British Columbia: Okay Wines, Retarded Wine Culture

limited selection at B.C. wine retailer

The North American Wine Bloggers Conference is being held in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley next weekend, June 6-8, in a small city called Penticton–population 32,000.

I’ve written a couple of posts here on my issues with the the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, based on the one I attended in Virginia in 2011. I criticized a number of features of that conference here. That post sparked quite a bit of debate and led to an effort by conference organizers (a commercial entity that producers bloggers conferences on a variety of subjects) to revamp the programming for the succeeding conference, held last year in Portland. (For more background, see my follow up post here on how I was invited by conference and Wine Blog Awards founder Tom Wark to be part of the committee to make recommendations for the next conference, but was then excluded from that committee by Allan Wright, the head of the company that organizes the conference, Zephyr Adventures.)

At any rate, I understand from several attendees of last year’s Portland conference that the improvements made following my complaints about the Virginia conference did result in a positive difference. And the schedule for the Penticton conference includes a number of sessions that should be of genuine interest to wine bloggers, which was not the case in Virginia. So you’re welcome, WBC organizers and Portland and Penticton attendees.

Based on the reports about the Portland conference, I briefly considered attending the conference being held this year in Penticton. Since I had a business trip to Vancouver for a few days this past September, I decided to sample as many British Columbia wines as I could while I was there–having seen virtually none over the years in the otherwise very diverse wine market here in the San Francisco Bay area. I wanted to use my obligatory business trip to ascertain whether it might be worth my time and expense this month to travel all the way to Penticton (not a place that’s particularly easy to get to) to learn more about B.C.’s primary wine region.

I was a little leery of the region after reading beforehand how relatively new the wine industry is there–in modern terms dating back only to the late 1980s. It was then that more than two thirds of Okanagan vineyards, which had been planted to climate adapted hybrids rather than the vitis vinifera required for fine wines, were uprooted following the 1988 harvest. This was in response to anticipated competition from U.S. wines following adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement. I also read how difficult it was to grow vinifera grapes in the short, hot growing season found in the Okanagan Valley, and that irrigation was essential there due to arid conditions.

After sampling over two dozen B.C. wines and getting a sense of the (very limited) wine culture of British Columbia’s largest city, Vancouver, I concluded that while there are a few fairly good wines being produced in Okanagan Valley, there was really nothing compelling enough about the region or its wines to lead me to want to spend a significant amount of money and time to learn much more about them at this point.

My reasoning is that there are literally thousands of competing wines from many other parts of the world, including my huge wine producing State of California, that are both higher quality and better values than what I sampled in B.C. Most of those wines are actually available to U.S. consumers, whereas B.C., Canada’s second largest wine growing region, only produces 120 thousand hectoliters of wine per year, barely enough for the local market. (For comparison, California produces nearly 24 million hectoliters annually.) So why should I spend precious time learning and writing about fairly good wines from a small region that hardly makes enough for the local market, let alone for export, when my readers are never going to have a chance to sample the wines for themselves? And why didn’t the organizers of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference consider that point in designing a conference supposedly for the benefit of wine bloggers? Oh, that’s right, because the Okanagan Valley hosts offered to pay the organizers more than any other location did.

Secondly, the backward state of wine culture in British Columbia’s largest city really depressed me. Only one person at a single wine bar was knowledgeable about the region and its wines. Others working at wine bars and wine retail stores I visited showed little or no interest in or knowledge of wine in general, let alone much interest in the wines being produced in their province. If I was going to run into that much wine ignorance in British Columbia’s most sophisticated city–in fricking wine focused establishments for God’s sake–what kind of useful information was I going to get in a small wine country town like Penticton?

The latter judgment is no doubt unfair. Quite possibly Penticton and its surroundings, where presumably passionate winemakers reside, is the only place in B.C. where one is going to get into a serious and informative discussion about wine in general–and Okanagan Valley wine, and what makes it special, in particular. I’m hoping for the sake of my fellow bloggers on their way to this seeming backwater that this assumption is correct. For me, though, the fact that Pentictonite wine producers have yet to educate and interest people who work in the wine business in their province’s greatest city about their wines suggested to me these producers might not be amongst the wine world’s best communicators.

So to be very clear, I have not visited Penticton or the Okanagan Valley, nor do I have any intention of doing so in the foreseeable future. I look forward to the glowing accounts of visits there that should be spewing forth into the blogosphere in the next two or three weeks. I am confident they will paint an attractive picture of dedicated vintners, picturesque vineyards and delicious wines that, unfortunately, just aren’t available anywhere in the U.S. And since the main business of the Okanagan Valley wine industry appears to be agrotourism as opposed to wine production, I am sure conference goers will highlight the appealing sights and hospitality there, to the promotional benefit of the area’s true primary product.

In the meantime, for another point of view on British Columbia’s wine culture, here’s what I learned from scouring Vancouver for the four days I was there last fall for every taste and scrap of information I could get about the province’s wines.

I was staying for a series of meetings at one of Vancouver’s posher hotels, the Fairmont Waterfront. I enlisted the concierges there to supplement my online research about winetasting opportunities in their fair city. Unfortunately, although they are based in the city and presumably connected to more sources of information on the ground than were available to me via the Internet, in over a day of searching they failed to come up with anything more than I did.

That hotel’s Herons Westcoast Kitchen & Bar did feature a monthly rotating wine flight from a selected Okanagan producer. I therefore proceeded to sample the three wines on offer for that month in that single flight of wines from Blasted Church, a winery whose website claims it’s “Okanagan Valley’s most creative, inspired and fun destination for wine lovers.” I was reasonably impressed with the Pinot Gris but not at all by Blasted Church’s other two wines in the flight. Go there for the “fun,” I guess, but not for the wine.

The organization that set up the business event I was attending had scheduled lunches or dinners at some of the city’s better restaurants—including one widely reputed to have a very good wine list, Blue Water Café. I spoke to the somms or wine servers at each of those restaurants, asking for advice on what local wines to taste, and where in the City I could taste more wines. I received little useful information from any of them, and was frankly appalled at the wine pairings Blue Water came up with for the large party I dined with there. For the main course, a delicate white fish, they poured a lousy, oaky Argentine Tannat–I kid you not.

I could only assume they were unloading some of their bad buys on my hapless party, because their choices didn’t evidence anyone who gave a damn about any notion of food and wine somehow complimenting each other. They did have a long wine list with relatively few local wines compared to the European and California producers on offer. They also had a lovely new wine cellar they were anxious to show me when it became clear I was interested in wine. That cellar, however, mainly displayed trophy bottles of Napa Cab, Bordeaux and pricey Italian wines. Clearly, they were not proud enough of the local product to highlight it.

Blue Water Cafe

The best wine pairing I experienced in Vancouver was at lunch at the Dockside Restaurant, where I had a very tasty lamb cheek salad. When I asked about domestic Merlots (since Merlot is one of the primary red varieties grown in the region), the server came up with the ’09 Tinhorn Creek, which complemented the meat salad quite nicely.

I walked into several wine stores to check out the (limited) selection and to ask where one could actually sample local wines in the city. Most suggested restaurants, like Blue Water, that were reputed to have good wine lists (not necessarily including many local wines though). I asked about wine bars and places pouring wine by the taste instead of by the bottle or glass, and they just looked at me blankly.

I did know there was a wine bar in Vancouver’s Gastown district, on a hard-to-find street intimidatingly named “Blood Alley,” that friends here in Silicon Valley had recommended highly from their recent trip there. I also found a place called Uva Wine Bar.


Unfortunately, Uva mainly offered Italian wines. I tasted all eight of the local wines they had on their list, but the two servers could tell me nothing at all about the wines. Apparently the requirements for working in a wine bar in Vancouver do not include knowing anything about wine or the origins of what’s on the menu. I was, however, able to taste there another four Tinhorn Creek wines –only one of which, the 2010 Gewurz, rated for me above 88 points; a couple of decent Chardonnays with good acidity (from JoieFarm and Mission Hill); and one fairly good Pinot Noir (Cedar Creek).

So that brings us down to the one place in the City of Vancouver—a metropolis of over 600,000 inhabitants–where one can actually taste a small but rather good collection of B.C. wines, served by someone who truly knows something about the wines and their producers. That is the Salt Tasting Room, which my friends in California had told me about, but of which people working at retail wine shops appeared to be universally unaware. It also brings us to the one hero of my frustrating attempt to have a local wine experience in Vancouver—Salt Tasting Room’s Jay Whitelock, pictured below.


They had something like 14 B.C. wines available for tasting at Salt Tasting, and I tasted all but a few of them, based on Jay’s knowledgeable recommendations.

I started with a white flight—an old vine Chenin, a white Rhone blend, a Chard and a Gewurztraminer. All were fairly good, and I rated both the ’11 Meyer Gewurz and ’10 DiBello Duncan Vineyards Chard 91 points. Both had complexity, good aromatics and acidity. I then moved on to their rosé flight, in which both the 2011 8th Generation Pinot Meunier Rosé and 2011 Tantalus Pinot Meunier/Pinot Noir Rosés merited, for me, a lover of good rosé, 90+ points. Both, again, had good acidity. I then delved into Jay’s recommended reds, a Pinot, Pinotage and Cab Sauv/Merlot blend. By far the best of that trio was the 2010 La Frenz Pinot Noir Amos Vineyard, the most complex and appealing Pinot of my trip at 91+ points. I finished with one of the two sweet wines on the menu, the one Jay steered me to, which was a Late Harvest Riesling by Poplar Grove. It was okay, nothing special.

The Salt Tasting Room offers little bites, of cheeses and charcuterie to go along with the wines, and these were pretty tasty examples from local producers that were also well labeled and explained.

Salt Tasting Room, Vancouver’s only destination for people wanting to sample B.C. wines

So the height of my experience trying to taste some B.C. wines in B.C.’s largest city boiled down to this not inexpensive but fairly satisfying couple of hours at the Salt Tasting Room, with knowledgeable commentary and advice from Jay. Why is this kind of experience such a rare possibility in a large urban city located in a wine producing region?

I did some research when I got back on the possible causes for the retardation of British Columbia’s wine culture and this is what I learned.

Current British Columbia liquor laws and policy, which date back to the repeal of Canada’s version of Prohibition in 1927, do not permit the sampling of wine during wine education classes, such as WSET courses. They require restaurants to buy all their wines from a designated government liquor store. These stores, mostly government monopolies like those in the most backward of our U.S. states when it comes to wine like Pennsylvania, typically have a very limited selection (like the ones I visited). Also the better producers that can sell through their own mailing list or other direct means won’t deal with them, as the wine prices at the stores are greatly increased by heavy government taxes.

B.C. law also permits wineries to have only a single tasting room, which must be located at the site of their winery. Absent such a law, I’m sure there would be a number of B.C. wineries with second tasting rooms in touristy Vancouver, thereby raising local and visitor awareness about B.C. wines. Anti-consumer legislators, however, have yet to authorize such an obvious innovation.

So I guess it’s no wonder, really, why even people in the wine business in Vancouver are basically stupid about B.C. wine. Misguided government over-regulation that’s a hangover from the 1920s has retarded the development of the kind of vibrant wine culture here that one finds in most other major North American cities.

These restrictive laws and regulations reportedly also made it quite difficult for the wine regions and producers from outside B.C. that are coming to next week’s Wine Bloggers Conference—like the wine boards of Uruguay and Greece–to get their wines into the country.

With this background, I have to ask why any wine oriented organization that doesn’t have to do business in B.C.—say a wine conference for writers and bloggers that could be held anywhere—would choose to locate an event there? Why support a government and economy that actively hinders wine awareness, choice and diversity? The WBC organizers, of course, are not wine afficianados–they’re just in the business of blogger conferences and adventure travel–so they presumably didn’t concern themselves with that aspect of B.C.’s wine culture when they saw the amount of money the Okanagan Valley offered for the conference.

Personally, I say screw states and jurisdictions with governmental authorities that pointlessly repress wine awareness and appreciation. Just like I avoid making any non-obligatory, pleasure trips to backward jurisdictions like Pennsylvania in this country, I don’t plan to return to B.C. until there’s a change in the laws, and wine culture, there. I urge other wine lovers to boycott Vancouver and B.C. too, no matter how scenic or “fun” the winery tasting rooms there are reported to be by bloggers returning from WBC. Life is simply too short for spending time in and supporting places that are hostile to, and ignorant about, fine wine.

So my next recommendation for improvement to the WBC organizers is to avoid holding their shindig in any jurisdiction that is hostile to the rights and interests of wine lovers and wine producers. Seems pretty basic, but, just like a lot of what I thought were fairly obvious recommendations I made after the VA WBC debacle, this one apparently needs to be explicitly stated. I expect other wine bloggers to insist on this too.

For additional background on the state of B.C.’s wine industry, I commend to you this summary of a 2011 report by two Canadian university professors who conducted a two year study on the competitiveness of British Columbia wine in the world market. The report’s summary, for the Canadian Wine Magazine WineAccess, asks the headline question, “B.C. wine industry heading for disaster?” According to the article, the report concluded “policy changes are constrained by the use of liquor sales and accompanying protectionism as a cash cow through the provincial monopoly. The bottom line is that no one in BC has a strategic long-term vision for the industry.”

By the way, if you think it’s a good sign that the Canadian wine industry has its own magazine, think again. The magazine announced it was ceasing publication with the Feb/March 2013 issue. According to the President of the media group that owned the publication, “this decision allows a refocusing of the company’s strategy on areas of greater potential growth.”

For my complete tasting notes on the 27 B.C. wines from 18 producers that I was able, through some persistence and resourcefulness, to taste in wine repressive Vancouver despite the design of powers to be there, see below.

6/7/13 Addendum:
I appreciate the many comments on this post by B.C. winemakers and others who are knowledgeable about the negative effects of B.C.’s restrictive wine laws and policies. I urge readers here who are interested in what’s going on in B.C. to review the comments to this post.

