Wine & Travel

Snooth User: GregT

Northwest Wineries

Original post by GregT, Jun 18.

So on a whim we decided to visit British Columbia. But we flew up to Washington, so visited a few places there too. Totally off the subject of wine, I found an awesome bakery in Spokane and the girl there served me this thing that I thought was a kind of Parmesan cheese foam. In fact it was fermented cashew whip, which was definitely weird, but also pretty good. So cheese-like that if you're a strict vegan, you don't even have to give up cheese, or at least the taste of cheese.

Anyhow, I visited a few WA wineries that I liked and a few that I ended up not liking so much and headed up to Canada. The Okanagan is the northern part of the Sonoran desert, which to someone from the east coast is not apparent. We think British Columbia is all wet and forested and full of grizzly bears. Apparently that's not entirely off the mark because out of four days, it rained for three, and one winery had a big Great Pyrenee that was all wet from the rain and slept right next to the tiny tasting bar, tired because earlier that morning he had run a bear out of the vineyard. So having confirmed my beliefs about the region, we set about tasting as much wine as we could in just under four days.

We managed to get to Adega on 45th, Black Hills, Burrowing Owl, Covert Farms, Castoro de Oro, Checkmate, Church and State, Culmina, Desert Hills, Gehringer Brothers, Gold Hill, Here's the Thing, Hester Creek, Jackson-Triggs/Inniskillin, Lariana, Le Vieux Pin, Maverick, Moon Curser, Nk'Mip Cellars, Platinum Bench, River Stone, Road 13, Tinhorn Creek, Young and Wyse, and a couple others I really can't recall at the moment.

The problem is that most of them only open around 11 and they close at 5, but thank God they're pretty close to each other. You just drive up the road and there are wineries on either side, so you don't need to do a lot of searching or asking Google for directions. We didn't have much time so only made it to the Oliver/Osooyos area and didn't get north into Penicton and beyond. That will have to be a later trip. And the first day we got there late so only got to two wineries. You figure that the wineries are usually pouring a minimum of five wines - that may be some kind of regulation, I'm not sure. But we usually got through some ten or twelve when we started talking and they wanted to show something special.

One of the places I really wanted to go was Nk'Mip Cellars, which is owned by the Indians in the area. I liked the concept of it and was dubious about the wines, but wanted to try them anyway. They're smart folks since they have a golf course, shops, hiking and horseback trails, high-end restaurant, winery, and time-shares. It's a pretty expensive place all in all. But the wines were not overly expensive at all and much to our delight, they were pretty good. They could have easily produced some plonk and made their money on the tourism activities, but they actually put out some really good wine at reasonable prices. And a word about the restaurant - the chef came from Toronto and was given a first-class restaurant to run. It had been French, Italian, Continental, and whatever else. He had the idea of using the native cooking elements, which for me was a first. So I ordered pasta made from chestnut flour, which was common before chestnut blight, with foraged mushrooms and wild hare and sumac and other local herbs and spices. My wife had bison basted with spruce and some root vegetable that I can't recall at the moment. And it paired really well with the Syrah. I think that restaurant would do well in any spot, and it was nice to find there.

Wherever we were, we asked the wine makers who we should visit and mostly we took their recommendations, but that didn't mean we couldn't stop at every place along the way.

Gehringer and Gold Hill both made Cab Franc that I wanted to try. It was fair. Desert Hills had a Zin and a Gamay I wanted to try, and those are probably not things I'd hunt for too hard. Moon Curser had a Tannat and a Tempranillo but they weren't pouring the Tannat when I got there. However, their wines weren't bad. We kind of interrupted a special tasting some girls were having but the winemaker talked to us about his vines and wines. I planned to go back the next day and taste the Tannat but didn't make it.

We were told that Burrowing Owl is quite proud of themselves. It turns out with good reason. Their wines are quite nice and the help was too. No pretense, just poured wines. And when one of them was corked, I pointed it out and the pourer opened another one. His boss showed up and pulled him aside to ask what was happening. There was some conversation and he poured some of the wine and shook his head. The kid pouring was smart though - he poured some of the good bottle into a second glass and gave it to the boss man. You could see the light go on in the boss man's head and as he walked away I could have sworn his head was illuminating the room.

There's some guy named John Schreiner who reviews BC wines and has written a few books on Canadian wines. Everyone was touting any score they received from him that was over 90. Of course I had no clue who he was so didn't really care too much about his opinion, but I like his approach. If you think about it, he's not trying to cover the whole world. He's been tasting those BC wines for many years and if you don't know where to start, he may be someone to pay attention to.

