During Christmas, my in-laws came to visit from their home in southeast Portland. My mother-in-law and I don't have the stereotypical relationship played out in TV sitcoms - rather, we get along quite nicely, thank you very much.
That's probably why Jean felt comfortable asking me point-blank: Why do I give British Columbia wines so much ink?
She was looking through our Winter issue, which had a group of features called "A Wine Lovers Guide to the Okanagan Valley" and the results of our annual Platinum Judging, which highlighted seven spectacular wines from Jackson-Triggs Vintners in Oliver, B.C.
B.C. wines aren't readily available to her in Clackamas County, Ore. She's a good five hours' drive from Vancouver, B.C., and a full eight hours from the Okanagan Valley. Why am I teasing her with reviews of high-quality but unattainable wines?
That's an excellent question, one I am asked with regularity.
When we came up with the idea for Wine Press Northwest in the fall of 1997, we momentarily considered making it a Washington-only publication. Quickly, my father-in-law said we'd be fools to ignore the burgeoning Oregon wine industry. He was right, of course. At the time, Washington and Oregon had about 100 wineries each. We then looked at British Columbia, which had some 35 wineries at the time. We saw the vineyards being planted and the wines being made and ultimately decided we'd be fools if we didn't include our neighbors to the north. (We also added Idaho, which had a dozen wineries then, partly because of its connections to the Washington wine industry and partly because it wouldn't take a lot more effort to keep a close eye on the region.)
Seven years later, I'm happy with those early decisions.
Since our first issue in Spring 1998, we've provided plenty of coverage of British Columbia, balanced in proportion to the size of the province's wine industry compared with Washington and Oregon. We've featured the Okanagan, the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island as wine-touring destinations. We've reviewed hundreds of wines. We even awarded Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in Summerland, B.C., our Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year in 2003.
Plenty of wine merchants, wine stewards and consumers have expressed frustration because they can't get the wines we review unless they drive up to the province. I once walked into a Seattle wine shop and was accused of being Canadian. (In fact, if you go back three or four generations, you'll find some French-Canadian roots in my heritage.)
I feel your pain. That doesn't mean we're going to stop reviewing the wines. And here are some reasons why:
-- The Okanagan Valley is one of the most exciting new wine regions in North America. It is a thrill to see this area emerge before my eyes, and I would be remiss as a journalist to ignore it because of inconvenient accessibility.
-- B.C. ice wines are amazing, and other varieties are exotic. What's a better conversation starter than popping the cork on an Auxerrois or Ehrenfelser?
-- B.C. isn't that far away, and wine is a good excuse to go there. I live 30 minutes from the Oregon border, yet I can be in the Okanagan in just over four hours. From Seattle, the Lower Mainland is a couple of hours away.
-- Bringing B.C. wine home is no big deal. As long as it's for personal consumption, you'll pay less than 25 cents per liter in U.S. Customs tax. If you are from Washington, you'll pay about another dollar to the state Liquor Control Board. (And don't forget your passport; some border folks are sticklers about that.)
-- B.C. wines are finding their way into the states, particularly the West Coast. As production ramps up, the wineries have more wine to export. So now you'll now find Jackson-Triggs, Tinhorn Creek and Mission Hill showing up in Seattle and Portland wine shops. I would like to think we have played some small part in this because our coverage has helped create demand.
The truth is, many B.C. wines are becoming just as accessible as cult Cabs and Pinot Noirs from Washington and Oregon. Finding them is half the fun - and enjoying them is the other half.
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I am pleased to introduce a new columnist this issue.
Teri Citterman joins our cast, offering her perspectives as a young wine lover living in Seattle. Her experiences in urban life - and how they relate to wine - are as insightful as her writing style is enjoyable.