I also urge you to check out this radio interview I did on June 6 with Chris Walker on his Daybreak South program in British Columbia:

VISIT TO VANCOUVER: OKANAGAN WINES – Salt Tasting Room, Blue Water Cafe, Uva Wine Bar and Herons Kitchen, Vancouver, British Columbia (9/23/2012-9/24/2012)

Blasted Church


  • 2010 Blasted Church Pinot Gris – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Light straw yellow color; aromatic, tart peach, pear, lightly floral nose; crisp, tart pear, tart peach, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91 points
  • 2010 Blasted Church Chardonnay Musqué – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Light yellow color; banana, pear nose; creamy textured, juicy, ripe pear, pineapple, ripe grapefruit palate; medium finish 88 points
  • 2008 Blasted Church Cabernet-Merlot – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Very dark red violet color; tart black currant, plum, black fruit, cedar, vanilla nose; medium bodied, tart black currant, tart plum, tart berry, light coffee palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points


  • 2009 CedarCreek Estate Winery Pinot Noir – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Dark ruby color; redolent, baked cherry, black cherry, black raspberry nose; medium bodied, tight, black cherry, black raspberry, baked cherry, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points

Clos du Soleil

  • 2010 Clos du Soleil Capella – Canada, British Columbia, Similkameen Valley (9/24/2012)
    Light chartreuse color; lemon grass, light smoke, cat pee nose; medium bodied, lemon grass, ripe citrus palate; medium-plus finish 89 points
  • 2010 Clos du Soleil Celestiale – Canada, British Columbia, Similkameen Valley (9/24/2012)
    Very dark red violet color; tart berry, black fruit nose; tight, tart berry, black currant palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 88 points


  • 2010 DiBello Wines Chardonnay – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley (9/23/2012)
    Light yellow color; white flower, vanilla, poached pear, light spice nose; rich, medium bodied, poised, tart pear, ripe lemon, mineral palate, reminiscent of a villages Puligny-Montrachet; medium-plus finish 91 points

8th Generation

  • 2011 8th Generation Vineyard Pinot Meunier Rosé – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley (9/23/2012)
    Medium dark orange pink color; intriguing, savory, light pepper, tart pink grapefruit nose; juicy, ripe pink grapefruit, mineral palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish 90+ points


  • 2011 JoieFarm Chardonnay Un-Oaked – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley (9/24/2012)
    Light yellow color; aromatic, tart apple, tart pear nose; juicy, tart apple, tart pear, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (nice, juicy version of an unoaked Chardonnay) 90 points

La Frenz

  • 2010 La Frenz Pinot Noir Amos Vineyard – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley (9/23/2012)
    Very dark ruby color; stewed black cherries, dried berries, blackberry, creosote nose; complex, medium bodied, garrigue, very tart berry, tart black cherry, mineral palate; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points

Lake Breeze

  • 2009 Lake Breeze Vineyards Meritage – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Very dark red violet color; intense, baked black fruit, VA nose; high pitched, tart black fruit, light pepper, tart plum palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish 86 points

Meyer Family

  • 2011 Meyer Family Vineyards Gewürztraminer McLean Creek Road Vineyard – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/23/2012)
    Very light yellow color; aromatic, white roses, light potpourri, lemon blossom nose; very poised, juicy, ripe peach, ripe grapefruit, palate; medium finish (good with Thai and Indonesian food, chevre) 91 points

Mission Hill

  • 2010 Mission Hill Chardonnay S.L.C. – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Light lemon yellow color; ripe pear, white jasmine nose; tart pear, mineral, white jasmine palate; medium-plus finish 91 points


  • 2011 Pentâge Winery Rosé – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/23/2012)
    Medium pink color with pale meniscus; very ripe currant, banana nose; ripe currant, light-medium bodied, cherry palate; medium finish (Gamay Noir) 88 points

Poplar Grove

  • 2009 Poplar Grove Winery Riesling Late Harvest – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley (9/23/2012)
    Light medium yellow color; lifted, petrol, light apricot nose; baked peach, tart apricot, grapefruit syrup palate with minerality and medium acidity; medium-plus finish 89 points

Road 13

  • 2011 Road 13 Chenin Blanc Old Vines – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/23/2012)
    Light lemon yellow color; fresh green hay, green pear, green apple, mineral, light lanolin nose; tasty, medium bodied with good density, light lanolin, tart green pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (would be good with green vegetable dishes and salads) 90 points


  • 2010 Sandhill Cabernet-Merlot Sandhill Estate Vineyard – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/23/2012)
    Dark red violet color; tart currant, pyrazine, bell pepper nose; ripe currant, red berry, pyrazine palate with soft tannins and little structure; medium finish 87 points

Stag’s Hollow

  • 2010 Stag’s Hollow Sauvignon Blanc – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley (9/23/2012)
    Light yellow color; cream, tart peach nose; medium bodied, tart peach, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91 points


  • 2009 Stoneboat Vineyards Pinotage – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/23/2012)
    Very dark purple red violet color; savory, tart prune, sweet smoke, pepper, roasted cherry nose; dense, medium-plus bodied, roasted fruit, tar, pepper sausage palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points


  • 2011 Tantalus Vineyards Rosé – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/23/2012)
    Medium orange pink color; ripe currant, tart cranberry nose; light-medium bodied, juicy, tart currant, tart cranberry, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium finish 90+ points
  • 2010 Tantalus Vineyards Riesling – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Light yellow color; ripe peach, apricot, baked apricot, oak nose; medium bodied, ripe peach, apricot palate; medium finish 88 points


  • 2011 Terravista Vineyards Figaro – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley (9/23/2012)
    Light yellow color; aromatic, straw, tart pear, white grapefruit nose; medium bodied, tart pear, mineral, light citrus palate with white grapefruit rind on finish; medium-plus finish (would be good with salads, chicken with lemon; blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne) 90 points

Tinhorn Creek

  • 2010 Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Very light yellow color; aromatic, floral, roses, geranium nose; light-medium bodied, poised, tart peach, floral, geranium, mineral palate, quite dry; medium-plus finish 90+ points
  • 2010 Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Light yellow color; poached pear, pineapple syrup, vanilla nose; creamy textured, medium bodied, vanilla oak, cream, poached pear palate; medium finish 87 points
  • 2008 Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Dark garnet red color; baked cherry, roses nose; tart red fruit, rosehips, mineral palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (reminiscent of a Villages Gevrey) 88 points
  • 2009 Tinhorn Creek Merlot – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/23/2012)
    Dark purple red violet color; smoky, tart black fruit, roasted plum, graphite nose; tasty, tart black fruit, spicy plum palate with smooth, sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (14.8% alcohol; 12 mos in barrel) 91 points
  • 2008 Tinhorn Creek 2 Bench Red Oldfield Series – Canada, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Valley VQA (9/24/2012)
    Dark purple red violet color; VA, baked berry, honey baked beans nose; maturing, baked plum, cherry sauce, baked beans palate; medium finish 86 points
This entry was posted in Canada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

89 Responses to British Columbia: Okay Wines, Retarded Wine Culture

  1. Marcy Gordon says:

    I love your sense of outrage. It’s so palpable. How dare Vancouver leave you so unsatisfied in pursuit of fine wine.

    You make your case that you tirelessly investigated what was available in Vancouver. But you do yourself and your readers a disservice if you don’t make the effort to travel to the primary growing region (in this case the Okanagan) before you write BC off as unworthy. That’s just lazy reporting or blogging or whatever you want to call your writing style.

    The problem with your rant against BC wine is that you mistakenly assume your goals and needs are the same as all people who travel and seek to sample the wines of a region.

    You assume that your reader’s needs are the same as the readers of other blogs. If you write a review about a wine that can’t be purchased in the US you’ve failed your readers. That’s your problem not the problem of BC wine. But I’m sure it’s an important issue that is debated in the BC wine industry.

    Yet your needs are your needs. Your opinions are valuable to your core readers and I’m sure you try to give them the most comprehensive information you can about the wines you sample. But this is like going to the Galapagos Islands and being irritated there were no lions roaming around. Or exasperated by the fact you can’t find the same giant tortoise you saw in the Islands living in your city park. When your expectations don’t meet reality it can be disappointing. But your expectations are not the template for all experiences that others may seek.

    If a bloggers goal is to expose readers to wine experiences around the world, educate them about the particular place good or bad, the ability to purchase the wine where they live is not an overriding issue.

    Inform your readers of your opinions yes, that’s why they follow you I assume. But you can’t call for all bloggers or WBC attendees to adopt your views, clamor for change, or boycott an event that they find value in outside of the highly focused, yet narrow goals you set for yourself and for your own blog.

    Zephyr Adventures is not in the wine business. Zephyr’s business is hosting adventure travel tours and putting on conferences for a profit. They do it to make money. Otherwise it would be called a charity. No one is forced to attend the conference. No region is forced to bid on sponsoring the conference and paying for the privilege to host it.

    It’s unfortunate you did not get the opportunity to sample Tinhorn Creek Cab Franc –I find that wine to be outstanding and think it’s one of the best wines they make. But that’s just my opinion.

    • Richard Jennings says:


      You know I love you. In this case, however, I think you haven’t fully thought through the issues as yet.

      I was interested in this fledgling wine region, as I am in every wine region in the world. I was interested enough to make an effort to learn something about their wine and wine culture so as to make an informed decision as to whether to spend time in the Okanagan Valley this year. After the trip, and further research, I made a very reasoned decision not to go.

      Sure, a fun time will be had by WBC participants in Okanagan Valley next week–the area is clearly scenic; there will be lots of free wine, food and hospitality; and the camaraderie of spending time with fellow wine writers and members of the wine industry is always great. But what service are we as wine writers doing to either the people we write to educate and inform, or to the beleaguered citizens of B.C. by making it seem all nice and pretty–like it’s just the same as going to any other new wine region that has hope and promise? Thanks to their screwy government, the Canadian wine industry doesn’t have hope and promise. It’s arguably on the verge of tanking. If I hadn’t pointed these issues out for writers trooping off to Penticton, do you think anyone representing the B.C. wine industry would have raised these issues? I seriously doubt it.

      I also think that wine writers also have more of an obligation to wine consumers, and potential wine consumers, than just writing about pretty places where they make wine. I think we have an obligation to compare and contrast regions, to talk about relative values of wines available in the market, and very much to point out public policy disasters and stupid governmental decisions that are affecting their choice and enjoyment of wine. And I think it’s time for us to seriously talk about boycotting places like B.C. when it comes to siting wine oriented events that bring dollars into the local economy. Here’s why:

      (1) It’s no fun for a person who loves wine to travel to a place where it’s hard to find people in wine establishments who are knowledgeable about wine, knowledgeable about local wine, and who offer significant choices in what to taste.

      (2) The B.C. legislators clearly haven’t been sufficiently motivated by their own obligations to look out for the best interests of their citizens, and of companies trying to create viable businesses producing and marketing wine, to modernize their laws to give people the opportunity to taste, choose and enjoy. They are apparently content to feed at the trough of monopoly wine store profits and huge taxes on wine sales. Wine just isn’t that big an industry yet in B.C., so they have shown that they simply don’t care. But tourism is big business in B.C.–the second largest earner of export dollars after wood products. So that’s where the pressure needs to be applied. If B.C.’s leaders get wind of people relocating conventions and other major events from B.C. to more wine friendly locations due to their restrictive laws, it will give them a strong reason finally to reconsider their outmoded regulations.

      (3) It’s the right thing to do. Why should we support regions whose governments adopt laws that irrationally restrict our choice and enjoyment of products that are freely available elsewhere? It doesn’t feel good to spend my hard earned cash in places that don’t respect and irrationally restrict the things I find most enjoyable in life (e.g., tasting and learning about wine). And for a large group of people who care about wine to choose that as a place to visit and spend their tourist dollars really seems to me like the wrong thing to do.

  2. Gary Cave says:

    Richard is this how you evaluate a new and upcoming wine region? A few restaurants with young servers who I’m sure are trying to learn about wine. Were you totally knowledgeable about wine in your early 20’s. I doubt it! As usual a blogger who probably has never gotten his hands dirty wines about a region where small producers are putting their heart and soul into producing what mother earth can provide.
    I have worked for California’s largest producers, Gallo, Mondavi, Blackstone, Raveswood, and wineries from around the world. I have walked the vineyards of Cal., Australia, New Zealand, and of course BC.
    It is far too easy to critisise yet come up with no constructive solutions or ideas. I have been to many restaurants in California and other wine regions where the server new jack about the wines or region and instead of putting them down would offer advice or help in their wine education.
    Unfortunately it’ people like you with your pretentious attitude that turns young people away from the wine world.
    Next blog about a small and hopefully up and coming wine region and it’s wines try some constuctive comments. Being negative helps no one!

    • Richard Jennings says:

      No, this is not how I “evaluate a new and upcoming wine region.” Maybe if this wasn’t your first visit to this site, or if you’d read some of my weekly pieces for Huffington Post, you would know that already. I am currently working on a piece about Uruguay, following an eight-day visit there in April, that is highly favorable of a very young industry and their significant accomplishments. I have written a lot of glowing pieces about a lot of wine regions, new and old, where innovative and exciting things are happening. It’s unusual for me to be as negative on a wine region, and its backward wine culture, as I was in this piece. I think it’s fully justified for the reasons given in the piece. And I did suggest some constructive solutions there, and I know there’s an organization in B.C. lobbying for some of these solutions. They don’t seem to be making a whole lot of progress as yet, which is why I’ve made another constructive suggestion–boycott Vancouver and B.C. to get legislators’ attention, as they care a lot more about the huge revenues from tourism than they do about their dinky wine industry.
      Sometimes, Gary, being truthfully negative can help. Pretending like negative things aren’t happening helps no one.

    • Jon Langille says:

      Hey Gary Cave! It’s Jon from All Seasons Cafe. How are you? I’m skipping over the windy Mr. Richards to say hello. What a windbag, eh! If his demeanour is half as snarly as his writing, I wouldn’t give him a good steer either. I wonder often what you’re up to since CedarCreek days. Give me a shout. And Richard, may I call you Dick?

