Two years ago I traveled to the Okanagan Valley to experience the wines as I considered importing them to California. There are some great wines to be found, though I’m not importing any Canadian wine because of small quantities, duties and taxes that were too much as a new wine importer.
If from June 6-8, you’ll be attending the Wine Bloggers Conference here are my four tips to visiting wineries in Okanagan Valley:
1. Beautiful Okanagan Valley: Better whites in north, better reds in south
The Wine Bloggers Conference is set in Penticton, the southern city of Okanagan Valley. This area has some of the best wines in the entire valley (and British Columbia) with higher quality red wines. If you have the time and want a gorgeous two hour drive go north towards Kelowna. Along the way you can stop at wineries that have better white wines, lighter in style with less oak than we see in the United States. Also, if you visit any liquor stores, you’ll find lighter style wines from the Southern Hemisphere imported to Canada that you might not find in the United States.
2. Get ready for more than red and white wine
The Okanagan Valley has excellent red and white wines, but there’s more. By now you are preparing for Canadian ice wine. Also, their sparkling wines are receiving some of the highest accolades in international competitions. I was very surprised to find sparkling mead called Joy by Meadow Vista Honey Wines or the fermented and infused wines with sage and the “Flame” with a hot pepper at Silver Sage Winery. These wines are not gimmicks they are quite interesting and definitely worth trying.
3. Three small to medium size wineries to visit
As part of the conference you will have a tasting of the Great Estates of the Okanagan, (aka the larger wineries owned by the same company). If you are looking for small- to medium-size wineries to visit or try, check out these three.
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery – perhaps the best winery in Canada as both red and white wines are incredible
Road 13 – great winery doing some unique blending lots of wines I’ve never tried blended before or since
Desert Hills Estate Winery – the smallest winery on the list with outstanding red wines
4. If you try something you like grab it
Beyond the ice wine of Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin it’s not common to see Canadian wine in the US. If you try a wine and really like it buy it then as it may be difficult to find elsewhere even in Canada.
Why would a wine importer celebrate the University of San Diego's Nonprofit Leadership and Management program's 10 year anniversary?
I'm a graduate of the master's program prior to my career change to the wine industry. When I worked full-time for Rady Children's Hospital Foundation, I was also a full-time student in the master's program. Then, I went to work for the Old Globe Theatre. As a fundraiser at The Old Globe, often I would attend private parties at donors' homes. We didn't want to get too crazy in front of donors, yet still fit in so we would have one glass of wine. Many of the supporters of the theatre also had a great appreciation for wine. At their homes there would be incredible wines better than what I was having at parties at my friend's homes. Quickly I was learning and becoming very interested in wine.
While pondering the career change, I took courses in San Diego State University's Business of Wine Program. There I learned the characteristics of other wine professionals, their daily roles and also an incredible amount about wine around the world.
Then, I took the leap. I registered for the wine immersion program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. I quit my job. I put my house on the market (it was going to sit empty for weeks while I was at the CIA) and it sold in 10 days. It quickly became more than a career change...a life change. That's all before I moved to Mendoza, Argentina.
Wow, what a lengthy introduction into why I'm excited for USD Nonprofit Program celebrating 10 years!
The USD program is the premier graduate program in nonprofit management and leadership. I looked at every other nonprofit and public administration program offered in the United States and USD is number one. It's a small, intimate program with less than 30 new students accepted each year. Some students complete the program in two years, others take longer depending on other life time commitments.
It's a combination of what you would expect with graduate level theory and practical projects in the community. Some project work includes board development, campaigns to raise money for organizations and programs designed and based on extensive literature reviews, models of best practices. There are some university professors teaching the course as well as very experienced practitioners. My advocacy course was co-taught by a former state assemblyman, imagine what you can learn from that type of an insider.
With the program housed in the School of Leadership Education Sciences, the leadership classes prepare you to go beyond nonprofit practices and become a leader in the sector and community. There are can be extreme personal growth depending on how much effort the student is willing to undertake.
After 10 years, the program has a pretty incredible network. As an alumnus, if I have a nonprofit need I look at the Best Practices Library or I think about a professor or alumni I can ask if they have done a similar project. Many of the connections made as students continue for life. I've vacationed with a few of my former classmates and some have been part of each others weddings.
USD's nonprofit program has allowed me to go beyond the glass in evaluating wines to import from Argentina to the US. I care about the community behind the glass (so much so it's part of the company's name) and telling the story of the people who create the wines.
I'm still involved with the nonprofit sector and now combining it with wine. For example, I'm helping the Women's Wine Alliance in San Diego gain their nonprofit status. When I meet with prospective USD students and other nonprofit leaders needing advice we do so now with a glass of wine.
I'm very happy with my experience and to raise a glass to USD!
I lived in Mendoza during 2009 and 2010 with a return visit from April to May 2011. Earlier this month, I spent 10 days in Mendoza and the five biggest changes for wineries in Mendoza that I noticed were the following:
1. Winemaker Projects
Most of the winemakers at large- to medium-sized wineries now also have their own separate projects, not affiliated with their winery. Primarily, they are sourcing their grapes from Valle de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo. I tried several of these wines though I don’t think we will see them outside of Argentina for a few years as their total production is very small around 2,500 bottles.
Since 2002, new wineries have been established from previous grape growers who sold all of their grapes to large wineries. The new wineries have built garage size wineries on their property or rent tanks and barrels from other wineries to create their own wines. Many of these small wineries now produce some of the most exciting and highly acclaimed wines. In the next 5-10 years, we could see similar results from the winemaker projects.
2. Convection Toast vs. Medium Toast
I had a friend visiting from the United States and we went to three of the area’s most prominent wineries. I’ve been in hundreds of barrel rooms in Mendoza and it was at the first winery I noticed many of the barrels said CT meaning convection toast. Yes, there were still oak barrels with MT for medium toast, plus a mix of French and American oak.
Convection toast barrels are toasted in an airtight convection oven as the ventilation system expels superheated purified air into a fusion chamber and then mixed with purified air at room temperature. The circulation of hot air produces a softer, slower toasting that allows the winemaker to customize the
barrel’s intensity and concentration of aromas in the wine.
Medium toast barrels impart spicy, woodsy and vanilla tones to the wine. Medium plus toast imparts baking spices, roasted and toasted elements.
Winemakers I met with shared they preferred the convection toast barrels as there were more consistent qualities throughout all of the wine in the barrel compared to medium toast barrels in which sections of the barrel had stronger elements than other sections.
3. New Varietals
Many wineries produce wine from Malbec and Torrontes the signature grapes of Argentina. The new trends in varietals in Mendoza differ by region.
There are huge variations between these wines, based on the winery and vintages. I would recommend trying these varietals from these regions by the glass or privately (not at a special dinner) as you may find some you’d like to use them in a sangria mix.
4. Tourists & Pesos
My travels were during off-season for tourists, though many in the tourism industry in Mendoza shared the numbers were low this past summer season. Hotel, airline and restaurant prices have increased significantly in the last few years due to an inflation rate of 10-25% depending on the source.
While I was there the official exchange rate for pesos to dollars was 5.14 to 1. On the black market (known as blue) the rate was ranged from 8.10 (up to 8.44 in some areas) to 1. You can read more about in The Wall Street Journal.
5. Use Your Laptop
If you are planning to visit or conduct research on wineries in Argentina make sure to bring your laptop. Unfortunately, many winery websites still use Flash and not user friendly for the iPad. Plus, brush up on your Spanish as many of the winery websites offer English versions of their website, though with very little information compared to the Spanish sections.