The one thing I did agree with him about was Checkmate. He gave one of their wines 100 points and everyone talked about it. We headed up to see for ourselves. It's kind of an isolated thing on a hill. First thing I noticed was that while almost all of the other wineries save one or two had Riedel glasses, these guys sprung for Gabriel Glas. One of the girls was a bit surprised that I had any idea what Gabriel Glas was. We started talking and it turns out she'd gone through one of the wine courses - WSET or something like that, so she knew a bit about wine even though she wasn't the wine maker. I was happy and figured we'd end the day there - hilltop view and attractive smart girls who were friendly and liked wine. What more could you want?

Maybe good wine?

And they came through like champs. Checkmate wines were some of the best we tried. They make a series of Chardonnays and these were crisp, clean, lightly oaked and quite delicious. I would love to put them into a blind tasting with some Chablis. Classy wines for sure.

Overall there were a lot of good wines and the prices were great when compared to what you get from places like Napa or even Sonoma. The region focuses on the Bordeaux varieties, which I understand because that's what people buy, but I think they could do more more diverse grapes. Many of them agree - there's interest in Tempranillo, Aglianico, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Gamay, Cab Franc, and others. It's still a learning curve for many of those and maybe some will never be anything to write home about but you don't know until you try. There's also plenty of Pinot Noir, but I didn't find any that stood out. Maybe the best wines were Syrah. There seemed to be a lot of it and because the place is so dramatically sloped, with a valley floor and steep mountains to either side, you can find all kinds of really interesting micro climates to plant a specific variety. The same vineyard may have wildly varying temperatures and diurnal temperature swings, and whether you're on the east or west of the valley will determine your sun exposure.

The Okanagan is truly a beautiful and dramatic place and I have every intention of going back. There's talk of making a national park there, and some stiff opposition from the wineries. That was a surprise to me until I talked to some of them about their thinking. The place is beautiful right now and still very rural. Nobody is trying to build hotels or golf courses. But they're concerned that the park will restrict their vineyards and until that's sorted out, there is likely to be some contention, so my advice is to avoid discussing the issue.

Since we only had one twelve pack shipper, I only brought back twelve wines.

Here are a few pics.

Clouds and fog over the vineyard.


More clouds and fog


One winery that wasn't too bad at all and they had great bread. In fact, they did a bread and wine pairing. They made the bread on the premises and it's usually sold out by noon. That was the second outstanding bread bakery I found on this trip so it was a success bread-wise. And the wine was good so we bought some.

Some Checkmate Merlot:


From Nk'Mip





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Reply by zufrieden, Jun 27.

Finititude is inescapable.  There are many boutique wineries in the USA, Australia, Chile,  (and especially Germany and certain regions of France... particularly, where the garagistes reign supreme).  In any case, it will be years before a demand could force up prices of say, Red Icon.  The idea that asking too low a price reduces credibility is only of credence if you are some foolish nouveau riche from Asia or anywhere else for that matter.

Demographic shifts also indicate that general trends in drinking are likely to change.  Our broadly defined generation (those born between 1940 and 1970 - just bear with this for the time being) liked to spend money on brands with a strong cachet.  We are on the way out, and no longer capable of drinking as much product.  And we don't vape, but millennials do.

While it is safe to say that prices of the best - once the best comes to be known as the best, for whatever reason, quality or cachet or both - will always increase, and the quality will water down with expansion of production beyond the ability of the craftsperson to maintain integrity of quality.

If global warming is here to stay as the experts and statisticians (like me) say it is, then Canada may become a much more important player in wine anyway.  Stay tuned.


Reply by GregT, Jun 28.

Interesting comments. I think I mentioned before that I was told by one of the Bastianich/Batali restaurants that they couldn't take one of our wines. The chef and somm both loved it but it wasn't expensive enough. We told them to raise the price and they said that people will be angry and feel cheated if it's much cheaper elsewhere. In their restaurant, people wanted to spend money and be seen doing so. Therefore, a wine that was much better and much cheaper than a known wine wasn't going to sell.


As far as who's buying wine, I had a sad conversation the other day with someone who's been in the business since the early 1970s. He knows wine and has watched the business develop over the decades. Every time I go back to that city, I visit his store. It was half empty and I asked if he was finally retiring.

"No," he said. "We're changing our emphasis. Young people just aren't drinking wine these days."