  3. Your main thrust is well stated – however you do tend to overlook a few items that assist in the poor wines- Canadians, in their normal behavour is to be all things to all people- so we planted all the grapes instead of concentrating on what does best. also it points out the problems of a mixed wine eonomy- private and Monopoly- when this happens both sides lose their interest in finding the best- it becomes a money thing- While here in Ontario we have only the LCBO monopoly- they do it right- have a huge selection and very well trained staff- the push here is to privatize and that will lead to Walmart wine levels and make the good ones both hard to find and rare- and I cannot suggest that Ontario wines are any better- yes the Cab Franc, Riesling and Gewurz can be world class readily- and many are,-to find a star amongst the others is a rarity not commonplace

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for that perspective and additional information. I think it is a problem of the industry, one that other wine writers have pointed out, that over 60 different types of grapes are grown in B.C., with little focus, as yet, on the ones that do really well there.
      Do you really think privatizing wine retail sales “will lead to Walmart wine levels” though? That just hasn’t been the experience of other regions where wine sales have long been privatized. I’d rethink that unfounded assumption if I were you.
      Warm regards,

  4. Chris Wallace says:

    Thank you for at least coming up and trying our wines. Born and raised in British Columbia, I am probably not the least biased person to comment on your article. So you can probably guess where this post is going. And you probably would have guessed wrong.

    We have some real troubles here with our wine industry. As you quite rightly noted, we have archaic liquor laws. Bad as you reported those laws to be, they are in fact, worse. They do nothing to promote the indigenous wine industry, unless you actually believe that protectionism promotes an industry. (It does not promote it; it merely allows it to wither more slowly.)

    Not to minimize my previous point, but for brevity I’ll move on. We also suffer from a marginal wine growing climate. Only in relatively warm vintages do we get sufficient degree days to fully ripen the red varietals. And perhaps that leads to your impression of overly oaked wines. Longer oak treatment can sometimes mask the herbaceous notes from under-ripe wines. Our climate is usually more kind to the white wines. I think that we do a credible job on our Chardonnay and I am encouraged to see attempts being made with other white varietals as well. I have had some decent sparklers from our province too.

    As to our “retarded wine culture”, well, I would certainly want to quibble with your unfortunate choice of adjective (it is quite un-PC these days to use that particular perjorative), and while how you said it was nothing other than rude, what you said is not too far off of the mark. At least that is if what you meant by that was that doemstic interest in domestic wine is disturbingly low. But it becomes more explainable if you read the immediately preceding paragraph. With a big focus on red varietals that are ill suited to our climate, interest among the trade for our wines is justifiably reduced.

    What our wine industry needs to improve is to be helped, not damned. Constructive criticism from professionals would hopefully point out our potential and re-direct our focus. Ours is a young industry, still finding its way. There are bright spots within it. I hope that some readers will travel to the Okanagan and enjoy the incredible scenery, sample some of our tastey white wines, and check out what we are doing with the thinner skinned reds (Cabe Franc and Merlot) because there is definitely potential. They will also delight in our ice wines if desert wines appeal to them. And they will no doubt find the people are not just “fun”, but respectful, helpful, and not given to calling others retarded.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for your very thoughtful comments and perspective. I generally agree with everything you said. You do, however, seem to have been offended by my use of the term “retarded.”

      I think it’s quite an accurate use of the word which means something whose development is occurring later than expected, i.e., delayed. The development of wine awareness and higher wine quality has long been delayed in B.C., largely by bad public policy–the pre-NAFTA protectionism and now the government monopoly wine stores and ridiculous restrictions on being able to taste wines at educational seminars. I can, however, understand your thinking I meant the term in another, more offensive and non-PC way since I also referred to people working in the wine industry that I met in Vancouver as being “essentially stupid about B.C. wine.” That was simply a factual summation, however, of conversations with a number of people both at retails stores and in wine service at restaurants, with one shining exception, who basically knew nothing about local wines.

      All the best,

      • Chris Wallace says:

        Thank you for your reply to my comment, Richard. I appreciate how you have handled that.

        I am glad to see the number and quality of responses to your article. It is also interesting to note how many British Columbians agree that our wine industry is in need of improvement.

        As to our government, that is unfortunate, to say the very least. One of the great things about Canada is that we have a kinder, gentler society. That comes mostly from the people, but in part from the governments we elect, who are more active in our lives than many would like. Sometimes to very good effect, as in our medical system, education too. And sometimes not, the most egregious example I can think of being our bizarre liquor laws and the confiscatory taxes that go with them.

        PS: I have to agree with you that Tannat with a delicate whitefish is an appalling pairing. I have been trying for a few minutes now, but I cannot come up with one that is worse. Honestly.

      • I have no idea where you received the info that you can’t have wine in educational seminars, but its wrong I received my DWS in Vancouver.

        “ridiculous restrictions on being able to taste wines at educational seminars.”

        And Vancouver has many private wine stores to bad you didn’t find any and the monopoly stores often have Bordeaux First Growths on the shelves. Also I would blame part of your rant not on the young servers you ran into but the Concierge at your Hotel that couldn’t direct you to the places you were interested in.

        • Richard Jennings says:

          My source on the restriction on tasting wine in educational seminars is the organization Modernize Wine British Columbia. Please review point #1 on their website here:
          See also the laundry list of stupid wine regulations on this website, which goes into detail about the restrictions on winetastings at retail establishments, which make it prohibitive to do such tastings:

          Congrats on your DWS. Do you Canadians who want to remain in denial about the stunted wine culture in Vancouver really want to blame everything on the concierges? 😉

          • So you believe every thing you read on the internet 😉

            There are 4 organizations offering WSET Programs, one up to the Diploma level and several others offering Somm Programs, all involve blind tasting of many wines in the classes.

            A good Concierge (the ones at the Fairmont should be good) would find the information you asked for IF they didn’t have it when asked, that is what they are there for.

            Also a site like Yelp would have directed you to restaurants with BC wines, some like Edible Canada even have several on tap………

            The tannat at Blue Water shows the restaurant is off its high level of a few years ago, its Somms change all the time as good ones a stolen by smaller places for better money.

  5. val tait says:

    I’m so sorry to read about your negative experiences re wine, availability, quality and knowledge. We in the BC industry, which is younger than the New Zealand industry, have been producing wines that have had recognition and critical acclaim from international writers and award bodies including Jancis Robinson and Decanter magazine. The restaurants in Vancouver on the whole tend to be big supporters of BC wine producers and the wine industry routinely hosts hospitality staff at BC wineries. I can only wonder at the extent of your investigations and lament how unfortunate it was that you did not make better connections on your visit. Fortunately, many other bloggers have and will visit. It is to them that we will be able to make a meaningful connection.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thanks for taking the time to respond. Yeah, it’s a young industry–and one that was “retarded” by misguided government protectionism for many years, i.e., until NAFTA in 1988. It’s therefore on a similar time frame as Uruguay, where I visited a month ago, where serious wine production also didn’t start until the late ’80s. By contrast, though, Uruguay has come a massive distance in a short time, focusing on a signature grape (Tannat) that has done very well there, but making a variety of good wines with help from experts brought in from outside of Uruguay, although they are also developing a very strong level of domestic expertise too, in a remarkably short period of time. I will shortly be raving about the birth of a new wine industry in that country. B.C.’s, by contrast, looks like a real piffle by comparison, thanks in no small part to government greed and stupidity.

      Someone needs to call it like it is, and apparently Jancis and Decanter have failed to do so as yet. I like to think I’ve got an independent, journalistic mind, as well as being a wine lover and enthusiast–maybe that’s why I picked up some disturbing things about the wine culture, or lack thereof, in Vancouver that wine journalists who visited there on carefully orchestrated junkets have missed.

      I really do wish the BC wine industry well. You all need to quit being polite and taking it from the government, however. Look where that approach is getting you.


  6. Tom Di Bello says:

    Loved your article. You are already shaking us up and thank you for that. Your saying a lot of things my wife and I have been trying to say for years but never gaining traction. Your scores are pretty accurate, although I think you were too generous to my wines. There are some great wines here, but getting Canadians to believe it is hard, plus there is a lot of shit produced here too, which just convinces people we aren’t that good.
    Our dated liquor laws and lack of support from our own government aren’t helping.
    My wife (Tari) and I will be in California next month would love to meet you.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for reading, and for sharing your very important perspective. I would love to meet you and your wife when you’re visiting California. Maybe we can do some brainstorming together about how to bring pressure to bear on your local government to quit repressing their wine industry and wine loving citizens.
      All the best,

  7. Fred Swan says:

    A thought provoking article on many levels.

    I’m not attending this upcoming conference either, though my reasons are practical rather than political. I’ve tasted some wines from the area and thought some were pretty decent but there weren’t enough of those, or a high enough level of quality overall, to persuade me to spend the money and time to get up there. And it’s not an area of focus for me in any case. Instead I’m spending that capital (and more on top) on a visit to Burgundy and the Loire. Well-traveled ground, but I’m certain that I’ll learn a lot. Plus, castles and cathedrals!

    Speaking to the political side though, there are two approaches. You could liken them to our approaches to Cuba and China. In the case of Cuba we have shunned, embargoed and stiff-armed in protest of that country’s actions and policies. On the other hand, after decades of essentially the same approach, we gradually opened relations with China and built strong interdependencies. Part of this was a matter of pragmatism but there was also the hope that through engagement we could gradually “bring them along” to better policies and practices. Of course, neither policy has been wholly successful.

    I think the latter example applies to what the WBC has tried, at least to an extent. Unlike other regions which got less than a year’s notice that the conference had been awarded to them, BC got a two year notice. The idea was that the region, including the government, should use the extra time to move things forward: improve in some areas and, perhaps, even modify or make exceptions to some laws. It remains to be seen how well that works out.

    It’s hard to know whether it’s better to boycott or to engage and encourage. I’m more inclined to the latter by nature. And I’m somewhat concerned that the result of a concerted boycott would do even further, irreparable harm to the plucky band of wine rebels in BC. Their movement might collapse before the tyrannical overlords mend their ways. Or something like that…

  8. Bob Halifax says:

    Interesting article, although, as a native Vancouverite, I feel obliged to say that your proposal of boycotting our city and province leads me to discount a lot of the other comments in your piece. Telling someone from BC that our liquor laws are antiquated is not going to shock them. Those of us a little longer in the tooth know fully well that the province was only allowed to drink on Sundays (outside of a restaurant when you ordered food) in 1986 – and that was only because Vancouver was hosting the Expo ’86 world’s fair.

    But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t slowly changing. Within the last year, BC restaurants were allowed to permit BYO wines – although I don’t find all that many that are eager to participate. That will likely change as more people become aware of the possibilities.

    Groups like Modernize Wine are also actively working to speed up those changes. Perhaps we could use some constructive ideas on what you feel would help improve a “retarded” culture – particularly on how you move or motivate a government and its bureaucrats to consider new approaches. We just had a provincial election; however, you wouldn’t have found liquor laws being discussed on the hustings. My guess is that the economy (or lack of one), healthcare and pipelines will general trump the wine industry in any election, US included.

    As for your inability to locate BC wines, the biggest problem for most of our wineries, in terms of getting their wines into stores, is that they don’t make enough of it to interest the provincial liquor board (BCLDB). It’s my understanding that, except in some special circumstances, the BCLDB isn’t interested in stocking your wines unless you commit a minimum number of cases. I note that you either didn’t discover the VQA shops – that feature nothing but BC wines – or didn’t find it worth mentioning them. Surprising that no one mentioned them to you. That may be an issue that the VQA shops need to address to get the word out.

    I’m rather gobsmacked about the Tannat and delicate fish. There’s got to something to that story that wasn’t communicated to you. Was your lunch being covered by the Argentine consulate?

    I attended last year’s WBC12 in Portland – in part because we don’t tend to see many Oregon wines up here in BC – and I encountered a couple of occurrences that seem to mirror some of your complaints from your visit. Firstly, I was disappointed to find out that I couldn’t buy a number of lovely wines that I tried at the conference anywhere in the Portland. Turned out that the wineries just didn’t make enough of those wines to get them into local stores. Secondly, I went to a delightful tapas bar that had a limited wine list that featured almost all Spanish, Chilean and Argentine wines. I can’t recall what, if any Oregon wines were on the list. Perhaps that was to be expected given it was a tapas restaurant. (As an aside, I’d also point out that Uva is connected to a restaurant that specializes in Italian cuisine.)

    Neither of those points made me want to lead a boycott of Portland or Oregon though. Indeed, it led me to return to Oregon last month to take in a few extra days of the Willamette and southern Oregon.

    I truly wish that you were going to attend the conference in Penticton. I will be attending and I think I’d enjoy an opportunity to swap stories and ideas with you. I do hope that I’ll get a chance to meet with a number of other bloggers that are going to attend WBC13.

    I’m quite sure that we thinned-skinned Canadians will be disappointed with some of the things that we hear about our wines. Who knows, though, maybe we’ll learn a few things about how our industry can be improved – and maybe even learn something about other regions that are working to establish themselves.


    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful and informative response.

      Sorry the call for a boycott smarted so much, but think about it. Clearly action on progressive wine-related legislation in B.C. has been slower than Crosby’s Molasses. Boycotts can get a lot of attention for neglected issues, and help bring exposure from the outside that can disrupt the comfortable local relationships and understandings that are responsible for decades of inaction. When you have the possibility of impinging on an industry as vital to Vancouver’s economy as tourism, you might be hitting just the right nerve to get politicians to do what they should have done ages ago.

      Personally, I only thought of what I’ve actually been doing since my fall trip–i.e., planning never again to go to Vancouver (even though I used to love visiting there when I wasn’t such a wine geek) because I had such a hard time having a good wine experience there–as a “boycott” last night, when I was putting this piece together. I am, however, “boycotting” Vancouver at this point because I no longer have a desire to spend time there–the wine ignorance at fine restaurants and wine establishments (except the intrepid Jay at Salt Tasting) literally left a bad taste in my mouth. If that changes, as a result of more pressure internally and/or externally, I’d be back. As it is, I plan to lobby the large organization that sponsored my event last Fall never to go there again.

