In 'You-Know-Harry-McWatters-Would-Be-Beaming' news, the late pioneer of Canadian wine's daughters Christa-Lee and Darrien McWatters have been named two of Wine’s Most Inspiring People by Wine Industry Network Advisor, a leading industry online publication.
Both Christa-Lee and Darrien grew up in the industry as their father spearheaded everything from quality wineries (Sumac Ridge, See Ya Later Ranch, etc.) to launching the B.C. Wine Institute as its initial chair, to his position as founding chair of the B.C. Hospitality Foundation. Harry was an inspiration to many, as exemplified by Christa-Lee and Darrien following in those footsteps, now helming senior management roles of the family-founded TIME Family of Wines.
One of my favourite things in the British Columbian wine industry is the strong sense of comradery, community, and cooperation. "A rising tide floats all boats," and all that. Were it not for their father planting those roots, our industry might look quite different these days. It is people like those discussed here who propel our local industry forward.
This is probably a good time to mention how STUNNING the McWatters Collection 2017 Brut is. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc that spent 42 MONTHS ON THE LEES! That lemon curd and honey is SO comfy and nestled well into buttery brioche.
Cheers to both Christa-Lee and Darrien, for being an important part of our past, present, and future.
For on this well-deserved acclaim, click here.
I was recently on CBC Radio discussing some zero-proof (or extremely low ABV) options for those looking to expand their booze-free universe. I'm so stoked that their are FINALLY, NUMEROUS opportunities for those looking to abstain for a day, a week, a month, or forever! Here are a few favourites mentioned, and where you can find them in B.C.
Starting top-left, clockwise:
Red Racer 'Street Legal' IPA - A zesty, hoppy fruit-driven refresher.
B.C. Liquor Stores, AFBev.ca
OPUS Aperitivo Spritz - SO close to a Aperol Spritz; so fun!
Major Supermarkets like Nesters and Whole Foods. Sansorium.com
Casamara Club Sparkling Amaro Soft Drinks - Kinda between a fernet and an amaro-style fizz. Ultra-complex.
Leitz Wines - The Riesling! The Pink! The Sparkling! The Cans! Collect 'em all! To me, the best non-alcoholic wines yet.
AFBev,ca, Vancouver: Drive Canteen, Kelowna: Wine & Beyond
Oddbird Sparkling Rosé - Chardonnay & Pinot Noir goodness from the Languedoc in France.
Benjamin Bridge Piquette Zero - A Nova Scotian take on the ever-growing, super-tasting Piquette category.
SofterDrink.ca, Victoria: Vessel
Big Drop Brewing Co. Ales - Given blind, I dunno if I'd automatically assume they're like 0.4% alcohol.
OPUS Gin & Tonic - Just what you'd hope for in the category.
Major Supermarkets like Nesters and Whole Foods. Sansorium.com
Undone Spirits - Like the real things, but a little less weight and concentration.
Victoria: Vintage Spirits, Kelowna: Wine & Beyond, SofterDrink.ca
A couple others you may have caught me mentioning, both from our friends on Vancouver Island.
Phillips iota Hazy IPA - Is this one of my absolute favourite, palate-deceiving, non-alcoholic craft beers out there? Yes!
AFBev.ca, Local Liquor Stores, PhillipsBeer.com
Lumette London Dry - Juniper berry, lemon, star anise, and all class. Take a bow, Team Lumette!
EnjoyLumette.com, Other Retail HERE
So, I'm doing the Dry January thing.
I've done it before, a few times. I've never done the whole month. Last year's American shenanigans on January 6 had me reaching for a Pinot Noir right quick. (I know, I know.)
But here I am again. So why do I do it?
First off, being in the wine industry, it is ALWAYS around. It's easy to pay no mind to consistency, but a couple glasses a day add up. And, of course, there are the days where we really go for it. It's easy to not give that much thought to 30-60-90 days of having drinks in a row.
Normally (NORMALLY!) it's in check, but I'm always hyper-sensitive to how wine/booze affects me. I get paranoid. I check in with my family doctor and get bloodwork done often, mainly to keep tabs on the ol' liver. It's always fine and healthy, which I attribute to eating well, a bit of exercise, and - I dunno - luck?
But more than anything, a break from booze certainly can't hurt. I find it's a good way of recalibrating myself.
What makes things MUCH easier these days is the accessibility of well-crafted, zero-proof beer, wine, and spirits. The category has exploded over the last few years and I'm sure the benefits reverberate wide.
So here we are, with a couple German drops I sourced locally at The Drive Canteen, here in Vancouver.
Leitz Zero Point Five Pinot Noir is tasty, but to me it's really not that much of a departure from really good (like really good) grape juice. It's not particularly sweet like Welch's, but it definitely tastes VERY PURPLE with not much else going on. It's not particularly 'wine'-y, but I'd imagine with something rich and salty - a wild mushroom and parmesan risotto, maybe - it'd balance things well.
