The next time you celebrate Happy Hour - that could be any day this week - think about the wine that you order. Why do you select the wines that you do? Have you had it before and so it’s a safe choice a second time around? Or maybe it’s a recommendation from a friend who’s more knowledgable about wine than you are? Maybe it’s a recommendation from the server or sommelier? Or that it’s just a crapshoot because you don’t know anything about wine and you chose it because it’s a big, well-known winery so it can’t be that bad?

Whatever your reason is, don’t be afraid to try new wines. Depending on how you calculate it, there could be anywhere from half a million to a million wineries around the world. That’s an insane amount of wine that gets produced but it also means variety, leading to potentially new favorites for you. Living in British Columbia, we’re spoiled with a short (well, 4 hours) drive to the Okanagan, home to some of the most spectacular whites on the planet. And yes, I’m including the Loire and Burgundy regions in this comparison. While I love the variety of mineralities that some beautiful Chablis can deliver, there’s nothing that smells and tastes like summer than a glass of La Frenz Viognier, Poplar Grove Pinot Gris, or Roche Pinot Gris. 

Roche?? By now, the average Vancouver oenophile will be familiar with the likes of La Frenz and Poplar Grove. Roche is a relative newcomer to the Valley although already beginning to be a mainstay in some fine Vancouver restaurants. And lucky for me, I learned about Roche plus many others who are doing some really neat things in the Okanagan.

Yesterday, I was introduced to a number of very small wineries at Garagiste North: The Small Guys Wine Festival at the Wise Hall in East Vancouver. A garagiste is a French term used to describe a small-scale entrepreneurial wine-maker originally from the Bordeaux region of France. Garagistes were rebels who didn’t adhere to the rigorous traditions of wine-making and produced ‘vins de garage’ which literally means ‘garage wine’. Of course, this term is used playfully to describe this group at the Wise Hall and more to do with the power of the little guy: you don’t have to be a big player to produce quality wine. Thanks to this event, I’ve been introduced to a number of really wonderful, small wineries who are already creating bold efforts in their very early stages of operations. 

What’s great about these winemakers is that they’re all about the wine. Most don’t have the deep pockets to build tasting rooms and some are still only doing this part-time. For these winemakers, it can be incredibly challenging to compete with the larger outfits who have seemingly massive marketing budgets. Forget competing at the international level - these entrepreneurs can barely compete in their own backyard in the Okanagan. The Garagiste North Festival is all about the little guy; and with some of the memorable wine I’ve sampled yesterday, more power to them.

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