      The LGBT community here in the States has taken similar action in response to anti-gay legislation and policies in various travel destinations, and has seen positive changes as a result. From what I can tell B.C.’s wine industry is in real danger of “withering on the vine” as a result of the longstanding political climate there. Maybe a boycott would actually make a difference.

      All the best,

      PS: As to the Tannat offered as the pairing for the white fish at Blue Water (a seafood oriented restaurant), that was just the worst and most incomprehensible of the three bad pairings they gave us. I wasn’t there with a wine-related organization, so there was no Argentine embassy or anything calling the shots on that. It was just evidence, to me, of massive wine ignorance on the part of a highly rated Vancouver restaurant that several people there had told me had a good wine program. From my experience there, they appear to lack the training and awareness requisite to an actual good wine program. I blame Canada (that South Park movie song is starting to come to mind) for policies that have kept its citizens–including those who end up working at fine dining establishments–ignorant of the joys and delights of good wine.

  9. Shea says:

    It is interesting to read about the perspective of a Californian with so much experience in wine. First, some background. I’m a lawyer in Vancouver who also happens to write a wine blog. I’ve lived here for about 7 years. I am pretty well connected in the wine scene up here and have a lot of behind the scenes knowledge. I’ve also been reading your blog for a few years as I find it comprehensive and often a good source of new, interesting wines (most of which I actually purchase in the U.S.).

    Your experience is a valid and probably representative experience for the average visitor who is into wine. You certainly have missed many venues that offer better wine experiences, and bigger lists of B.C. wine. But that doesn’t take away that you, as a visitor, ran up against many of the weak parts of our wine industry. The reason is that they are quite predominant. Of course, it takes work and research to find the wine worthy places to go in any city. I recently returned from Chicago, which has a great wine scene, but I can tell you that this wine scene isn’t that easy to find right away. This is particularly true of the retail store experience in Chicago. Even after research I found many of the stores uninspiring compared to the best stores in New York and San Francisco. Of course, I later found out about some places that may have changed my mind. This is true of restaurants too. Many Chicago restaurants had poor wine lists and servers with little knowledge. However, after considerable research, my choices led me to some amazing restaurants with impressive wine lists and solid staff knowledge (though you can’t expect service staff beyond the sommelier to have as much knowledge as the likes of wine geeks like us who spend inordinate amounts of time reading about and tasting wines). That said, Blue Water is considered one of the best restaurants in Vancouver, and your experience there is indicative of the lack of wine knowledge even in the best establishments.

    The wine industry in B.C. is tiny. As you describe, it relies entirely on local consumption. In that respect it is precariously relying on a single market, but the appetite for local wines here is high. Perhaps it is a kind of nepotistic parochialism, but I don’t see that demand going away. B.C. wines have a huge advantage over international wines in B.C. B.C. wineries do not pay the provincial markup of 117%. So that $10 Italian white in NYC is $20 in B.C. and competing against the $20 (with no taxes) B.C. white. Even with this advantage, B.C. wine is generally not good value. The costs of making B.C. wine are astronomical, mainly because land prices in the Okanagan have been driven up to huge numbers by tourism. The region is a favourite retirement destination and locale for the second homes of the wealth. The local, born and bred interior population knows nothing about wine and doesn’t have much interest in it. Almost all the wineries are owned by 2nd career Vancouverites and Albertans. There is a real divide between owners and staff and, again, between wine industry people and the rest of the population.

    No doubt it’s a beautiful place, but there has been very little motivation so far to be experimental or find ‘terroir’ because most wineries are simply trying to make their investments back. That said, there are some exceptions and some wine is becoming worthy of interest. But, and I say this knowing that a great many will feel differently, I don’t think B.C. will ever make great wines. It can make decent, everyday drinking wines. It would be better for wineries to focus on that category rather than trying to make boring, international prestige wines that mimic Napa but taste like various shades of wood.

    You probably would not find it surprising that many B.C. wine makers and owners have never actually had much good wine in their life. There are exceptions, and these tend to be the guys who make the best wine – i.e. those who have tasted the best of what the world has to offer and can situate what they are doing within that context. But a great many of wine industry types in B.C. simply have no knowledge of the world’s great wines.

    Regulations are a huge part of the problem obviously. Though, I’d argue that more than regulations it is the ‘markup’ of 117% that stunts wine culture here. No one can afford good wine in B.C.! It’s hard to find a bottle with any interest under $30 at the retail store, and even at that price point there is little selection. The mistake that most critics make, though, is blaming the politicians. It’s not the politicians alone who are the problem. (Let’s be honest, most don’t care about or know anything about B.C. wine industry and so have no ideological reason to resist change). The biggest problem are the various industry groups that profit hugely off the current model and want to protect their interests. These groups lobby the government not to change laws (e.g. there is a moratorium on new retail licenses in the province – this is not because of government ideology but vested interests, both private and union). These groups also have a lot of money to contribute to campaign coffers. The counter-movements that fight for reform have no resources because no one in the industry is putting any real money into the modernizing reform efforts.

    A perfect example of this disastrous dynamic is the recent attempt by the Provincial government to sell and fully privatize the distribution system in B.C. The tender process was behind closed doors, there was no public debate, there was no attempt at researching what might be the best approach to privatization. The entire movement was prompted by insider lobbyists working for the major distribution and logistics company that owns a private monopoly over distribution in Alberta (B.C.’s neighbour). I.e. privatization of distribution was going to benefit one private company and no one else. The privatization fell apart completely when the opposition and journalists began leaking documents suggesting corruption in the tendering and bidding process that favoured that alberta distribution firm. Nothing was proven, but the entire effort was scrapped a few months before the Provincial election.

    Another example is the cost of a retail license. It’s $1,000,000 in the lower mainland (greater Vancouver area and Victoria). That’s because, as mentioned, the government has put a moratoreum on these licenses. With that level of start up costs, not to mention inventory, leases (which are huge in Vancouver), nothing is left for staff or for stocking wines that don’t move as fast. This means that most retail stores stock the wines that are easiest to sell and that don’t require staff knowledge to move. It’s all about price point, shelf placement and owning a lease and license in the right location. There is no room for innovation. I’d say there are about 2-3 shops in town that carry wines of interest because their owners got into the game early before the startup costs were so high and the owners actually care about wine. Most owners of licenses now don’t care about wine – they are business people who hold a wide range of assets.

    So, with respect to your boycott idea. It’s nice and all but it won’t change anything. The powers that be don’t care at all about whether the outside world boycotts B.C. They’re making tons of money exploiting B.C. citizens, most of whom like to drink, and in increasing amounts. The small players struggle along. Many of the best wine professionals leave the Province to pursue better opportunities internationally (we have lost a bunch of sommelier’s to London and New York, for example).

    There are, however, a small group of wine lovers who live in B.C. and try to work around all the rules to make a mini wine culture here for the passionate. There are a few small importers who bring in wines that are interesting rather than those that sell easily through the private shops and LDB’s. They make no money, but are supported by a tiny group of people who put their already highly taxed incomes towards creating some semblance of a real wine culture in the Province. The irony is that the wine lovers in B.C. probably pay the highest proportion of their income to health care, infrastructure and all the other government provided services that supposedly justify the high tax on alcohol in B.C.

    As for the WBC? I won’t be attending and I live in B.C. I won’t rant about the WBC and its shortcomings. What I will say, however, is that they nixed a proposed session on B.C. regulatory environment because ‘it would not be in the interests of conference attendees’. Maybe not proof, but certainly suggestive of the WBC’s disinterest in the actual issues facing the regions it ‘promotes’.

    • Richard Jennings says:


      Wow! Thank you so much for taking the time to add a very informative and thought-provoking piece here, as a passionate and knowledgeable wine lover who has had to try to find a way to live within the constraints of the current environment for wine people in Vancouver. I suspected some of what you just wrote about, but had yet to find it verified by any of the sources I’d reviewed. I’m really quite overwhelmed by the information you just provided, and will be trying to take it all in as I continue to think and talk to people about the wine culture there in the coming days and weeks. WBC attendees who might want to have a real sense of what’s going on in the Province owe you a deep debt of gratitude for providing this insider’s view of what it’s like to try to have a life with wine in this environment.

      And thank you for the info about the nixed session at WBC. I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m not, in the least, of course.

      I hope I get to meet you one of these days, but I don’t expect it to be on a voluntary trip to Vancouver on my part in the near future.


      PS: I will definitely be subscribing to your blog.

      • Shea says:

        I’m glad you found this helpful. I travel down to SF several times a year – would be great to grab a glass of wine one of the times I do. Cheers!

      • Chuck Hayward says:

        And then there’s that health care insurance thing to pile even more on US vs. Canada

  10. Buzz Bishop says:

    I’d rather have “retarded” liquor laws, as you so eloquently put it, than “retarded” gun laws.

    Perhaps a perusal of a thesaurus would do you better before your next entitled rant.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Frankly Buzz, I’d rather have backward liquor laws than backward gun laws as well, and I can’t believe how spineless our legislators have been on that topic. So the U.S. currently has fairly decent wine laws in some states, like California, but some of the world’s most incomprehensible and dangerous gun laws. If I was going to get back into political work–something I spent a couple decades of my life doing a long time ago–it would be on the issue of gun control. Been there and done that, though, in terms of organizing for political change.

      But I didn’t use “retarded” in the sense you used it in your comment, and I think you know that. Yes, the word has multiple meanings, but I used it as the most succinct way to say “developing at a slower rate than desired or expected.”

    • Shea says:


      I don’t think your comment is relevant to the merit of this article.


      As one who spends a lot of time and effort communicating, I have to agree that the choice of words is not a good one simply because you should know that your audience will immediately read the word ‘retarded’ in the negative light it was so commonly used for such a long time. Of course, this is irrelevant to what I think is interesting about your article – the perspective of a visitor who loves wine. And personally I didn’t give the title much thought beyond my initial 2 second reaction.

      It’s fascinating to me to observe the various reactions from my own province to this article, however. That’s all I’ll say for now.

      • Tom Wark says:


        I wonder if RJ really wants a readership that doesn’t understand the proper and appropriate use of a simple word? RJ’s use of the word “retarded” perfectly appropriate and grammatically correct. The same folks who are upset when the word “retarded” is used properly on the ones who believe the author must be racist if they use the word “Niggardly”.

        • Shea says:

          It’s just about perception and context. As I know well, words aren’t always read the way we want them to be. Anyhow, I am not critical, rather I’m just pointing out why so many people, including well educated, intelligent people, got the wrong impression from that title. In the end, it’s the substantive responses that matter and they’ve been very interesting!

        • Chris Wallace says:

          Not entirely so Tom. “Retarded” also has a negative and deriding connotation, notwithstanding that Richard’s use of it was technically correct. “Fag” can also mean a bundle of sticks, though almost no one would assume that if you called them one. Similarly for “prick” and a host of other words whose original meaning has been converted to something else by the common vernacular. “Retarded” has enough common parlance in both uses to let Richard off of the hook and to allow a reasonable person to take offense. “Niggardly” just means stingy and has no other meaning I know of; it is only phoenetically similar to a racial slur, a confusion not possible in print. Kinda like calling someone the capital of Saskatchewan.

          • Tom Wark says:

            I hear you Chris. I just don’t feel your pain.

            RJ’s use of the term “retarded” isn’t just “technically correct.” It was used perfectly. I think the only person that might be offended by it is one that didn’t read beyond the headline or didn’t read much of the article. And for that, they deserve to be offended by the term. There’s nothing that can be done for them.

            Unlike the term “fag”, the word “retarded” is not archaic. As for the term prick, I don’t know how using it in its derogatory form could be mistaken for it’s other meanings: “Hannibal Lecter is a prick,” is a sentence that could never convince someone that the cannibal is result of a poke with a sharp object. Equally, the sentence, “The prick on his finger was bleeding” could not be construed to mean that a tiny Hannibal Lecter” was sitting on someone’s finger and simultaneously bleeding.

            In the end, the amount of attention and care we give to people whose feelings may be hurt by virtue of seeing a word used correctly and inoffensively probably should be very little.

          • Chris Wallace says:


            In thinking about this I realize I made a mistake. In my earlier comment I said that Richard’s use of the word retarded was “technically correct”. It turns out that it is not. Had he said that our wine culture’s development (or progress or maturation or similar word) was retarded, he would have been techincally correct. But he made clear his intention in his very considerate reply to my comment (see his above) which was that he did not intend to offend and so all is good with me.

        • Tom,

          I just had this conversation about people who are offended by the use of words of which they do not fully understand the meaning.


          Pretty strong feelings. I read your post of the conference held in Virginia, which was the first one I attended as well. I agree with a lot of what you wrote, especially about not using the alternative plans for the Monticello reception. It was entirely too hot to taste wines without passing out from heat stroke. I do believe a lot of improvements were made in Portland as a result of more blogger input on the content of the conference. I also agree that there were a lot of private gatherings and wine sharing going on during what were supposed to be official events that I was not privy to either. In defense of Zephyr Adventures, this is a private company in the business of producing conferences for profit. Perhaps it would have been better to name it the Wine Bloggers Conference and Tradeshow since there was such a huge sponsor element to it. I was initially the recipient of a scholarship to the Virginia conference and as a relatively new, non-industry blogger I learned a lot about a region I would never have otherwise considered for wine travel. I learned even more in Portland. Again, in Zephyr Adventures defense, regarding not including meals and hosting huge sponsor driven dinners, this conference is only priced at $195. I have attended conferences for over 20 years in the newspaper, tourism, and wine industries and most conferences with programs including seminars and meals cost between $900-$1800 and more for three days. Of course sponsors are employed to round out the program. They pay, mediocre wines or not, for the exposure to us wine geeks who will go forth and spread the good word. Most wine drunk and most wine bloggers do not necessarily cater to the highest echelon of wine enthusiasm. Most wine sales are driven by people who buy everyday ordinary wines. It is a far smaller percentage of wine sold to accompany the perfect food pairing, occasion, or cellaring that great vintage. I endeavor to learn more every day and improve my own wine knowledge and my blog passes along a little of what I learn to those who know even less than I. I do not write my blog for my wine friends in social media. I enjoy the opportunity the Wine Bloggers Conference provides to increase my exposure to all kinds of wines and regions. I agree about the live wine blogging event. Who can taste, evaluate, and write about anything in that environment? I see it as just a harmless, fun event, not intended to be taken seriously. I also agree that the Blogger Awards need to be given a more dedicated format and not be something rushed through. I am not attending this year in Penticton largely because I cannot financially justify the time and travel required to get there from the east coast, otherwise I would be happy to support a growing new wine region and help to provide feedback, good or bad, about how they can continue to improve. As for the restrictive Canadian wine laws, I struggle with the same kinds of things in my home state of Massachusetts where the state was found to be in violation of the US Constitution regarding direct shipping laws and yet the legislature has been unable to amend this violation in three separate attempts. You are clearly very knowledgeable, deeply opinionated, and very expressive of your anger towards Zephyr (which I found a little odd because I remember you being a finalist for a blog award in Virginia), as well as more than a little punitive in your commentary. Your words carry some weight in the community and I’m not sure this approach of being so harsh, unforgiving, and boycotting will have a positive effect. How much conference do you think you are going to get for $195? If they did not rely so heavily on sponsors they would have to raise the price significantly and then many citizen (non-industry) bloggers would have to forego attending. Most of us do this as a passion or hobby and not for monetary gain. Your perspective is not wrong or completely unjustified but perhaps there is another way to go about expressing it.