Back in the 1970s there were a few people who drank wine, mostly imported. After the Paris Tasting and the 60 Minutes show, sales took off and have gone up ever since. People wanted to learn and taste and US wineries started appearing all over to meet demand. As people learned more, they developed preferences for different styles, and eventually things like Meiomi became top sellers

Now people are more interested in craft beers and cocktails. The bartender is now called a "mixologist" and if you have a bunch of tattoos and spiky hair or an asymmetric haircut, you're cool and hip and creative. People in their 20s are not going to shop for a classified Bordeaux. Their parents may or may not have, but the kids aren't. They'll drink something out of a can, which can be fizzy or a mixed drink.

Yeah, there are wine bars and rosé parties, etc., but in his store, he's seeing people gravitate to craft distilleries and craft beers and he's cutting down on wine to make more room for those things.

Reply by dvogler, Jun 29.

I agree that young people seem to be going more toward craft beer and all manner of chemical dogshit in a can, but I think the wine market is still doing very well.  When I go to Washington, the places I visit to buy wine are doing a robust business as are the wineries and tasting venues (Woodinville, downtown Seattle etc.).  A tremendous percentage of women (say 25-50 years of age) are drinking red wine more than in the past (yes I pulled this from my's my perception).  When I go to parties or get togethers of any kind, there's typically more wine open than anything else and the odd dude walking around with an IPA.  Perhaps it's more about proximity to the vineyards?  I'd say Napa/Sonoma, the many AVA in Washington (and so the population of greater Seattle), BC Okanagan (and the proximity of Vancouver), that people are interested in local wine and they enjoy it and purchase it.  Meiomi is bioengineering in a glass, Apothic is probably worse, but as you say, they became wildly popular.  I've become an advocate for genuine, estate wines and I spend energy educating these unfortunate gals gulping Con-Agra experiments about what's racing down their esophagus.  I don't denigrate, I simply encourage them to taste something made with pride by the people who probably tended the vineyard and possibly picked the grapes.  Wine isn't going away in the near future. 

Reply by EMark, Jun 29.

Greg, the comments from your merchant friend were very interesting.  Thanks for posting.

Out of curiosity, what is "that city?"

Reply by GregT, Jun 29.

No wine isn't going away, but DV - you associate with a rare and sophisticated group of people. Most of us are just poor proles who hang out at the local shot-and-a-beer joint, and for us, wine is either red or white and not much beyond.

It is true that wine sales are fine, but his point was that on a daily basis, he sees who is buying what and he's seeing rocketing interest in craft distilleries, but not much growth in the wine business. So he'll keep his wine customers, but he wants to capture the hot market and right now that's craft distilleries followed by craft breweries, much like in the 1970s it was wineries. Starting from a smaller base, adding 20 new distilleries may double or triple the distilleries in a state, whereas for the wine producing regions, another 20 wineries isn't proportionately the same.

There are economic advantages to the other businesses too. A distillery or brewery doesn't have to worry about the vintage. Nor are they limited to the base material in the way a winery is limited to its grapes. They can add a little bit of cinnamon or caramel or rose petals or jalapeno peppers and instantly have four new and different products, plus their base product. He showed me a lot of the products he's carrying and I'd never heard of any of them, but apparently they have fanatic local followings.

In addition, these days they have social media which didn't exist in the early days of the wine industry. So some guy in Portland Maine raves about a new bourbon or whiskey and some guy in Portland Oregon wants to try it right away and suddenly it becomes a cult item. Some of the prices eclipse wine prices, you don't have to worry about storage, and you get an investment grade item that you can trade. Pappy Van Winkle, Michter, and a few other bourbons go for over $1000. Some whiskeys like Hotalling go for hundreds. And there are tiny producers who start in a basement and put out a product that's $50 or more. Much cheaper and easier than getting into wine - a couple guys in Brooklyn started up in their apartment.

The numbers are interesting - 204 distilleries in 2010 according to the Distilled Spirits Council of America, 1,315 by 2016, hundreds of additional approved permits today, and an expected 2,800 distilleries by 2020. That's pretty amazing growth over ten years.

More interesting is that the growth is mostly people who are looking for the newest thing, i.e. younger people. Grandpa doesn't really care to buy some liquor made by some young whippersnapper - he's loyal to his brand, which is more likely to be Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker.

