Series

[This article is the second of a three part series on the Similkameen Valley and it’s wineries.]

left to right: Melanie, Wes, Tara, son Fable, Brad, daughter Molly, Jenny Moon, Cristine, Walter and Vincent/ Photo: Brandon Elliot Photography

When Sergeant Makepeace (Cristine) and Staff Sergeant Makepeace (Walter) retired from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the community must have been extremely saddened by the exit of their two aptly named officers (because really, who wouldn’t trust a police officer whose name is ‘Make-peace’?!)  In 2005, they purchased the organic farm in Cawston and moved into their new classic-style farmhouse adorned with a picturesque white verandah that oversees the trees and vines. As a certified organic farm, it seems a natural extension of the Makepeace’s legacy of community service with the RCMP. Now, they can save the world by one fruit at a time!

For years, the public never got to taste the wines from the Makepeace’s vineyards. At least, not knowingly anyways. Walter, knowing nothing about making wine, sold his grapes to other wine producers in the area.

Finally, in 2011, Clos de Soleil winery honoured the couple with their name on the label of the ‘Grower’s Series Makepeace Merlot,’ a small-lot production of their premium grapes. For a couple of years, they contracted Serendipity Winery to make wines under their newly created Hugging Tree label. Meanwhile, Walter and his youngest son Brad took this time to study winemaking at Okanagan College and are now making Hugging Tree wines themselves. Hopefully the the rest of us may now get the chance at sampling their great juice.

Hugging Tree Winery is in Cawston, British Columbia in the Similkameen Valley. It is only a few minutes drive from both the town of Osoyoos and Washington State in one of Western Canada’s wine regions.

Hugging Tree Vineyards and the Similkameen Valley /  Photo: Brandon Elliot Photography

The Similkameen is, indeed, gifted with that special sense of place. The gravelly, sandy loam subsoils are perfect for growing high quality grapes. (If you wish to read more detailed information about Similkameen soils and its relationship to high quality grape growing, click here). ‘Similkameen’ is a First Nation’s word meaning ‘the winding stream’ as the Similkameen River twists through the valley providing much needed access to water. The desert-like area has stately grand rust-red and black Ponderosa Pine trees, and sand-coloured hills and valleys set against blue, blue skies. It rarely rains here averaging only 240 cm per year. If clouds ever dare cross the sky, they are mostly of the white, fluffy variety. It is on the east side of the Similkameen River on gentle, west-facing slopes stretching up from Highway #3 where the Hugging Tree vineyards lay.

The willow tree on the property and the image on Hugging Tree labels / Photo: Brandon Elliot Photography

Hugging Tree name and image of two trees wrapping their arms around each other in a happy embrace is in fact a willow tree that grows on the property. Yet it also seems a fitting nod to the legacy of this wonderful, welcoming family that includes three free-spirited children – now grown adults – Wes, Jen and Brad Makepeace. Brad has brought his own family into the business with wife, Tara and daughter Molly and young toddler, Fable. Wes and Jen, on the other hand, make for much needed hands only at certain times of the growing season and for the most part live their lives away from the farm. “It’s a good tactic that helps us maintain the family peace and equilibrium,” says Jenny Moon over our phone conversation.

Tara, Brad’s wife, works in the tasting room at the farm. I first met Tara in 2015. With thick, long dark hair contrasting against her large blue eyes and round full lips and dark lipstick, she is striking! On this early summer afternoon in July 2017, her hair has light, sandy brown roots that gradually move into a blond hombre, thick and wavy. She wears just a hint of lipgloss. She pulls off both looks so well.

the Tasting Room / Photo: Brandon Elliot Photography

The tasting room at Hugging Tree is a moderate size with ample natural light accented with Victorian industrial lightbulbs, wooden flooring and a cement bar. A record player, the colour of 1950’s sky-blue, plays pop songs of another era. It makes for fun, happy and hopping energy and seems to say, ‘the door’s always open!’

Then there are the wines.

The first time I tasted Hugging Tree, it was back when I first met Tara and Brad in 2015. They made an appointment with me at the restaurant I was working in and I tasted the wines in the cool cellar downstairs. It was a mix of wines made both through their contract with Serendipity and wines made by Brad and Walter. The wines were all solidly good. Tara and I shared the same favourite wine of the flight, the 2012 Moonchild Merlot (named after Brad’s sister, Jenny Moon).

Now, two years later in the tasting room at the winery, the wines are all distinctly excellent.

Winemaker: Brad Makepeace / Photo: Brandon Elliot Photography

Brad joins us to chat a few minutes into our tasting. Tall, dark and handsome with hair that reaches just past his ears and tucked behind them. He has a beard and handlebar mustache and wears a black, sleeveless Motörhead shirt. Yet overall, Brad exudes a softness, especially in his facial features. He is the kind of person who will never trumpet his wines loudly and proudly in the way that legendary leaders like California’s Robert Mondavi has or the how the Okanagan Valley’s Anthony Von Mandl does. Instead, Brad’s persuasion is of the humble, tranquil kind – a low, even drumming that never rises in power and force, nor dims.

That’s right. I promised to talk about the wines.

