Wines of British Columbia, Tourism Calgary and the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance came to New York on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, for lunch at the James Beard House with seven British Columbia wines and six women chefs. Lunch featured a collaborative menu showcasing Calgary’s “Women of the Wild West” as they presented a multi-course meal of BC VQA Wines paired with Canadian Agri-Foods.
The British Columbia Wine Institute (BCWI) was originally created by the BC Wine Act, in 1990 to create an internationally competitive wine industry. This year, the BCWI celebrates 25 years of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), a standard that guarantees the wine origin, much like European DOC regulations. Consequently, many events and initiatives are currently in place to publicize the facts and the wines, including this one. Guests included media, key wine trade and sommeliers, as well as other VIPs interested in British Columbia Wine Country and Calgary tourism.
Vancouver based sommelier, writer and wine judge Kurtis Kolt organized the menu with pairings and acted as the MC. There was a consumer dinner of the same menu and wines in the evening. The easiest way to show the lineup of chefs, food and wine pairings is to see the menu.
The wines and my Quini scores:
Internationally, it surprises many people that British Columbia even produces wine. Being so far north, above 49° latitude, the logical thought is that it must be too cold. Even those who accept that wine is made here expect it to be a marginal cool climate region, but British Columbia has the unique combination of extreme heat and cold that results in intense fruit-driven, fresh and structured wines. The Okanagan Valley, comprising, 84% of all BC’s vineyards, have a unique climate best described as a short, hot growing season with desert-like conditions. Because of the large size of the Okanagan Valley, there are moves being made to divide the region into sub-zones to reflect the varying climate and grape varieties that are successful in the different parts of the valley.
Annual precipitation (combined rainfall and snow) range between 12 inches in Osoyoos on the USA border and 16 inches in Kelowna, 62 miles to the north. The dry desert region of the south Okanagan Valley is the northern point where the network of deserts stretch right through the USA and into Mexico. Low rainfall, due to mountains to the west, and lots of sunshine make it easy to farm sustainably and help produce pure, clean fruit. The diurnal temperature swing between day and night can be as much as 86°F or more.
Even with the low rainfall and desert-like conditions, water plays an important part in the terroir. A string of lakes run from the USA border north through the Okanagan and acts as giant temperature moderators, helping to avoid excessive extremes in summer and, particularly, potentially damaging cold in the winter. The vineyards are mostly planted on the low slopes of the sometimes-steep valley walls. The north-south direction of the Okanagan Valley results in vineyards on both the east and west sides of the valley. The east side is much warmer than the west side of the valley as it receives the hot afternoon sun long into the evening. There can be ripening differences of as much as two weeks for the same variety at the same latitude depending on which side of the valley it is planted.
The dry conditions have benefits and challenges. Because of low rainfall and snowfall, irrigation is essential. Pest and disease pressure is low due to the low levels of humidity resulting in organic viticulture becoming increasingly popular. The big challenge is when the dry conditions combine with clear nights, losing the effect of clouds holding in heat, and cold arctic air flows in from the north that can send temperatures plunging and kill buds or even entire vines.
The first five wines listed are from the Okanagen, but the last, is produced southwest of Vancouver, just north of the US border. This is a fortified dessert wine, based on Foche and Merlot grapes, fortified with brandy that had been infused with unripe walnuts. A unique taste from an old French recipe, I was told.
Everything mentioned up to this point concerns the wine, but please understand that the food and pairings were also noteworthy. I especially liked Chef Beiber’s dish and how it paired with the Qwam Qwmt Syrah. If you are wondering about the name of the wine, it is aboriginal, as is the winery ownership. Close runner-ups were chef DeSousa and Chef Grimes, followed by Chef Ly and Chef Robberecht. Not knowing who was responsible for the bison tartare or pirogue served as canapés, I don’t know who to commend. The chefs flew in with ingredients in their luggage, much of the mise-en-place done at home, then getting to work in the Beard House kitchen the morning of the event. The event was a massive effort with great results, all around.
For details on BC VQA and the Wines of British Columbia, go to WineBC.com