      • Well said Shea.
        Kudos to the many great comments and non reactionary feedback by many so far, showing again the wonderful nature of the Canadian people. Had a US region been written similarly, we would have likely seen a lot more similar, reactionary, defensive responses.

  11. jak Meyer says:


    I am not here to debate your points and as a matter of fact as an owner of a small winery (one with a pretty good review in your article thank you) in BC agree with a lot of the points. I am here more to point out some of these issues are being addressed but like anything and in particular dealing with a government corporation that is very profitable it of course will take forever to make changes.

    My belief and response to your comments is more how do we resolve these things and make the BC wine market more accessible and reputable. I have been a believer that it is not an even playing field and that being able to sell our wines at a price favorable to everyone else does not represent a true free market so I have set out to establish my wines in markets outside of BC and so far I have representation in most other provinces in Canada, Japan and most recently one of London’s oldest and most reputable firms established in 1822 Ellis of Richmond and Good Wine Company in California. I was recently on a trip to London and after a fantastic tasting event for trade and Media I would argue that BC Wines can compete with wines from around the world. Of course our wholesale prices have to reflect this as they do to other provinces but the wines were very well received and will be in some of the best stores and restaurants in London. I have already had wine reviewed in Imbibe magazine an industry online magazine well followed by U.K. sommelier’s. In attendance were Steven Spurrier, Jancis Robnson Ollie Smith, Gerard Butler and many more of London’s top sommelier’s and critics to name a few. They were very impressed with the wines from 40 Canadian wineries in attendance and from what I was told I will have a very favorable review in Decanter soon.
    My issues I have with the industry are in agreement with you although the industry here is incredibly supportive of the wine business and the fact that almost all of BC wines are sold in BC would support this. This is a double edged sword as most feel why would I sell elsewhere but that is the conundrum, a large number of the servers in BC are mostly temporary servers or students and so they do not always have the best knowledge but there are many many professional and well informed staff at many of the restaurants that would have been able to give you better information I believe.
    I feel that due to the miniscule production in BC we do not carry the weight or power to make change quickly but it is changing and there will be changes that will address your issues. As the industry grows and competition grows, wineries will have to go outside of BC and this is what will allow us to be compared on a world stage but until everyone starts to export as a group we will not get the attention these wines deserve.
    As with any wine region there are very many different wines and styles and some better than others. I hope that you will be able to share in more BC wines in the years to come and one day will blog something starting with “I remember when” or “I once wrote”. In the meantime the quality of the wines continues to improve and the bar gets higher each and every year.
    Next article “Good wines, difficult wine market”

  12. Tom Wark says:

    RJ said:

    “So my next recommendation for improvement to the WBC organizers is to avoid holding their shindig in any jurisdiction that is hostile to the rights and interests of wine lovers and wine producers.”

    So, here’s my question for you. And it’s an honest one: Would you recommend that the organizers of the Wine Bloggers Conference avoid holding a conference in any state that prohibits the direct shipment of wine?

    • Richard Jennings says:

      I think the parameters of the kind of favorable wine legislation that should be criteria for host regions for the conference need to be worked out. You are our esteemed blogger expert on legislation and policies impacting wine consumers and producers. My recommendation is that we use whatever clout the WBC has as a motivating force to let wine regions, which have ties to various state and territorial officials, know that the WBC has certain basic criteria in terms of wine legislation and policy favorable to consumers and producers that has to be in place before that region can be considered as a potential host for WBC.

      • Tom Wark says:


        I guess the question, then, is where do you draw the line before a boycott of a region or a dismissal of a region for a conference is considered. What must the minimum pro-consumer policy be in order to get a pass is what needs to be determined.

        For example, what if a state prohibited consumers from having any imported wines shipped directly into the state? No French, no German, no Spanish, no Australian. None. No Imports may be shipped to consumers from out of state? Is that the line?

        What about not allowing wine lovers to bring any wine of their own into a restaurant and pay a corkage fee?

        Maybe the line should be that states that don’t allow consumers to purchase wine in a grocery store alongside their pasta and chicken don’t qualify for a wine conference.

        It’s a tough call. But whatever call is made, it probably would need to be standardized and equally applied.

        I’m just wondering what that line is.

        • Richard Jennings says:


          Your multipart question asking me to specify what the standards should be for identifying a governmental jurisdiction as progressive in its wine laws and policies strikes me as a little like Stephen Hawking asking me to establish the goals for furture research in theoretical physics. I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the wine blogging community sees you as our leading expert on wine laws and regulations–that’s the field you work in. I would therefore think you’re in the best position to tell us what you think the minimum criteria are these days for judging a region as being progressive in its wine policies. You’ve been involved with the WBC for a long time, what would you advise them on what the minimum criteria should be in terms of pro-consumer and producer wine laws?

          Feel free to write a piece on the topic for your own blog. 😉


      • Tom Wark says:


        I haven’t quite arrived at the activist perspective that you have regarding the Wine Bloggers Conference. I’m not convinced it ought to try to wield that kind of stick. Of course, I’d be for a policy that says “No WBC will take place in any jurisdiction that prohibits the consumption of alcohol.” And I’m firm on that one.

        For now, I think the WBC ought to at least be most focuses on providing an educational experience for attendees. And I’m convinced that the organizers ought to make a buck doing so.

        But what if you said this: outlawing consumers from being able to have ANY imported wines shipped to them from out of state is so anti-consumer and so arbitrary and and so protective of special interests that no conference shall be held in a state that takes this position. That would leave the the Wine Bloggers Conference with the following states in which to hold a conference: AK, OR, CA, NV, NM, ND, WY, ID, MO, NE, LA, NH, WV, VA, DC. That’s all. Of those, only CA, MO, VA and OR make any real sense.

        I asked what criteria you would set down only because you think there should be one and I’m not yet sure there should be such a criteria. I’m on the fence looking for a convincing reason to jump one way or another.

        I do know this though, if any such policy were to be put in place, before it is put in place, there ought to be a very good idea of what kind of economic impact the WBC has on a host region.

        Provocative and thoughtful article, RJ.


        • Richard Jennings says:


          In my mind, WBC is an organization or gathering of people who care enough about wine and its enjoyment that they write about it all the time. People like me and other writers/bloggers spend virtually all their spare time on this stuff. As a gathering, surely a conference involving 400+ such people, and lots of wineries and wine councils who are advertising there, brings a good amount of dollars, as well as a lot of attention to, an area. If such a gathering of people who care a lot about wine doesn’t find a way to use at least that amount of clout to help bring an end to restrictive government policies like those of B.C. and Canada that not only hurt consumers and wine producers on many levels, but that basically have the effect of keeping everyone there in the dark about wine and its delights, then who the f**k else is going to do it?

          I have to say, Tom, that for someone in your position–who’s been a lobbyist for reform in wine and alcohol laws–to not view this from an activist perspective could be part of the problem. Maybe you’ve been too close to the issues for too long; maybe you’ve given up on the potential for real change when it comes to laws that are obviously hurtful and wrong. It may also be that you’ve been so focused on the interests of retailers and the like, who have the money to pay people like you, that you’re not seeing it enough from a basic consumer and wine lover perspective any more.

          As a passionate wine lover and promoter of the joys of fine wine, I feel compelled to weigh the effects of my actions–like participating in an event in a jurisdiction that hampers the ability of its citizens to taste and learn about wine–in terms of how they promote the interests of people like me vs. how they hurt them. I believe people’s actions count, and that concerted actions and efforts by a committed group of people can count a lot. I have seen change happen as a result of concerted efforts of a small group of people–I’ve been part of that change as a former LGBT activist for many years. It makes me sad to read your comment that suggests you don’t think it matters what WBC does other than create an educational experience for attendees and money for its organizers. Surely it can do a little more than that on issues that are important to wine consumers and the winemaking community.

          As to the specifics of possible criteria for WBC to use in weighing possible host regions, you suggest the shipping laws as being the basic criteria. I guess, since that’s an area you’ve worked a lot in, and it’s an important one, it makes sense you’d focus on that. My problem with Canada and B.C. is that they have a plethora of narrow minded, pointlessly restrictive laws and policies that prevent people there from learning more about wine. That includes the severe limitations on tastings at educational seminars, in-store tastings, the inability of wineries to open up tasting rooms in big, well traveled areas like Vancouver, and on and on. I listed two sources in Canada above in my response to Mr. Newby (interesting name) that detail a real pattern of arbitrary repression and enforced ignorance in B.C. At any rate, I think the criteria for conference locations WBC should consider should take into account a pattern of repression like that and not be limited to one litmus test, like the shipping laws, as you suggest.

          At any rate, thanks for sharing your thoughts here Tom and letting me know where you’re coming from. I’d like to see you think about becoming more of an activist and encouraging WBC to have an activist bone in its collective body. Will you at least think about that?

          Warm regards,

          • Tom Wark says:


            It may be that I’m part of the problem. But one of the things I’ve learned is that it is absolutely critical to pick your battles or at least the field upon which the battle will be fought. What I know is that first and foremost, the Wine Bloggers Conference is for Wine Bloggers. Given this, one must ask the extent to which a particular political agenda diminishes the experience that the wine blogging community would have if that agenda is pursued first.

            This of course brings one back to what kind of political criteria the WBC would put in place to advance a consumer-based agenda. What I know about the interests of wine consumers is this: nothing matters more than access to the wines they want. “Access” is understood in terms of what they can buy, where they can buy it, when they can buy it and how they can buy it. Some restrictions on access are more punitive than others.

            If the wines of a region can not be fully accessible to a conference of wine bloggers because of state restrictions, then for me this certainly would mean don’t hold the conference in that location.

            That’s not to say I’m unwilling to inject any political agenda into the choice of a location for a Wine Bloggers Conference. I’m merely saying that the righteousness of the cause of wine consumer rights must first be balanced against the primary purpose of the conference.

            Finally, you shouldn’t take my yet-to-be-resolved position on this issue as a sign that I’ve either given up on the promotion of reform of the regulatory regime in different parts of the country or that my concerns surrounding this issue extends only to the the interests of retailers. You should take it as a a measure of my interest in understanding the needs and expectations of an important part of the wine trade (bloggers), what they can accomplish by banding together behind a cause and the value of a the Wine Bloggers Conference to the wine blogging community.

            And I do appreciate your concern over this issue as well as your concern for consumers rights and my own current disposition toward reform. I promise you that in the near future you will have an opportunity to do even more to advance your concern for consumer rights, though perhaps outside the area of the location where the Wine Bloggers Conference is held. Put another way, stay tuned.

            Thanks so much for your thoughts. I can promise I’ll continue to think about them more deeply.

          • Richard Jennings says:


            Thank you for another thoughtful comment, and for all your contributions here.

            Since you’ll be on the ground with our colleagues in Penticton, I look forward to learning what you hear from fellow bloggers about the idea of using whatever clout a conference of that size (and media attention getting potential) might have to help push for consumer and producer rights through minimum legislative/policy criteria for future host jurisdictions. I wish there was going to be a seminar on that sort of topic for WBC13, but I gather from another comment here that a forum or discussion on the B.C. regulatory climate was previously nixed by the organizers. At any rate, I tend to think highly of my wine blogger and writer colleagues and would expect them to want to do what they can, even if it’s only through rules on the siting of the conference, to help move the agenda forward for our fellow wine consumers. I can’t imagine why the majority would have a problem with that, but we’ll see.

            As to your tantalizing hint that there may be some other opportunity coming my way to help push the agenda for consumer rights, I don’t know what you’re talking about unless it has something to do with the communications I’ve had today with a B.C. radio show about my being on a broadcast later in the week on the topic. I look forward to that opportunity to help raise awareness in B.C. if it happens–I just hope my schedule at the judging of wines for the California State Fair in Sacramento where I’m committed to be over the next few days (and where I’ll be joined by a slew of our fellow bloggers whose company I’m looking forward to) will permit me to take a break for what sounds like it will be an early morning show.

            I look forward to your further ruminations and insights on this topic, as and when you’re ready to express them.


  13. When I started to work with the BC wine industry there were five wineries. Now there are close to 300. BC has not focused on a handful of popular grape varieties because of the great variations in our terrain. A variety such as Cabernet frank that does well in one vineyard may be a a disaster in a nearby vineyard with a different slope, orientation or soil. Our hot, dry summers allow us to grow grapes with minimal intervention to control mildew or botrytis, and there are few insect problems. Organic viticulture is much more easily practised here than in most other wine regions. Our long mid summer day length compresses the growth cycle into fewer days than vineyards at lower latitudes. We break bud later in spring but ripen at about the same time. Our low humidity and cool nights help to maintain a low pH and balanced acidity that more southerly winemakers can only pray for.