Leitz 'Eins Zwei Zero' Sparkling Non-Alcoholic Riesling, simply put, blew me away. My (admittedly odd) marker of how good a low-booze/no-booze option is to think if I was at an event or party, a drink or two in, and someone passed me said drink. Were I to take an initial sip or two of this wine without paying too much attention, I can pretty much assure I'd think it was a legit Riesling that happened to be low-alcohol. That touch of spritz to it lifts up all those key limes, Granny Smith apples, and dollops of marmalade well.
There's no way I can remember the first time (or first few times, really) I had wines from Oxford Landing of Australia.
It would have been in the 1990's, but even though I can't recall specifics, I can pretty much tell you why I had them.
I didn't know much about wine when I knocked 'em back way back when, but they likely acted as a step in my self-education of grape varieties and a little food pairing, too.
I went on from there, getting certified by WSET and various other educational bodies, while climbing the industry ladder from serving, to managing, to wine director roles and beyond. I learned and tasted everything from Bonarda to Beaujolais, from Fino to Falanghina, from Pinot to Pet-Nat. While I enjoyed the Oxford Landing wines back in the day, I guess you could say I simply moved on and never looked back.
It had been many years since I'd even thought about them, until a few weeks back when the folks from Pacific Wine & Spirits, a local wine importer, offered to send me a quartet of their new releases which featured a complete aesthetic brand refresh.
First off: how sharp are those bottles? Well done to all involved in that. They're quite handsome, super-clean, and will likely jump off the shelf, hardly being mistaken for other brands.
Truth be told, I didn't hold much hope. If I liked them in my early-twenties; what are the odds they'd suit my mid-forties palate? Frankly, I wasn't even sure if Oxford Landing was an actual winery, a co-op kinda scenario, or a virtual brand produced by some skyscraper-dwelling board of directors, hardly tethered to anything authentic.
Egg. Meet face.
The (very real) winery based in the Riverland region, South Australia along the Murray River was started by Wyndham Hill-Smith (known as 'Wyndy,' natch) in 1958?
Hill-Smith? As in the founding family of Australian wine who are still at the helm of Pewsey Vale, Heggies, Yalumba, and so on? Yeah, THAT family! In fact, Oxford Landing used to be known as Yalumba River Estate.
Well, as the Hill-Smith family are wont to do, they're progressive in their winegrowing approach and overall business practices. They're certified sustainable, bottle in lightweight glass, recycle 100% of their wastewater, and in 2007 embarked on a revegetation project planting 200,000 native trees and shrubs in 600 hectares of surrounding farmland, with all vines split into 150 two-hectare blocks, creating many whole ecosystems throughout the property. For the sake of ticking another box, I'll share that the wines are vegan, too.
Is it a big brand? Yeah, kinda. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Particularly if an entity of this size can demonstrate that sustainability and quality can co-exist in authentic wines of place. Untwisting caps and getting into them, I was quite impressed by their quality. Since they were wines of my youth I thought they'd be, I dunno, too sweet, confected, or simple for my ALL-GROWED UP PALATE.
Nope. They're solid. They carry varietal typicity and offer a sense of (sunny, breezy) place. For a good dollop of icing on the cake, they're line-priced at around 16 bucks on private store shelves around Vancouver. Need an armload of crowd-pleasing, tasty wines that won't break the bank? Here you go.
Oxford Landing Estates Pinot Gris 2020 - Naturally fermented with three months of daily lees-stirring, there's ALL the citrus with pomelo, pink grapefruit and lime and the forefront, finishing with lemon curd and a squeeze of blood orange at the end. There's a touch of river-rock salinity in there, too; I love that.
In BC: Urban Liquor (Kelowna), Fremont Liquor (Port Coquitlam), Wine & Beyond (Kelowna), Liquor Planet (Victoria)
Oxford Landing Estates Chardonnay 2020 - Wild fermented with lees contact, and a subtle dose of oak, it has the crunch, juicy acidity of fresh green grapes, but those grapes are served atop a slice of lemon meringue pie with a marzipan crust.
In BC: Kitsilano Wine Cellar (Vancouver), Newport Liquor Store (Vancouver), Everything Wine (Surrey, Victoria, North Van), Greenrock Liquor (Nanaimo)
Oxford Landing Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 - Gobs of roasted red bell pepper are lifted by fresh basil and sage, finishing off with a good smattering of fennel seeds. This is more of a medium-weight Cabernet, a juicier, softer style than what some may be used to, but this gentler structural expression should make it more dynamic at the dinner table.
In BC: New District (Vancouver), Urban Liquor (Kelowna), Liquor Plus (Saanich), Nesters (Whistler), Greenrock Liquor, (Nanaimo)
Oxford Landing Estates Shiraz 2018 - This wine comes in at a civilized 13.5% alcohol, so no need to worry about it being too bombastic. A generous helping of blueberry compote has a handful of affable sour cherries at its core. That's what I got coming out of the gate, but further sips brought a lashing of dark chocolate and a lick of spearmint towards the finish.
In BC: Liberty Wine (Commercial Drive, Vancouver), Liquor Plus (Saanich), Greenrock Liquor (Nanaimo), Everything Wine (Surrey), Spinnakers (Victoria)
Looking for 'em around your neck of the woods? Give Wine-Searcher a whirl: