OK, what exactly is it about wine?? It’s like a magic potion! Why do we love it so?
We love it because it IS magic. It’s an elixir that can connect us with so many things. Wine is about geography, nature, farming, art, science, history, accident, and surprise. It can link us to the place where it’s made and with its makers and their passion. But most importantly, wine connects us with each other. It’s part of the world of the senses and transports us to that world. I love being part of that magic. Our experiences with wine will never duplicate. We can never know it all. There’s always something more to learn and feel. That’s why we keep going back to it.
You’re a banking lawyer turned wine explorer – that sounds like quite the fantastical journey! We’d love to know the story behind the creation of TT Wine Explorer.
Where to start? We’ll need a few bottles… Essentially, the journey’s about transitioning between stages and layers in my life. It’s about making the shift from working as a lawyer for many years to striking out on my own to carve a new path for myself in another realm and contribute in a different way.
I was in Vancouver and Victoria, going back and forth between the two. I had just moved back to BC after having lived in Sydney, Australia for more than a decade. The Australian chapter was a wonderful one and forms a significant part of my being for many reasons. But there was a lot of transition and challenge on a few fronts when I came back to Canada. At a deep level, I felt that if there was ever a time to make a change and follow other passions, it was when I was in the middle of the chaos. Looking back on it, I think it was also a way to feel I had a greater hand in my destiny and not just be defined by everything swirling around outside of me.
So I grabbed hold of two constants which have been there through my adult life: wine and travel. You know, some of the good stuff. But that stuff’s not only fun – it can be transformative. That’s the part which makes me tick and I wanted to run with it. I wanted to find a way to take people on journeys using wine as the vehicle. So I pursued formal wine studies, went to the Okanagan Valley to learn as much as I could about everything there, and then came back to Vancouver to start my own wine consultancy. It was a lot at once, but in fact, this was building on years of my own anecdotal training and wine travel which I did wherever and whenever I could and when I wasn’t pounding it out in the office.
This shift in identity was really just scraping back a few layers to reveal what had been obvious all along. I’ve always loved geography, travel, and exploring. I wanted to figure out a way to make it my “job”.
It seems like everyone is drinking a little more wine during these challenging and strange times. Virtual wine tastings and happy hours seem to be part of the “new norm”. Do you think that they’re here to stay?
Yes, without a doubt. Wine, wifi and connectivity is not going away. This goes back to the point about how wine connects us: whether it’s clinking glasses virtually as we check in with each other, to using this time as an opportunity to learn new things, including more about wine and all of the stories, art and science around it. It’s a way to travel. It’s a way to embrace the world of the senses without having to go very far. Even when things get “back to normal” (whatever that is), I feel that people are still going to want to use “virtual venues” for these reasons. Not everyone can travel physically wherever they like and when they like, but many of us can remain connected to other people and places in this manner.
Wine is a deep and often intimidating topic. What are your tips for people who want to start learning more about wine?
ABT – Always Be Tasting. Keep things fun and relaxed. ‘Taste around’ something which you like or are curious to try. For example, let’s say there’s an Okanagan Chardonnay which you like and is your “go-to” house wine. Try a Chardonnay from another Okanagan Valley producer or from a totally different wine region altogether (say Argentina). Observe how you experience different wines and whether you have any preferences. Think about why. Is it the producer’s style, the winemaking technique or maybe the sense of place from where it comes? By reading wine labels or googling a specific wine or winery you can learn a lot. For example, how long the wine was aged for if other grape varieties were blended in if oak barrels were used at all during the winemaking process, or what kind of climate the grapes have been grown in. These are just a few of the many factors shaping the wine in our glass.
Or choose a type of wine which you’ve never tasted before. Maybe it’s a different grape (Riesling anyone? It rocks by the way), or from a region, you’ve never explored (like a different BC sub-region or from further beyond – Spain, South Africa, New Zealand?). By remembering your reaction to certain wines, or just intuitively, you’ll start to see patterns in what you like. You can choose to learn as little or as much as you’d like along the way.
Remember to take pictures of wine labels (front and back) either on your phone or with an app like Vivino so that you have a record of what you like. Maybe even make a few notes if you’re keen. What does it taste like? What is it about that wine which you like? (Aroma, flavours, textures, the “finish” it leaves with you – is it pleasing and delicious? Did it pair well with any food which you had with it?). It can be just a few words that you jot down. That way, when you go to your wine store (or call them with an order) or ask your wine pro friend, you can tell them what you like and ask them to suggest something new for you to try which falls within your budget range.
Tasting with other wine explorers is another great way to learn. Why not incorporate a little wine tasting into your next Zoom call with the ladies? Everyone just needs to pour what they want into their glass and come to the party ready to tell the others what they’re tasting and a little bit about it. (When we’re able to gather again, do the same thing in person over a happy hour where each person brings their bottle in a brown bag so that everyone can taste it “blind” before you reveal what it is).
My tips above all involve experience, memory or stories. I think this is how we best connect with, or learn about wine. Of course there are an endless number of blogs, books and courses into which one can dive to learn a ton about wine. This goes hand in hand with the experiential. I do it all the time! I’m constantly reading and studying. I’d be very happy to make recommendations to anyone out there. Feel free to drop me a line.
Just on that, most of us have a little more time to read these days – what are your top three interesting or fun reads about wine?
As you might imagine, my list is long. But here are a couple faves which you might pair with these particular times: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker. A really well written, informative and entertaining read. A memoir about the author’s foray as a journalist/editor into the world of wine and sommeliers (from being a “cellar rat” to behind the scenes at Eleven Madison Park). A great book for wine nerds, complete wine novices and everyone in between. Wine & War by Don and Petie Kladstrup. An excellent historical account of various steps French vignerons and their community took during World War II and the Vichy Regime to hide, preserve and save their wine and way of life. Fascinating and inspiring. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. This is for historical fiction lovers. It’s not exclusively about wine, but some beautiful bottles of wine make cameos during this intriguing story set in Moscow during WWI and the Russian Revolution. The protagonist is living his own kind of self-isolation. These books were all page-turners for me.
Travel IS your business. How has the Covid-19 crisis-affected you and are you exploring new ways to connect with your clients?
Absolutely and yes. All my plans for “in-person” City wine tastings and BC wine country excursions ground to a halt with the Covid-19 Lockdown. No one can get on to roads or into planes to travel, let alone gather in office boardrooms, wine bars or at home for dinner parties. This means that I need to adapt and it has kicked my butt into implementing concepts that had been lurking on the back and side burners for me. It’s time to carve another niche through the chaos (yet again). But this time, I have the foundation of what it is that I “do” and how I strive to deliver wine journeys and experiences for others. Given my focus on “wine journey design”, I feel that I can lead and deliver these wine experiences in supplemental ways while staying true to my mission and brand. This means using digital and virtual spaces to lead the journey. It also means creating more content to offer into those spaces. I have started to write magazine and blog pieces about wine and wine travel which I’m loving and would like to do more of that.
How is the BC wine industry coping right now?
These are extremely challenging times for the entire food and beverage industry. Many business owners operating in this space feel that they will not survive 2020. It has been catastrophic for employees. In terms of the BC wine industry specifically, the pursuit and passion of its stakeholders and supporters is really coming through. Right now, it’s all about direct to consumer sales and selling through wine stores (or some restaurants which offer take-out or delivery).
Tasting rooms are shuttered as are dine-in restaurant distribution channels (which form a huge part of sales for many wineries). So the vino needs to get directly to the consumers as they self-isolate.
BC wineries are banding together and with other industry players to arrange more ways to get that wine to your door. And there are great deals if you purchase directly from a winery, who will ship directly to you. This is an effective way to support our industry. Think about forming a syndicate with some friends to buy a case of wine from a BC winery and then do some doorstep deliveries in your circles. Bonus: it’s a great way to kick start your own virtual happy hour to then taste the wines together! April is BC Wine Month. Support local as and when you can.
Wineries, wine shops, and wine professionals are offering virtual wine tastings to keep everyone connected with the wine and each other.
Do you actually have a favourite wine?
I’ll try anything and always want to keep tasting. So I don’t really stick with a few picks. That’s why I’m TT Wine Explorer. Different days, scenes, moods, food and people will call for a different wine to suit or try in the moment. But all being equal, my “go to’ wine is probably Pinot Noir. When done right, it’s ethereal and one doesn’t even want to use words to describe it. It just is. Pinot Noir is generally high in acidity and low in tannin, making it a wonderful wine to have on its own or with food. I have it with almost everything (cheese plates, quinoa salad, ocean trout, salmon, pizza, pasta, steak….it goes on). If stranded on an island in isolation for a month (let’s just say) and I was offered one type of wine to order by the case, it would probably be a light, elegant style of Pinot Noir (oh yeah, or a dry Riesling or Brut Champagne).
We’re always looking for a good table wine for $20 or under. Is there one?
Absolutely! There’s a lot of great wine out there for under $20. But since this is BC Wine Month, I’ll focus on my home province here. There’s fantastic value to be had in the $20 to $30 range when you stack BC wine picks up against similar types of wines with higher price tags from other regions.
If you’ve got a favourite local wine store, give them a few examples of the types of wines you like and ask them to give you a few recommendations of BC wines for under $25 (including taxes). Then if you find a one or two you like, consider buying more from the shop or direct from the winery.
I just had a quick look on the BC Liquor Store website to see what they’ve got going for under $20 at the moment. A few items which would be in my shopping cart to try out would include: Bartier Bros (Chardonnay or Rosé), Chaberton (Madeleine Sylvaner), Clos Du Soleil (Fumé Blanc), Howling Bluff (Sauvignon Blanc), OK Crush Pad (Cabernet Franc Merlot), Rust (Gamay Noir), Unsworth (Pinot Gris), Wild Goose (Autumn Gold) – just to start…
You have been a supporter of HK from the very beginning. Do you have a favourite piece and why?
The minute I tried the Ruby Tunic and Florence Slip Dress I knew that they were for me. Truth be told, I’m not a big shopper and I don’t really love the process. So when I try something on which feels right instantly, I grab it. That’s how I felt about my HK pieces. Their flow and texture are perfect. Almost imperceptible on the skin – just part of me.
They are elegant, versatile and practical. I love how everything is black. Black has always been a staple for me and it really comes in handy now as my “somm attire”. I’m always on the move, whether it’s on foot, in the car heading to wine country or getting on a plane to head further afield. My HK pieces are perfect for travel because of their classic style and they don’t mind being rolled into my bag.
You can rock the Ruby Tunic with everything from jeans and boots to black satin tuxedo pants and heels. (It would be great with black leggings and flats too, but I feel like I’m living in leggings 24/7 these days…). And the Florence Slip Dress? Well the minute Dr. Henry says that we may hit the roads again, it’ll be in the car with me (and my Panama hat) as I zoom to the Okanagan Valley for some vineyard wanders.