    Many of our wineries are operated by families who have entered the wine industry as a second career. They have no desire to set the world on fire. They want the life style that comes with being associated with the wine industry. They enjoy chatting with visitors who come to the shop and if they have the time, will show the visitors around the winery and vineyard. They don’t compete with Constellation Brands and have no aspiration to sell wine beyond their door, a handful of local restaurants and a few private wine shops. The cost of employing an agent or selling wines through VQA stores or government liquor stores leaves little operating margin. If you divide their overhead cost by a limited production, the fixed cost per bottle can be very high.

    The players in this rapidly expanding industry have made many mistakes. Each new winery proprietor has entered the industry with a dream. He probably has visited some other wine regions and read a few books. He would like to create the same experience in his own little winery, and it may or may not be possible. With a wine region as varied as this, even the experts aren’t always right. In addition to this, no one ever appreciates the huge commitment of time and money required to start a small winery.

    The Okanagan Valley is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and it is evolving into one of the most interesting, small wine regions of the world. It will never have a significant wine volume to be a player in international wine trade. Given an appropriate choice of site and management technique, we can grow and mature almost any grape variety.

    I hope this helps to clarify why the BC industry is the way it is. A few larger wineries are growing, but the majority of wineries will still be small family enterprises for the foreseeable future.

  14. Nessa van Bergen says:

    Thank you for confirming why I put very little value on a wine bloggers opinion of wine or whatever else they are writing about. If your idea of researching about where or what you should taste is to ask a hotel concierge, you have gotten what you asked for. I’ve been in the restaurant and wine business for 20+ years and I would never ask a concierge anything other than a restaurant recommendation, and even then I would know it is from a curated and approved list by their Chef Concierge, not necessarily what’s the newest or greatest spots. (aka, the businesses that reward concierge for their referrals)

    Your only point that I agree on is value-for-quality on the wines produced in British Columbia. But that’s a market issue that our province deals with and its just a fact we deal with in our purchasing. BUT that is not exclusive to our region nor should it be a deterrent to trying our region’s wines. I love Central Otago Pinot Noir’s but it is a bit ridiculous in our market or yours what we pay for them…but that doesn’t mean I won’t try them. California has a plethora of over priced wine that fetches said prices based on cult status marketing not the actual quality of the wine or vintage, so your own state is not removed from this argument either.

    Lastly, SFO has plenty of spots with indifferent service and unknowledgeable staff. That doesn’t mean that all of San Francisco is ignorant to imported wines or indifferent to what is going on just a few miles away from them. It means that I chose the wrong place to go or that an establishment doesn’t live up to its hype.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Really? Your whole defense to the laundry list of facts in my piece pointing to a stunted wine culture in B.C. (thanks in no small part to government policies barring wines being tasted at educational seminars and winery tasting rooms in Vancouver) is to say that I’m an idiot for asking the concierge at one of Vancouver’s finest hotels to supplement my research on where one can taste B.C. wines in Vancouver? Did you even bother to read the comments by your fellow Canadians here who are knowledgeable about the factors affecting the wine business in your province? On second thought, since it appears you want to live in denial about the fact that B.C. has a problem in this area, you better avoid reviewing those comments here.

  15. Dan Fishman says:

    Wow, this comment section got really detailed. I don’t have anything to add beyond what Shea said. I lived in Vancouver for three years, and now work in the California wine industry. There is no doubt that Vancouver is backwards when it comes to wine culture, although I think that is true of many smaller cities I have visited, e.g. Kansas City, Indianapolis etc. That being said, it’s easy to find bad wine programs in, say, San Jose, which is a lot closer to Napa than Vancouver is to the OK Valley.

    All that being said, I have visited OK twice in the last few years, and amid the small ocean of mediocre wines, I think there are some really impressive wines too, especially Pinot and Syrah. Blue Mountain was my favorite I think, and its available in Denver for $17.99. You will never find a Pinot that good from CA for that price.

  16. David J Cooper says:

    Richard. Excellent insight. There is a very small wine culture here in Vancouver. It’ shocking how ignorant some of the folks who sell wine here are. There are a couple of exceptions like the Marquis, Liquid Arts and Le Vieux Pin, but the staff at the BCLDB and VQA outlets are either uninterested in the case of the former or uneducated in the case of the latter.

    Generally the folks involved in the Okanagan wine industry have no experience w ith wines from other regions. There are exceptions but very few.

    Your article is a hard pill for some to swallow but anyone who travels must see how far behind the rest of the world we are.

    • jak Meyer says:

      Easy David,

      Things do not change overnight! The industry is just an infant. the beauty of business is it has to improve, compete and survive or die on the vine (literally). the more money that is pumped in and serious players making serious wines with serious investments the better for the whole industry. When I started in 2006 I could count the number of wine makers who were formally educated and learned their trade from wineries around the world but now that is more and more common with wine makers from all over the world coming to work here in this fast growing region because they see the value and the quality to make their names and reputations or continue already existing world class reputaitons.
      Let us not forget to look at where Napa was just 40 years ago. we are a 15 year old industry and have made huge leaps in quality, production, exposure just in the last 10 years

      • Richard Jennings says:


        It’s true that things don’t change overnight. I have the perspective, however, of someone who looks at, visits and reads about a lot of the world’s wine regions. From that perspective, B.C.’s government-enforced, stunted wine culture, which is largely ignorant not only of their local product but much of what’s going on elsewhere in the wine world, is retarding the region’s ability to make significant progress.

        I can compare where B.C. is with other areas that used to have the same kinds of protectionist policies in place, and where significant improvements in the vineyards started happening for the same reasons and about the same time as B.C.’s. Where Canada’s sudden changes were in response to NAFTA in ’88, similar trade agreements suddenly impacted the protectionist dependent wine industries in both Uruguay (where the formation of Mercosur at the end of the ’80s meant Uruguayan producers were going to have to compete in Uruguay against Chilean and Argentine imports) and New Zealand (where the Closer Economic Relations agreement with Australia in 1990 opened their domestic market up to compete against Australian wines without the protection of tariffs).

        Both of those regions are making compelling wines these days. Both have signature grapes and both have wine industry associations that do a good job of promoting the region–well, NZ’s significantly more effective than Uruguay’s to date, but Uruguay is trying to catch up. NZ actually had a lot of the same kinds of pointlessly restrictive legislation in place as B.C. and Canada still do. NZ’s wine industry, however, has become a world leader in sustainable farming practices, canopy management, cork alternatives, and just darned good, distinctive wines. So the fact that B.C. got a late start and is still barely in its adolescence as a winegrowing region is not the sole reason for its lack of development. Really bad and destructive government policies there are also hampering their efforts in a lot of obvious but also more subtle ways (like I experienced in wine-oriented establishments in Vancouver).

        • jak Meyer says:

          lets not forget that this government monopoly is likely the third largest buyer of your California wines in the world and every other region in the world! I am sure there are some very happy to have these large monopolistic government agencies where they can peddle off the low end mass produced wines from wineries making millions of cases vs small boutique wineries all done by hand.

  17. Kurtis Kolt says:

    There are so many points raised here and things that have been covered, but a couple things really stuck out for me.

    First off, there are dusty old laws that say you can’t sample in retail shops or pour samples in sommelier/wine education classes. Both happen though. In the particular case of the latter, they’re not enforced. Please don’t think that wine education happens in this city without wine being tasted. Our ISG and WSET courses are run the same way they are globally.

    Yes, our BC government has been a massive obstacle in our building of a wine culture, but to say that people shouldn’t visit and support either Vancouver or the Okanagan because of this is completely off side. I have many issues with California and the U.S., from Prop 8 to the ridiculous gun culture to waging wars based on lies. Do I still bring my tourist dollars? Do I still support those who want gun reform, and reasoned foreign policy and so on? Absolutely. If you could actually justify nixing any travel and tourism based on government policy, the U.S. economy would be much worse than it is now.

    There are massive, massive hurdles here and it’s extremely frustrating, but there has been a high level of accomplishment in spite of our laws.

    There are many great things happening here in spite of our government. I’m sorry that you felt that there’s a lack of wine knowledge in Vancouver, but to make such sweeping statements based on an extremely limited visit is unfair. Anyone could visit San Francisco, Sydney, New York, Paris and so on and have the same crappy luck you had, but to define a place based on such a small sample borders on ridiculous. It happens. Everywhere. And, yes, here too.

    The Vancouver International Wine Festival is one of the largest and well-attended in the world. Luminaries from Jancis Robinson to Alberto Antonini have constantly sung praises of what’s happening both in Vancouver and the Okanagan. Clearly there is a disconnect in experience and opinion.

    Food and wine tourism a major economic sector in both Vancouver and the Okanagan. It’s worthy to note that if you search the opinions, blog posts and articles of writers (wine, food, etc) big and small who have come our way, experiences and opinions like yours are extremely few and far-between, far outweighed by those who have been impressed, encouraged and pleasantly surprised by our scene.

    Perhaps that’s not just coincidence.

    • Richard Jennings says:


      Thank you for your very thoughtful response. You make some very valid points. I have just two rejoinders.

      First, I travel and have traveled to wine regions and major cities all my life. I regularly visit wine stores and go to the restaurants where I travel that have a reputation for being wine friendly and/or knowledgeable. I talk to people there in the interests of learning more from them, and, in the process, I start to gauge the wine culture there. Based on my admittedly limited but very targeted sample of the places selling wine and restaurants that many people told me had the best wine programs, I have to say Vancouver comes up way short compared to cities of comparable size, especially ones located in wine regions, in both the knowledge of and interest in wine on the part of the staff who work there. That’s why I came back and did further research as to the possible causes and factors involved in that level of ignorance/apathy. Other Canadians who have posted comments here or sent me private emails have confirmed that part of my observations from their experiences.

      Secondly, the U.S. and individual cities and states do have some appalling laws and policies on a variety of subjects–especially the ones you mention. I, for one, would welcome people who care about those issues telling California, for example, that you’re not going to visit here due to Prop. 8. That kind of outside pressure and attention can help the powers that be in a particular jurisdiction think twice about their regressive policies. I’d love to see countries in the world, and people in them, that have much more progressive policies on gun control put more pressure on this country to adopt laws and policies that the vast majority of the people here want them to adopt. This is, however, a website about fine wine and its enjoyment, so I’d like to focus here on the laws and policies throughout the world that needlessly impinge on the ability of people to learn about and enjoy fine wine. But I do applaud activists on those other issues and try to support them in other forums where that’s the focus.

      Warm regards,

  18. david pierson says:

    You make some fair points, especially our “retarded” liquor laws.. but one wonders just what your so-called business event was.. when it was an obvious, blatant comp, freebie etc put on for you by the BC Tourism Board who must have been thrilled by your article.. and you’d be at the WBA’s in our fair Okanagan Valley if you got another comp…

    • That could be true, David, but do you know that for a fact – thats a very pointed accusation, and highly inappropriate if you don’t have facts.

      Richard, like most of us that blog, (and even make wine) keep day jobs that involve travel. Many of the places I visit for wine, I work into business trips, which is how I got to Salt.

  19. Richard,
    Well, if nothing else, one must be impressed by the amount of time you put into wine and that you are one of the few to write a pointed article if you feel its deserved, AND you don’t do it for the sensationalism factor that most do, you believe in what you write. (The Rhone Rangers sorely missed your detailed CellarTracker and blog coverage this year, please don’t ever leave us again for Snooth. :))

    I could weigh in on so many topics. I have opinions on WBC that agree with both you and Marcy. (Whom I also love.)
    I ended up not attending WBC either this year, my first to skip in 4 years, and I even did Virginia. :0
    Marcy is correct that Zephyr isn’t a wine group …that point was abundantly clear when they introduced Randall Grahm’s keynote, a 30 year Vinter who’s Brand he ‘built via social media.’ Somehow Bonny Doon managed to grow before Randall was on Twitter, which I believe is only ~ 5 years or so now. 😉

    I don’t go to WBC for the wine region, I go for the wine. Their selection process has been flawed & political repeatedly, but has gotten better, I think. As someone technically deep into wine, with easy access to wine travel and explores AVAs anyway, I get little no value out of the wine tours and have publicly stated my boycott until the random bus plan ends, and generally little of the content, which most of in previous years comes from attendees rather than outside professionals. I go because its a networking event, attended by some of the most wonderful passionate people I know. Sadly its the only time I see many of them, including in some cases people in Napa and Sonoma county. Zephyr people aren’t bad, they have to make money, but WBC needs to continue to evolve. I hear repeatedly the FBC is a much better event, content wise.

    I am sad to see attendance drop this year, when there were some positive changes, and I think Cindy (and Marcy) worked VERY hard to make some positive changes. This was a risky venue from day one, and between the challenges of getting there, and it being held earlier this year (not sure why), and especially the damn stupid wine laws, I simply had to pass. Which saddens me as I dearly love British Columbia, her citizens, and their passion for their new wine industry. As a blogger turned also commercial vintner, doing unusual and challenging things, I appreciate their Pioneer spirit, and was curious to try more, and see if they ‘get it’ more than many of the ‘new’ wine regions – many of which my experience is “just because you CAN grow grapes, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.” (or at least plant whats appropriate.)

    I also must comment on the many fine responses to this post; I expected a huge flame trail, instead of the professional, courteous, intelligent responses. Its rare I enjoy (or even bother with) most of the wine blog, inter industry back and forth on many blogs, but this one has been educational and professional.

    It was ballsy to use the term ‘retarded’ I can’t say I would have gone there, but you more than aptly pointed out why its correct, so bravo.

    I am a bit saddened to learn of so much local confirmation that a city like Vancouver, which I think of as worldly, and European, has such poor wine culture, but I concur the laws aid that. Yes you can go to private shops, but that just makes it another layer towards mass education. Luckily I ended up at Salt my last trip. 🙂

    Don’t be a stranger, come to North Sonoma some time -cheers and thanks for all your hard work and devotion to the wine industry.

  20. David J Cooper says:

    david. How does Richard becomimg another cheerleader for the industry help? We already have Anthony Gismondi.

    It became obvious to me, years ago that if I wanted to enjoy the wine world and learn about it, the BCLDB and it’s ridiculous laws weren’t going to get in the way. Yes retailing is difficult and the laws don’t help this. A bigger problem though at the government stores is the BCGEU’s culture. This however is no excuse for the arrogant uninformed staff that work in most VQA stores and a lot of private retailers.

