By Max Dobrochodow, General Manager, Edible Canada & Eric Pateman, President, Edible Canada
Recently, we had an opportunity to spend a few days wine touring in the snowy, cold Okanagan with some members of the Edible Canada management team. While we had hoped for a great week of learning, we were totally unprepared for what would transpire, especially after decades of touring the area and drinking, some might say, copious amounts of British Columbia wine.
For years we have heard talk of the soil, the dirt, the rocks and everything in the base layer of the ground that influences taste or “sense of place”. And while this is certainly true to some extent, it is the growth and influence of natural wine making that is taking the Okanagan by storm.
While tasting and conversing with legendary local winemakers including Rhys Pender, Michael Bartier, Jay Drysdale and Matt Dumayne – all of them extolled the virtues of natural wine making which includes using natural fermentation and yeasts from the vineyard to ferment the wines. After going winery to winery over 4 days and hearing the same story from each wine maker it became very clear a new trend is evolving in the valley. Not only are they talking about it, but they showed us the proof in the glass as we tasted the difference between natural ferment wines and more traditional inoculated wines. It was incredible to taste the same wine produced naturally beside one made with commercial yeast. The natural wine was always far more expressive, complex and enduring! It is very clear that for the region to really showcase its “sense of place” or true terroir, this is a necessary method of production.
Most commercial wines are mass-made and artificially manipulated at every stage of production. Many wineries make wines created from grapes that have been farmed using artificial fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. After the grapes are picked and during the winemaking process, artificial yeasts are often used, along with more than a dozen permitted additives that are intended to improve body, colour, clarity and taste of the wine. Large amounts of sulphur dioxide are also used frequently as a preservative. While many large scale producers will argue this is necessary to provide a consistent product that consumers want, I would argue it removes the real essence of what wine is supposed to be – a living,
breathing entity that changes every year based on growing conditions, the fermenting conditions, and the storage conditions as even in the bottle, wines will change slightly every day if allowed too. For a region to truly express itself, natural wine making seems to be the answer!
So the next time you go into your local wine store, ask the sales staff to direct you to their selection of natural, bio-dynamic, or wild ferment wines from BC (and Canada) and get a new found “sense of place” for our amazing country!
If you can make it to the Okanagan, go and visit these wineries who are extolling the virtues of natural wine making and taste the difference for yourself!
And ask the question at most wineries as currently, very few wineries in the Okanagan are 100% natural, but many of specific wines from various producers are including the likes of iconic BC producers such as Joie and Tantalus who both use this method to create gorgeous chardonnay’s.