It's just one observation, but he predicted the wine market and he's been in retailing for his whole life. The city was Detroit. What I've seen is that there can be some good wines made in Michigan and Ohio and Ontario, but they don't get the traction they need. People in CA or NY who drink wine don't think it's even possible to make good wine outside of France and Italy and CA, and there aren't enough locals to support really good wine. New York wine snobs don't support their own wines and for them, Michigan wine is a bad joke. Some will try it, and Grand Traverse is even sold in some NYC stores, but most local drinkers in the other states want something a bit sweet and they want to do the "wine experience", where the quality of the actual wine itself is beside the point. That's the story in places like Temecula as well. If you can make a lot of money selling plonk, why not do that? A few of the really good wineries in Michigan and Ohio couldn't make a go of it, so they closed or went native and put blackberry wine and blueberry wine on the shelves.

It's what I was curious about regarding the Okanagan wineries. It was interesting that they all seemed to have the goal of making good wine, while also making money through their tasting rooms. Good for them.

I don't drink any alcohol other than wine, so the concept of a good vs a bad craft distillery is entirely lost on me - how would you know the difference? And beer isn't something I'm crazy about either. I guess I'm just stuck in my rut.

Reply by dvogler, Jun 29.

Well Greg, you and I are the same (re: your last paragraph).

Generally, that was a depressing piece of typing.  I certainly can see truth in the premise, which is basically young people are totally unlike us.  I can't help disagreeing though about the future of wine sales on the whole.  Detroit would not be my first choice as trendsetter in wine sales for the national market.

By the way, I'm every bit a working class guy.  I know a few people in the liquor sales industry here locally.  I will ask them about this exact topic and report back at least with the facts here.

What I will admit, is that you, I, and all the people here on the forum, are rare in that we appreciate and have a passion for wine.  The average person couldn't identify more than one wine grape, or even a wine that they could say for certain that they prefer.

We could compare our love of wine to that of fine art, or music.  What percentage of people purchase original art , or go to see the performances your wife makes so beautiful?   The average d-bag is sitting on a couch watching garbage on tv, albeit maybe with a craft beer in hand.


Reply by GregT, Jun 30.

Ha! Your last paragraph is the ultimate in cynical!

I agree with you though. 

Don't get me wrong - that guy wasn't saying that wine sales are declining, just that the growth of the better stuff isn't via the next generation. It's an issue with high-end Napa wines - you can find formerly "cult" wines at Total these days, e.g. Schrader, Bryant, Colgin. The problem with those expensive wines is that they get a lot of press but they make wine seem out of reach for Joe Average. Add to that the Reidel glasses for all the different wines and the various certifications that people get these days and it seems like there's some kind of study required.

I love the BC model - 95% of them use the same glassware, the wines aren't crazy expensive, they're generally decent, and there isn't much pretense. That's how wine should be IMO.

It's true you wouldn't think of Detroit as the trendsetter but in a way when they join a trend, you know it is real. NYC, Philly, DC, Boston, SF, Seattle and Portland are all coastal cities. Probably Montreal and Vancouver in Canada. But in the vast center of the country, there are millions of people. A lot of them are drinking wine, that's for sure, but it has a lot of competition, especially now that marijuana is legal.

Reply by dvogler, Jun 30.

That last article (the spiritsbusiness) must have been written for millennials. It took about forty seconds to read.  :)

Over on the What are you drinking tonight and precisely why page, I'd posted a Fairview Cellars cab I'm bringing to a resurant (prime rib) and I said my friend is bringing a Muga Reserva, but he's since informed me it's a 2010 Sassicaia. :)

Reply by GregT, Jul 1.

Life it tough!

Reply by dvogler, Jul 2.

We both double decanted our wines and met at the restaurant.  We had them bring more glasses so we could keep them side by side.  Wow.  The Nose on the cab was classic currant/cassis, blackberry and still quite fragrant.  The Sassacaia was muted and although the mouth feel was good, it had bright cherry notes, little tannin and was leaving us perplexed.  I suggest we enjoy the Sassacaia while awating the arrival of the prime rib.  The cab sav still had fine tannins and was fantastic.  I'm wondering if the Sassacaia was WAY too young?  I've had really nice Super Tuscans for $50-120 that were heavenly, but this Sassicaia just seemed either dumb or simply not nearly enough air.  He has five more, so I guess time will tell.



Reply by dmcker, Jul 4.

DV, did you try decanting the Sassicaia? Or let it breathe for a couple hours? Sounds like it may have needed time to open up. Or then again it coud've been a bad bottle....

Like your listing of coastal cities, Greg, though D.C. seems to require its own, special category. Glad to see you already gave such to L.A. It is a unique breed, indeed, and may be functioning in an entirely different dimension.


Reply by dvogler, Jul 4.


Yes, my friend had decanted it earlier that day, for several hours.

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