    BTW Jak, I’ve been a big supporter of your wines since they were Promoted by Liquid Arts.

  21. King Krak, I Drink It Orange says:

    I have been to BC a bunch of times. I’ve tried about as many wines as you have, Richard, and I have to say that I think your scores are pretty generous. I am someone who drinks the wines of the world – I have very broad wine tastes; the BC wines just seem weird in a not good way. To me, they’re growing “popular” grapes rather than the right grapes. Coupled with the crazy protectionism (123% import wine tax, and forcing restaurants to purchase at unusually high pricing), this seems to have led to indifference, mediocrity and, well, a mess.

    I’m totally with you that a trip to the Okanagan Valley seems purposeless; I can’t make myself go there either.

    You know, if the wines were good you would see quite a few available on the West Coast; instead they’re are next to none available. Still. (Think of all of those Vancouver tourists visiting Seattle, SF and LA…they won’t see a bottle of BC wine.)

    (Btw, I’ve dined twice at Blue Water Cafe – great 1st time, mediocre 2nd time, and once at Salt Tasting Room (drinking the dry sherries, not the local wine).)

    • jak Meyer says:

      Honestly here in Canada we were brought up if you cant say anything nice don’t say anything at all. I am glad both of you can not attend and find out for yourselves why this is one of the most attractive tourism spots in the world with tourists living and vacationing from all four corners of the globe who know what a little gem of an area the Okanagan Valley is!
      I have toured through Napa Valley only to have to drive half an hour between wineries to be lined up 5 deep and taste wine with some young kid and not ever get within a mile of an owner or wine maker. As far as quality, sure some corporate owned winery that makes a couple of million cases should be able to afford the staff and wine makers to make some good wines but I think you miss some of the point and like in any industry small is not always worse. Please take the time to find wines to your liking and style and from a producer that you like. I think you will find wines that will compete and do compete with the best wines in the world and you will tell your friends about. Please take the time to look through your favorite competition and see how many Canadian wines have medaled.
      Lastly you love wine and the industry yet I don’t see you taking any risks and plowing your life savings into making wines simply for the hopeful enjoyment of others so please put your money where your mouth is and show us how it is done before sitting in your armchair and playing quarterback. You should applaud people that take the risk to try and develop new regions and terroir and take chances in life rather than offering your limited negative opinions. As we all know people thought the first vineyard/wineries in many of the worlds best wine growing regions including your own were thought to be crazy. Some of us believe that world class wines can be made here, that the industry will change and evolve for the better including regulatory bodies and that the educated and well informed will continue to visit and enjoy and write about our wines!

      • Your comparisons are a bit off jak, being emotional, defensive, and not logical.

        Your first mistake is lumping Napa into the ‘standard’ California wine region. It’s Disneyland for wine, and even it hosts stunning small producers like Forlorn Hope, Scholium Project, Mathiasson and more, tiny gems amongst the Castles making wine which rivals serious Euro producers…something I wouldn’t say for the palace wineries. Most serious wine aficionados steer clear. I never taste there and live one valley away. The advent of custom crush has spurred a new revolution of winemaking in Califormia with hundreds of little guys with day jobs, making small production, stellar wines.

        BC is indeed gorgeous, watch what happens to BC when it gains more attention, and attracts money and the Asians and Tech rich decide its cool to own a winery…say hello to palaces and millionaires. Or pray you don’t become the next Bandol and have vineyards replaced with real estate.

        I don’t doubt your wines are good, based on what RJ wrote, and some of what you shared. But I have judged several major wine competitions and gave it up – most wines that win a medal are consumer grade, generic juice that stood out, the 55 zins tasted over three hours, at 2 minutes per sample, if that. Well made small lot, old world style wines often don’t fare well at all. NorthEast coast chardonnays beat out Burgundy last year in a blind tasting – do we really think they make better white Burgundy than Burgundy itself? 😡

        Saying that someone who hasn’t plowed his every dollar into making money is also a bit kneejerk. Richard is one of a handful of bloggers (who really has crossed that chasm IMO to writer) who spends dozens of hours on many wine tasks, unpaid, like his cataloging. Ever follow his CellarTracker work? Its as much an admirable feat as bottling prep. There are plenty of bloggers whom armchair quarterback winemaking and the industry – I’d say this isn’t the case, at all. He is expressing his personal opinion, as much as a consumer has a right too – he wears both hats.

        I applaud and support the effort of small vintners. I have also tasted horrific wines from many small emerging regions, growing grapes they have no business too, with no work on soil samples, hiring trained growers, or winemaking. Hell, we make container loads of mediocre, generic consumer grade wines in Sonoma, even much of that from small producers. Yet, guided properly, I have found world class wines in places like Long Island. (Albeit you would never want to tackle the selection at random.)

        I haven’t tasted enough BC wines, or yours to pass judgement, but plenty of your fellow Canadians have more tactfully agreed there is much room for improvement, especially on the wine CULTURE. Nothing wrong with that, but lets not venture into rock throwing, where others have shown grace.

  22. Liam says:

    Interesting read (including the wine industry insider comments) as the perspective is quite different from my own – I’m a local to Vancouver blogger (reviews mostly) who will be attending the WBC in Penticton later this week. I can appreciate the unique opinion based on your personal experience, but I can’t make the connection to boycotting the Okanagan based on Vancouver’s wine culture. Wine touring in BC can be a wonderful experience with many knowledgeable folks behind the tasting bars and in the local restaurants. Perfect? No, but what region is? And how would you define that anyway (beyond personal preference)?

    Again, interesting read, especially thanks to the great discussion in the comments section… but a boycott? related to wine?

  23. Shea says:

    Here’s another issue to chew on. As I discussed, B.C.’s ‘markup’ on international wines does not apply to wines made in B.C. Further B.C. wines can sell and ship directly to consumers. International wines cannot. There are strong arguments that this, in fact, violates NAFTA and GATT. There is no easy answer to the following question, but it merits consideration: is it valid or desirable to have an entire industry premised on violations of international trade law? The fact is that B.C.’s wine industry is premised on anti-free market laws and policies that artificially support the growth of wine making in a region whose property values may not justify that investment if it weren’t for protectionism.

    Interestingly, similar practices also stunt development of artisinal producers of dairy and cheese in Canada, with marketing boards imposing quotas on domestic makers and high tariffs on international producers. Because of this high quality dairy (especially cheese) is effectively out of reach for most Canadians who cannot afford to pay the $10 it costs for 100 grams of good French cheese (choosing from our extremely limited selection). Is wine protectionism not having the same effect?

    It’s probably obvious my leanings are towards freer trade, particularly with respect to policies that make it unaffordable for regular people to participate in small production, artisinal products that are often made much more sustainably and following more profound and valid philosophies than corporate big-volume producers. We need access to great (not just good) wines for $15-$20. The protectionist and short sited mark up policies of the BC government are effectively regressive taxation. I’ve long advocated for the opening up of competition and a flat tax on all wine of, say ~$3 a bottle, and the elimination of all government retail, warehousing and distribution (for private competition, not private monopoly). (In parenthesis, you might ask why the regulator of private industry is also its competitor). Other jurisdictions have shown that this approach can actually increase revenues and selection simultaneously.

    So maybe it’s better for this Province to start looking outward rather than inward when it comes to wine. We have a lot to learn and a lot from which to benefit.

    • Liam says:

      Shea’s latest reply brings two open questions to mind.

      1. If the opposition to privatization is a large, organized lobby for the big conglomerates like Constellation Brands, what can the wine buying public to do?

      2. What is the view of privatization from the perspective of the small producer? Would it negatively affect your business or be a benefit?

  24. Pingback: Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Today’s Classics

  25. Richard,

    Two points. First, of 27 wines you tasted (a small sample size) you rated 22 of them >88 and 14 of them >90 points. I infer that to mean there are quite a few damn good BC wines to be had. Had few if any scored above 90 points, then “okay wines” might have made sense for you post title. More than 50% outstanding wines seem more than okay to me. But what do I know, I’m not a fan of points.

    Second, did you ever think that a boycott of the BC wine industry is the exact opposite thing that the industry needs to overcome its repressive government? Saying no to a wine culture is not going to help grow a wine culture. I understand your frustration with your inability to find a decent wine restaurant in Vancouver, but wouldn’t calling for a boycott of RJonWine because the regime that runs the site was picked a restaurant that paired Tannat with white fish? If a reader only read this post, they might think you don’t know much about wines or restaurants and should stop reading you until you get a better culinary culture here.

    The thing with small emerging wine regions is that they all battle against something, whether it is an apathetic consumer base, antiquated regulation or resistance from an ignorant restaurant scene. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater (that was actually soiled from the father, mother, and older brother) is not the answer. Not going to WBC is your choice and I don’t knock you for that. But actively rallying others to boycott an entire region is wrongheaded. Oh, and you might want to look at a map. Saying that Carson City, NV is part of the Russian River Valley wine region.

    And to William Allen (enjoyed a Vio the other night), I think Jak’s example of Napa is perfect. You are correct in your response, but making assumptions like every Napa winery has unpleasant tasting room is exactly akin to what Richard is doing in this piece. He is basically saying that based on his small sample of restaurants and wines that the entire wine culture sucks in BC. Sure it may be stunted and repressed, but he could have been more nuanced and insightful in his assessment. I usually enjoy Richard’s writing, but this piece seemed more of a whiny rant that is part of catfight between Richard and the WBC because he thinks they should listen to everything he has to say, and didn’t.

    • Richard Jennings says:


      I’ve responded to some of your points–in connection with my boycott suggestion–elsewhere here. I just wanted to respond to your claim that the fact that I rated some of the wines over 90 points means they were more than just “okay” (you basically leapt from there to “outstanding”).

      I have nearly 35,000 ratings publicly available on CellarTra, and I have a pretty consistent set of criteria for tastings. My average point score is in the 88-89 range, as it is for many good critics. For me 90-91, which is the highest I rated any of the B.C. wines I tasted, is a good score but not outstanding. Nothing got to the 92 point level for me, which is where I start to get to more interested in the wine. I agree that 27 wines is not enough have a firm foundation for a region–not in the least. I would have liked to taste dozens of wines while I was there, but it took a lot of effort just to find those 27 to taste, given the restrictions on tastings and the paucity of tasting bars and tasting rooms there. And the selection I tasted through at Salt Tasting was, at least to some extent, “curated,” representing some of the better producers and wines per their knowledgeable buyers.

      I didn’t trash the wines. I think they’re respectable. I just didn’t find what I tasted to indicate any noteworthy trend or character, especially when I had to balance that against the fact the wines from there are not available in the States, and there are many more wines produced elsewhere that are available here that I don’t have time to get to.

      Does that make my saying the wines were “okay” more understandable?

      • Richard, I am aware of your prolific amount of notes available on CellarTracker. Congrats. I am not attacking any of the scores or notes. No where did I say you trashed the wines. I actually think you did the wines good with your reviews. But you are the one to titled your post “Okay wines, Retarded Wine Culture.” To me and almost all wine consumers, 90 or more points means outstanding. I have not been able to find an explanation of how you assign points. Please point me in the right direction if I am missing it somewhere. In the absence of that information, I can only assume that you use the 100-pt system with the same essential standards as most other users. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate states that wines rated “90 – 95: An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.” Likewise, Wine Spectator’s scale states “90-94 Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style.” So, to me, by you stating that you give 90-pt scores to good, okay or respectable wines makes your point system either 1) inflated (can’t blame you as many are) or 2) flawed in its design. To me, and at least in the biggest wine publications’ stated methods, okay wines should be receiving scores in the upper 70s lower 80s. Okay means “all correct,” or otherwise without flaws and decently made wine. 91 points does not mean okay.

        Had you written the same ideas in three separate posts, I think I may not have had a problem with how you presented your opinions. I don’t think you should go to WBC if you don’t find the wines compelling enough. That part doesn’t bother me. To most people, >90 pts is outstanding. Your scoring regiment obviously is not on par with how I calibrate scores to my palate (I really prefer the taste of wine to numbers). Your beef with the WBC is its own beast and you are entitled to your opinions. Your beef with the BC government is a bit odd, but still your opinion. Your desire to boycott the BC wine industry when supporting it might be a better solution to you problems with the government is misguided.

        That being said, I am glad you attempted to rationalize your belief that 90 points is respectable, but nothing more. I really would like to see your rubric for how you assign points. Or better yet, a video with you pulling points our of thin air at your Tuscan villa with a fire roaring in the background 😉 … (that last one was a joke…)

  26. William,
    I must say I have read through nearly all of the comments leading to this point. I am a big believer in balance. Many of your comments in my view are about as perfectly balanced as your wines.


  27. Clive says:

    I don’t necessarily agree with you and generally don’t subscribe to the approach you’ve taken. Life’s too short, in my opinion anyways, to spend as much energy as you have ranting about Canada. But, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion. What I don’t get is how you’ve couched it all in some sort of recommendation for the WBC. Who cares? Who cares where a conference you’re not going to attend chooses to locate? If your rant had been about how these issues are making it tough on consumers looking to learn about wine I could maybe get on board a little more, though I’d still take a different tact. You acknowledge, and rightfully so that it’s about that conference making money for their company more than it is about anything else in terms of location. So why couch it thus?

    • Richard Jennings says:


      I admit, my message was a little complex in my initial post. I’m thinking about another post to simplify everything–to make it clear what policies are most hurtful, pointless and offensive, and how B.C. is particularly out of step as far as wine regions with those kinds of restrictions. So part of my message is the need for B.C. policies to change, so as to permit a wine culture to develop that will ultimately be to the benefit of B.C. wineries. Part of my message too is to the organizers of WBC that they need to take a stand on these kinds of damaging public policies by having minimum criteria with regard to a host region’s regulatory environment.

      I care too much about wine, wine culture and B.C. in particular (used to love to visit there as a young adult) not to take a personal stand about a regulatory climate that’s strangling the wine industry and the possibility of a wine culture there. That’s why this is important to me. Why is it important to you to come here and say something like, “life’s too short?”

