Two weeks ago I drove up to Penticton, BC to speak with a group of music teachers from the BCRMTA’s South Okanagan region. It was a wonderful opportunity to present four of our five BC Legacy Composer Documentary films. I tried to tell them about the composer’s lives, and to place them in the social, political, and musical context of their time,

One of the wonderful things about giving the talk was the chance to meet with the music teachers present as well as meet composers Ernst Schneider and Anita Perry and two younger emerging composers. It was a pleasure to be able to make those connections and have the opportunity to talk about the CMC and how the organization is renewing and revitalizing itself. Many thanks to Carmen Leier, the President of the South Okanagan Branch of the BC Registered Music Teachers Association, who organized the event.

We took the spectacular southern route on our way up, driving the Hope Princeton Highway over the Hope Slide, which is remarkably healed and grown-over now, compared with the early days after that awful tragedy. It was an epic drive on those last sunny days of October, with vibrant, bright yellow aspens and poplars lining the road.

 

Arriving late in Penticton, we walked to the closest restaurant for dinner. The server, Kelly, recommended a glass of Time Meritage to go with our meals. She was knowledgeable and passionate about the Okanagan and the wines of the area. She talked to us about how it is the wines that have a real story behind them that she finds the most interesting to drink. It made me think about composers and Canadian music and my own belief that it’s telling the stories that bring those composers to life that’s most important to engage audiences.

The presentation and meetings wrapped up by 3pm the next day, Friday, so we headed up into the Naramata Bench to re-visit a group of favoured wineries we remembered fondly from our first visit to the Bench ten years ago.

Our first stop was Joie. We arrived as a group of workers were using front loaders to move huge vats of must. They waved us up the drive and we walked up to their beautiful new tasting room. It was deserted. Eventually, though, a worker who had been operating one of the tractors entered the room and introduced himself as Dave. He explained they were closed for the season, but invited us to come outside into the sunshine and do a tasting with him right next to the vines, looking out over the lake.

Dave told us about the founders of Joie, and how they had invested in that first vineyard back at the turn of the Millennium, putting everything into their first year of production, so passionate was their belief in their approach.

We love their wines. And it was meaningful to hear these stories about the founders as we got to stand out in the sun in their vineyard looking out over that extraordinarily beautiful lake. He talked about the owner’s insight into the Asian fusion movement in Vancouver food at that time, which had inspired them to create new styles of wine to match it. And as we listened, we started to feel as though we knew them a bit, admired their creativity, their passion, and the risk they’d taken in doing something new and exciting.

He also told us about the other vineyards Joie has purchased over time to take advantage of the extraordinary diversity of climate and soils available in that one valley. It made me think of our library in Victoria in partnership with the Victoria Conservatory of Music to engage more meaningfully with the vibrant new music scene in Victoria.

He invited us to taste some of the Muscat grapes ripening beside us in the sun, which were deliciously sweet and still warm in the sun. He explained they are one of just a few grapes that actually taste at harvest the same way they will in the bottle. He talked about the way they seek balance between different elements. His comment about the balance they are seeking made me think about Jeffrey Ryan, who once told me he tries to write for those that listen emotionally, those that listen intellectually, and those that listen more physically or viscerally.

The next day, we drove south into Okanagan Falls, first visiting See Ya Later Ranch, followed by a long-anticipated visit to award-winning Wild Goose Vineyards. Two years earlier, George Laverock had kindly given us his tickets to an afternoon session at the Wine Expo. There we met Benoit, who was a wonderfully enthusiastic advocate for Wild Goose Vineyards. He talked to us about the history of the vineyard, one of the oldest in the Okanagan, and spoke of the owner’s approach with pride. We love their wines and he responded to our enthusiasm by bringing out ever-more delicious wines to taste. Benoit, and his contagious enthusiasm, made a big impression on us.

Valerie was in the tasting room when we reached Wild Goose this visit. We got talking about wineries and she was interested to know which we’d visited. But when we mentioned having met Benoit those years before, Valerie came alive. It turns out he’s well-known in the Okanagan, and now wine-maker at Noble Ridge. There was a group of friends, she told us, who gather for dinners and wine-tastings all the time. She was extremely knowledgeable, a strong advocate for Wild Goose, and writes about wines and tweets under the handle @demystifiedvine

Wild Goose Vineyards

She, too, was passionate about the wines, about the valley, and about Benoit’s status as one of the great wine-makers in the area. When we told her about meeting him and how much we liked him, she urged us to visit the VQA Wine store in Downtown Penticton, mentioning that Benoit had a private label — Forgotten Hill — and encouraged us to see if they had any left.

Vibrant colours of vines at La Frenz

And so we found ourselves at the end of that day at the BC VQA Wine Information Store, where a extremely helpful young man helped us find what we were looking for. He was encyclopedic in his depth of knowledge about a large selection of extraordinary BC wines the store carried. It turned out he knew Valerie, and also Benoit, and understood her enthusiastic insistence we try to find a Forgotten Hill to take home with us. He mentioned a dinner they’d all been at together recently, one of the events Valerie had told us about as it turned out.

As we talked, it came out that I was in the area to give a talk. When I mentioned I worked with the Canadian Music Centre, he asked me if I was the Regional Director for BC? I was surprised he was familiar with that title, but Luke was as knowledgeable and interested in Canadian music as wine. He had been part of the CMC Atlantic Region and then asked to come out to the west coast to assist Colin Miles eighteen years ago. He had helped Colin move CMC BC from the old location in Kitsilano to the new location at 837 Davie Street and remembered a Council meeting where the renovations and upgrades were discussed to make sure everyone was agreed on the new plans. The coincidence of running into him there could not have been a more pleasant surprise.

Drive out of Meyer Family Vineyards

 

Our entire experience there, over two rushed afternoons, was one of making connections with the people who love the wines and the culture of the area; and one of discovering their interlocking relationships with each other, based on a shared love of food and wine and a local culture that celebrates innovation and experimentation, one connection leading directly to another. We felt we left that day with three new friends. The entire experience reminded me of the closely linked family of endlessly inventive creators, musicians, and enthusiasts that make and support Canadian music here in BC and across the country. And that is the story of how we discovered the intersection of Canadian music and Canadian wine in Penticton, BC. (Photos & Video: Sean Bickerton)