The 2015 Viognier shows pronounced aromas of ripe peach, orange oil and lots of pretty floral accents. On the palate, it is oily textured and rich yet still finishes with bright mouthwatering length.

I know that Viognier is a difficult grape to get right. It needs a long growing season in order to develop it’s characteristic violet and peach aromas. If you don’t pick it at just the right time, the acidity in the grapes will drop quickly and you will end up with a fat, blowsy wine. In this Hugging Tree Viognier, the richness of the stone fruits and fatness of the texture is balanced by the crispness of the acidity. And oh my, what length!

How did he do it?

The Viognier, Brad tells me, is grown on three different soil types. This year, Brad has picked each lot at different times – hence, the balance of rich fruit and refreshing acidty. Bravo, Brad!

The Hugging Tree 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon shows that quintessential blackcurrant and blackcurrant leaf with a touch of herbaceous mint and sage – the sure sign of high quality Cabernet. An insider’s tip: Watch out for the Cabernets coming out of the Similkameen. The fruit is properly ripened here! I took home 2 bottles of the Cabernet to lock away in my cellar.

Hugging Tree 2012 Moonchild Merlot – as stated above, I first tasted this in 2015 while at work. My tasting notes were disappointingly concise and noted,  “…richly fruited, beautiful tingly powdery tannins. Yum!” Retasting this now, the wine has evolved, the tannins have softened and the juice shows distinctly dark plum with cocoa and a lovely green herb note.

Brad sent me away with a couple of bottles which are soon to be released. Here is the sneak preview of them…

Hugging Tree Merlot 2014 – black cherry and bright red fruits combine beautifully. There’s a beautiful dustiness with violet perfume, cedar and vanilla. The alcohol is quite generous and the tannins are ripe and rounded. Don’t cellar this one! Drink it, it’s beautiful now!

Hugging Tree Telltale 2014 – The Telltale is the Bordeaux blend of the line. This year it has 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 16% Petit Verdot, and 8% Malbec. I opened this too early!! In fact, if you were to look up the definition of infanticide you might see me drinking this bottle of 2014 Telltale.  Forested and woody from new oak, it needs time to soften and integrate and to reveal the dark brooding fruits now hidden behind the baking spice. Tannins are youthful and beautifully grainy. The great texture is a hint at the quality here. Cellar for 2-6 years.

Hugging Tree Winery is certainly THE winery to watch out for in Canada’s best kept secret, the Similkameen Valley.

Just go. Go now.

(more…)

The Best Wine Growing Region You’ve Never Heard of – The Similkameen Series

[This article is the first of a three part series on the Similkameen Valley and it’s wineries.]

The Similkameen Valley is a wine region in British Columbia nestled in a basin just west of the Okanagan Valley. Here the hillsides reaching up from the Similkameen River have sagebrush and Ponderosa Pine trees, and orchards and vines compete for soil with oceans of dry, yellow grasses. For those of you who haven’t beheld the image of grasslands when the wind is blowing, a visit to the area is rewarded amply by that vision alone. The town of Cawston, only 16 minutes from the border with the United States, is the Organic Farm Capital of Canada and the epicenter of a cluster of high quality wines which are as gratifying as the landscape; there are many reasons to go!

The Similkameen Valley Photo: Richard Smith

(more…)

6 Insider Tips on How to Moderate a Wine Seminar
Part I

Moderating your first wine seminar with a panel of experts is intimidating. Yet, it is also your best opportunity to shine among the very people you want to impress the most: famous wine producers, the MW who writes for your favourite magazine, or your peers in the industry. In the following paragraphs are 6 insider tips to prepare you and your panelists in the weeks leading up to the event. (more…)

Actually, You DO Love Chardonnay, you just don’t know it

white grapesbridget jones's diaryThis is about Chardonnay. Why? It’s grown all over the world and I’ve noticed Chardonnay has taken a ‘hit’ in sales. Coined the ‘Bridget Jones effect’ by wine writer Oz Clarke, this movement has proselytized vast numbers and most people are no longer buying bottles of Chardonnay (Bridget Jones would write in her diary about her sad, manless life over an oversized pour of Chardonnay and then gripe about how she was going to kill herself and put her head in the oven). This negative marketing caused Chardonnay sales to plummet. I too, had lost my Chardonnay-mojo, disenchanted with the bitter finish of over-oaked butter bombs. Now, I’ve learned that Chardonnay can be absolutely delicious with oak as long as the fruit takes center stage and the oak plays second fiddle.  Here’s what you probably know already… (more…)

Is the Trend for Big, Ballsy Red Wines (finally!) on its Way Out?

red-wine-A colleague of mine recently wrote that he notices the trend for massive red wines waning. Although I desperately want that to be true, I don’t see it and I want that change. I crave it. You would think that this one would be finished already in the same way that big, buttery Chardonnay moved into the ABC (anything BUT Chardonnay) or the way that Merlot sales crashed and pushed up the sales of Pinot Noir after the movie Sideways. Yet every night on the floor at the restaurant, people request huge wines. Won’t people eventually get bored of big reds and try something else? Why is it so easy for people to be monogamous when it comes to wine?

(more…)

close

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)