  28. Alan says:

    Extremely poor use of the word “retarded.”

  29. Many interesting and well articulated contributing comments on both sides, sprinkled with some hurt feelings. People from BC I am sure have dedicated and sacrificed much to obtain their level in the wine industry, “re-tared” as it very well might be.

    The word “re-tarded” seems to have grossly overshadowed the word “boycott” in my view. While I understand and agree with the view point of restrictive alcohol laws, I would have an issue taking a beating on the “mom & pop” business of BC trying to push forward in their region.

    I cannot help but think of small producers with a passion that are so excited about their party (WBC13) this week and blogger coverage. The timing of this post seems a bit like someone passing gas at the Christmas dinner table. Yes, a crud analogy, but one that I think paints the picture.

    Many of the issues you point out seem fair and appear to be validated by some including some from BC. Again going back to the word “boycott,” it just seems a bit over the top for me to fully digest. Maybe the lack of attendees this year at WBC13 is a showing of support to some of these points you mention.

    For me, when I think of the word “boycott” it belongs to organizations that have deliberately hurt others in various capacities, or whom have deeply offended a group. Buses in the southern US States during the 1960’s were boycotted due to race inequalities. Companies that put profits before human life have been boycotted. When I think of no wine flights, or a lack of wine knowledge, those things just fall into a different box for me.

    • Richard Jennings says:


      Thank you for reading and commenting here.

      My aim is the exact opposite of trying to hurt small (or even big) producers who are struggling already to create a viable wine business in B.C. I think they are already being hurt and stifled immensely by your government, which is very much destroying wine culture and the possibility of wine awareness in B.C. with pointless, offensive restrictions on tastings, tasting rooms and the like.

      After being so surprised by the lack of awareness about B.C. wines and wine in general in wine establishments on my visit to Vancouver, I did my research and found out why the awareness of wine is so low there: pointless and arbitrary government policies. Why should tastings be prohibited as part of educational seminars? Why should it be made prohibitively risky and expensive for retail stores to offer tastings to consumers. Why should wineries in Okanagan Valley be prohibited from having a tasting room in Vancouver? Why tax foreign wines by 113%, thereby keeping winemakers and others there from learning more about what’s being done elsewhere in the world? None of this makes any sense, and these kinds of restrictions and others there are literally depriving the citizens of B.C. from a host of opportunities that people elsewhere take for granted to learn about the joys of wine.

      The wine business in B.C. is small and has no clout, which is why I’ve proposed the possibility of a boycott of the tourism industry by wine lovers elsewhere, so as to get the government’s attention for these hurtful and offensive restrictions. I will be talking to B.C. winemakers more in the coming weeks to solicit their ideas for what might help change the political tide in B.C., but as an outsider, I can say unequivocally that the current legislative scheme is strangling the possibility of a vibrant, knowledgeable, sophisticated wine culture in B.C., to the detriment of the fledgling wine industry there.


  30. Bill Fairview Cellars says:

    As a participant in the wine industry in Canada for over 40 years, I will say that I do understand why the rules and regulations were put in place. The reasoning for some may have been wrong, and this is being addressed. It is very difficult to remove legislation without affecting those that have huge investments done under said rules. It has to be done carefully and in baby steps. That being said, the liquor boards of Canada, especially Ontario have become nasty bullies using their monopoly powers to keep everyone involved under their thumb under the false premise that they are protecting us from the nasty drug called alcohol.

    Comments about protectionism of the BC industry here I find to be narrow in their scope. The wine industry is part of the larger agricultural sector. There is not a country in the world that doesn’t participate in the protection of their agricultural sector in one form or another. If we want to talk “level playing field”, it must be addressed at a global level.
    The Canadian government is a notoriously poor trade negotiator. Special interests of certain Provinces have been the determining factor in agreements that have left large sectors of agriculture out in the cold. Fruits and vegetables (including grapes) have been especially hard hit.

    With respect to the education of the service industry, thank you for the wake up call. I have been calling for more emphasis in the wine education programs on BC wines for those that are going to be working in BC. Hopefully your blog will strengthen my position at the political level.

    • Shea says:

      Hi Bill,

      I agree with you on the protectionism points. I should have been clearer in my post on that. My point was that it did not seem a good approach to use a markup (which violates NAFTA and GATT) to support the B.C. industry to the detriment of consumers of international wine and international wineries. There are probably far superior ways in which to support the B.C. industry’s competitiveness than this markup structure, keeping in mind unfair subsidies to agricultural producers in Europe and the U.S., but also not visiting the trade issues on wine lovers. It’s an abomination that good wine is unaffordable for most people in B.C., who are sold mostly swill at the $10-$15 price point, and a considerable amount of swill at the $15-$25 price point. You shouldn’t have to be well off to enjoy good wine.

      Of course the markup isn’t all about protectionism, it’s more about a short sites view of raising revenue for the province. Though I think that is address with implementing alternative, more efficient flat tax models that are already proven to increase revenue.

      • Bill Fairview Cellars says:

        It is a billion dollar revenue stream. I don’t think the government is going to remove that for the sake of a few elite wine drinkers.
        Of course if you were to come up with an alternative to pay for the hospitals, schools and roads that we enjoy, not to mention the best place in the world to live, then I’m all ears.
        Or you could provide me with $1,000/acre land and $.50/hr labour, and I’ll get you that wine you’re looking for.
        You will of course have to provide me with mercenaries to protect me when the peasants revolt.

        • Shea says:

          I think you missed my point. Right now taxes are higher on cheaper bottles (i.e. a regressive tax), and less on more expensive ones. A flat tax would still be somewhat regressive, but less so. Further, all the research and accounting data on flat tax, fully privatized systems in various jurisdictions shows an INCREASE in revenue, not a decrease. This is due, in part, to improved efficiency, lower operating costs for the government, and increased sales. So, reform has nothing to do with impacting the revenue stream, just reforming it and making it more efficient. There is a study of privatization of the LCBO that makes some of these comments, plus a study of the Alberta system, and the WA privatization, all of which come to very similar conclusions: effective privatization and derregulation of wine sales, and more efficient taxation policies on wine, result in INCREASED revenue. The ideology you speak of has been used to justify the status quo for years, but it completely unfounded and unsupported by facts.

          Even if that weren’t true, I cannot accept as justification for unfair regressive tax that it pays for government benefits. There must be less regressive ways of raising revenue that are fairer and don’t harm and stunt industry.

          • Shea says:

            Also, in case I wasn’t clear – the wealthy actually pay far less tax on wine as a percentage of the total bottle cost. This is because BC’s taxes decrease as the base price goes up. This means you can actually find many top wines that are $150+ for prices quite similar to U.S. prices. However, when it comes to wine that most people drink, the prices are double the U.S. This makes it impossible for the “peasants” as you put it (though I’d argue 95% of wine drinkers), to enjoy quality wine. This increases the reality that wine is for the elite in BC rather than a part of everyday food culture that the average person can enjoy and participate in.

  31. Geppetto says:

    I had to chuckle when I saw the reference to the concierge at the Waterfront. I used to work as one of the concierge staff at that location (a very long time ago). One of the nasty little secrets about Vancouver (and many other cities around the world) is that many of he concierge staff are placed by private companies that are not related to the hotel. Yes they are wearing a hotel uniform and name tag, but their salary is paid by a private company. In this sad world, where the hotel gets paid to have free labor, most recomendations come with a kickback to the company that has placed the concierge. Commissions (aka bribes) have been a long standing blight on the professionalism of the industry. Today, it is worse, as smart companies have figured out how to direct those bribes into their own pockets, while providing the hotels with free labor from minimum wage workers.

    I have to say, I believe I have built up a fairly nice cellar while living in Vancouver and I have really benefitted from the product consultants at the signature stores (BCLDB). In general, most of the staff know very little about the wine (best not to ask the guy stocking the beer shelves about what pairs well with lamb), but the dedicated product consultants can be really great resources.

    I feel that the biggest difficulty with our wine culture stems from the outrageously high prices for wine in BC. To clearly put this into perspective, let me share my purchase price for the 2005 Pavie that I purchased in BC – $600 per bottle. It can easily be found for half that cost in other jurisdictions. So, the poor restaurant that wants to have great wines on their list is paying huge prices just to carry the product (they don’t get a deal). Then they need to make their profit and suddenly a 2005 Pavie is priced at $1200. The reality is that very few people are going to pay that kind of price. There are restaurants with outstanding cellars and, in turn, very knowledgable staff, but because the carrying costs are so high, these are few and far between. To supply wine to the masses at a price that people are willing to pay, most Vancouver restaurants have settled (and for valid reasons) on mediocre selections. Now, when you have a shitty wine list, why pay for a well educated (on wine) server? “Why yes sir, I believe that that $30 swill that you are about to order (which we paid $15 for and could be purchased for $7 in the US) will go fine with your steak.”

    The only solution, in my eyes, is to deal with the outrageous markups put in place by the government. Switching to privatized liquor stores does nothing to solve the problem if the government is still the distributor of the wine. At least when I buy from the BCLDB, I can feel good about the fact that the cashier is making enough to get by…

    Finally, I too find your scores to be generous. I’ve stopped buying BC wines because they are not competitive. It is rare that I find local wines that I would consider to be in the 90’s and when I do, they usually end up costing North of $80.

  32. Chris Wallace says:

    The next time you come to our fair city you may want to check out Urban Winery which has a wine tasting bar with 30 different selections open, mostly B.C. wines. I am surprised that none of the concierges mentioned it to you.

  33. Kurtis Kolt says:

    Again, it’s frustrating to read your reiteration of certain points; heels are dug in so deep that you seem to take any valid discourse as noise.

    One example:

    You say, “I did my research and found out why the awareness of wine is so low there: pointless and arbitrary government policies. Why should tastings be prohibited as part of educational seminars?”

    ..yet it has been clearly pointed out to you by more than one of us that this is an old law on the books and has not ever been enforced. There are tastings involved in every. single. wine course. offered.

    And, based on your bad luck, that as I said earlier, could happen to anyone in any city; you’ve painted us all with the same brush. We agree on the awful provincial barriers, but to refer to members of the local trade as ‘stupid’ and other remarks is ridiculous.

    Fascinating how your experience was apparently so awful, and your reaction so venomous, yet -again- as I said earlier, it just doesn’t jive with the experience with 99% of professional trade and media who visit.

    Case in point: Shayn Bjorholm, Master Sommelier, who is the Education Director for the Court just posted this on the Court of Master Sommeliers website after spending a week here:

    “I am a blessed wanna-be gastronome; I get to travel lots of places, near and far, and experience far more than my (or anyone’s) fair share of outstanding dining. Many of you all share this luck with me, so you will understand that jolt when you hit a particularly stellar scene and thoroughly enjoy it. Which, amazingly after having been visiting for 15 years now on a semi-regular basis with similar dining habits, has just happened again in Vancouver, BC. Admittedly, I have emotional ties to the city which introduced me to wine study in my youth and the great friends I have made here over the years. But, I have cared about plenty a spot which failed to elicit an ounce of excitement. This place is the *&^%. Real-deal.

    Having just taught a CMS Intro/Cert here, and having seen years of ISG success build the skills of the somm scene here, I can tell you these folks are going to have MS’s in the near future. And that organization will be lucky for it. The respect for the service profession here is awesome. The search for ways to exceed guest expectations with grace and aplomb is furious but elegant. The food is straight up righteous, if perhaps a moment “behind” some of the trendsetting gastro flamethrowers in the United States. The academic attack on the beverage game with ISG, WSET, IMW and now CMS is rock solid. If we could only beam the Liquor Control Board headquarters to Jupiter and erase any memory of the astounding levies put upon the wines which do their utmost to get into glasses of guests, this would be a Top Five spot in North America to enjoy (instead of a Top Six…bring your own bottles, folks…pay the comparatively fair corkage and go to town!).

    For those somms working in Vancouver who completed Intro and/or Cert, thanks for your efforts and attention on behalf of the CMS this weekend. Thank you for the ridiculous service and tasty treats we have received at your restaurants (including one of the best wine recommendations I have ever gotten at Nicli’s…go Melanie!…not to mention Vij’s, Yew and Phnom Penh). Please move forward with the CMS; we need your talent and ability to raise our profile in Western Canada. Please come to Seattle to work with our many tasting groups and Master Sommeliers; we would love to help you build your community. And, for heck’s sake, keep doing what you are doing!”

    Not so bad for a retarded, stupid part of the world, uh?

  34. Pingback: B.C. wine: From Vancouver to your table |

  35. Quiet a Statement you made.
    I immigrated from a German Wine region to BC and don’t feel like I made a mistake. My husband and I searched the world wine map to find for us the perfect spot and properly to your astonishment it was BC! I could write a whole Blog why we didn’t went to New Zealand, refused job offers from the States, were shocked about the wine culture in California, canceled South Africa and not even spend one minute to think anywhere in Europe. I agree with you that the wine law needs to be updated- but not everything is bad. Talk to any vintner (oh right you missed that here) and they will give you an insight view. Why didn’t get BC a chance from you?
    Do you do all your wine travels in 4 days? Why didn’t you contacted anyone from the industry directly? You can’t be serious that you started your wine experience with the concierge?

    Do you think you gave BC the same chance as you would give an organised/ invited wine region you traveled to? Would you write about the Finger Lakes wine region because you spend four days in Detroit (also just a few hours away like the Okanagan)?

    I mean you can state what you want – the question is just if BC had a real chance. Just wondering…

    • Richard Jennings says:

      You yourself seem to be indicting whole wine regions and countries–New Zealand, Europe, California, South Africa. What’s up about that? I think it’s great that you are happy where you and your husband ended up, and that you are a booster for the region. My blog, however, was addressed to the absence of a real wine culture in the largest city in a Canadian province that is a wine region, and the role backward government policies have played in causing that to be the case. And if you take the time to look through some of the dozens of other comments on the piece, from vintners and winelovers living in B.C., you’ll see that more than a few of them agreed with the points I made.
      All the best on your efforts to make wine under the current adverse governmental policies there,

  36. Pingback: B.C. wine: From Vancouver to your table « Vintage Direct

Comments are closed.