I was in Seattle for a couple days over the long weekend and came away both amazed — and impressed — at the approach taken towards wine (including how the local wine industry is supported). And it left me wondering — should that be the model we are looking for in BC?
Here are some strong arguments in favour (in chronological order):
Thursday, Sept. 2nd, 6:30 pm — an hour into the Amtrak ride to Seattle (an option chosen to beat the Labour Day line ups), and I am hoping for a glass of wine to go with dinner. Maybe “hoping” is the wrong word; given my experience on airlines — poor quality, high price — “dreaming” might be a better description. So imagine my surprise when the selections are half bottles of the 2007 Hahn Cabernet and 2008 Ste. Michelle Chardonnay! Both are highly rated, terrific wines and they went for…$13!! I later saw full bottles in stores for $22…now that is a deal! I know of now such opportunity in B.C. (or Canada, for that matter) when it comes to wine value on rail, plane or any other commercial transportation.
Friday, Sept. 3rd, 10 am — obligatory Starbucks in front of me, I pick up a free copy of “SeattleMet” magazine whose cover reads “100 Best Washington Wines”. In addition to twelve pages of wine reviews (and not just the “heavy hitters” like Woodward Canyon and Quilceda Creek; many I have never heard of, and most have high scores from the Wine Spectator or Parker), I read that the industry has grown from 150 wineries in 2000 to 650 today…could that be where we are going in B.C.?
Friday, Sept. 3rd, 4pm — after a thoroughly enjoyable visit to the Seattle Art Gallery (both an Andy Warhol and Kurt Cobain exhibition), I drop in at their Taste restaurant to see if I can just have a glass of wine. “Absolutely”, says the hostess, showing me to a seat at the bar. Then, in response to my “what do you have by the glass” question, the exuberant and slightly bemused bartender gives me a list of almost 80 wines, all from Washington and Oregon, few of which I have ever heard of, and 15 of which are available by the glass!!! Looking for a Rose, I am given two to try first before I have to choose — each under $10 a glass.
I said I was impressed, being a B.C. “wino”, which quickly resulted in the Beverage Director Kris Rezac coming over for a chat. He told me all the wines on the list come from within 150 miles, and many are from smaller wineries who make limited quantities. His list changes regularly and he is always looking for new wines. I asked him about BC wines, which he is also interested in (they fit the 150 mile profile) but is having trouble finding. After saying I would send him some names, he poured me a sample of a local Gamay/Pinot blend by Chehalem called Cerise (a beauty). And as he leaves, Kris points out you can also buy the wines to take home at a 25% discount!
Now compare this to our experience in BC. I love the VAG, but there is no quality wine selection, let alone quality BC wine selection. And while an increasing number of restaurants do have good BC wine lists (places like the Naramata Inn and Spa, Cafe Brio in Victoria and Lift in False Creek), I don’t know any offering 20 B.C. wines by the glass.
Friday, September 3rd, 7pm — with my son dropped off at the Megadeth/Slayer concert (our reason for being in Seattle), I settle in at Cafe Campagne for a french bistro dinner. The food was fabulous (including a divine country pate), and the wine list stunning, with well over 20 wines wines by the glass (including six different Roses) and 30 half bottles! Dining alone, I chose a split of Bergstrom Cumberland Pinot Noir (’92’ by Parker) that was stunning.
Once again, think about the comparable experience for a single diner in Vancouver. It’s hard to think of a restaurant with that kind of options.
September 4th, 10 am — looking to buy my maximum 1.5 litres of wine to bring home that night, I am confronted — again — by a great selection of half bottles of local and imported wines at Pike & Western Wine Shoppe, DeLaurenti Food and Wine, and Sixth Avenue Wine Seller. Selections from Washington, Oregon, California — as well as Chateuneufs from France and Barolos and Babarescos from Italy — gets me thinking. If I go for half bottles, I can get four rather than two. And with my wife not drinking reds, that is a perfect size when I eventually pull them out of my cellar (as wines over 8 years old just don’t last over night). I end up choosing the 2007 Vieux Telegraph Chateauneuf and the 2003 Paje Barbaresco from Roagne, both 95+ wines by that will age for decades.
There is, of course, no such selection of half-bottles in our government liquor stores. And while I give credit to Marquis Wine Cellars, Liberty Wine Merchants and Everything Wine for carrying more, they don’t have near the selection — or pricing — that I saw in Seattle.
So put it all together, and I think there is a compelling reason to look to our friends to the south when it comes to the future of wine here in B.C. The combination of prices, selection, quality and — perhaps most importantly — support for their smaller, boutique wineries would look very good here!