A significant driver of our provincial wine economy, former winemaker and CEO of Tinhorn Creek Winery Sandra Oldfield, had a lot say recently on her blog Oldfield Wanderings.
How do we mitigate the dangers of COVID-19 on our health and how do we go about running our businesses are two questions central to the hospitality trade this month.
The answer is simple. Listen to health care experts, heed the advice being given out by every level of government in Canada, and wherever possible, stay home. It’s a team effort, and we all need to fall into line.
When it comes to the economy and wine, now a significant driver of our provincial economy, former winemaker and CEO of Tinhorn Creek Winery Sandra Oldfield, had a lot say recently on her blog Oldfield Wanderings.
Along with husband Kenn, Oldfield runs Elysian Projects Inc., a company built to give a hand up to B.C. wineries and tourism businesses.
Oldfield says, “Many B.C. wineries were not in existence since the last major crisis — not the month-long disruption caused by forest fires, SARS and Alberta boycotts, but Sept. 11, 2001. When tourism was disrupted, as it was post 9/11, it not only resulted in fewer people walking into cellar doors, but it also had a big impact on sales in the Lower Mainland and beyond. People ate out less in restaurants, retail sales were mostly flat (in some cases slightly up), and events were non-existent.”
The same thing is happening now but on a broader scale and faster.
Says Oldfield: “Tourism will be impacted to an even greater extent because, during this crisis, even locals may start staying away from wine touring. By contrast, after 911, locals seemed to support our industry, but international tourists stayed away.”
We know in B.C., local support has been the key to the success of B.C. wineries, and losing that could be life-threatening to many small producers.
So what to do now?
Oldfield suggests: “Every winery should seek out a buddy winery — one in their area — that can help them weather the storm. It doesn’t matter if you’re the same size or not. It doesn’t matter if you are new to the industry, and they have been around for decades. You can always learn from one another.
“Combine information that you hear from the marketplace, come up with strategies on how to handle sick employees, or ones that want to work from home, and even to begin conversations on how you can share part-time employees during this time.
“Every employee has work that must be done at the winery, but almost every employee also has work that can be done at home. Work from home will also help general managers and winery owners get better at another skill they often lack — trust in their employees.”
Oldfield also feels now is the time to update your business plan.
“When was the last time you had a strategic planning session? What was the last innovation you put into action? The B.C. wine industry is launching the new sustainability certification program — is that something you can now tackle? When was the last time that you had heart-to-heart conversations with your employees outside of a performance review? Do you even do performance reviews?”
Finding efficiencies is another Oldfield mandate.
“Gather your employees in a room and come up with ways to shave costs. Put a dollar amount next to each, and you will be surprised how small savings add up. Remember, there are two ways to make money, but raising your prices or expecting bigger sales during the time of COVID-19 is just not a logical expectation. Do it by finding efficiencies.”
If there is a silver lining, it could be the bounce-back effect that Oldfield says ‘happens after almost every crisis.”
“B.C. wineries need to be prepared for that once the COVID-19 virus fades away. A period of increased tourism and growth will follow this downturn. You will need to ramp up tasting room employees — where are you going to find them? Are you keeping prospective employees in the loop as to when you will need them again? Have you planned for events that can be rolled out at any time of the year to take advantage of this increase in travellers?
In the end, Oldfield asks: “Can your winery take the challenges and make them into something meaningful?” and offers perhaps the most sage of advice: “It is not the crisis that defines us but how we deal with it.”
Weekend wine picks
Hester Creek Late Harvest Pinot Blanc 2018, Okanagan Valley
$18.99 | 88/100
The old Block 4 Pinot Blanc planted in 1968 is the perfect medium for this dessert-style wine. At 72 g/L of residual sugar, it’s plenty sweet, but the hand-picked, sorted, and whole-cluster fruit comes with a freshness that keeps it lively on the palate. The year 2018 was a crazy one that ended early and cool, adding to the acidity and ripeness of this mid-weight juicy peach, orange, pear dessert wine that is ready to drink. The winery chef suggests you serve it with poached honey peaches and a blue cheese crumble with caramelized walnuts.
William Hill Chardonnay 2017, North Coast Region, California, United States
$19.99 | 87/100
William Hill makes trustworthy if somewhat commercial Chardonnay that has broad appeal to the casual but enthusiastic Chardonnay drinker. The nose is open and attractive mixing vanilla, melon, baked apple and ripe pear aromas. The palate follows with similar flavours, adding a dash of lees to the juicy apple honey melon notes. The finish is pillowy soft with candied lemon and brown spices, ready to drink. Try this with a poke bowl or a lobster taco.
Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill 2017, Russian River, Sonoma County, California, United States
$29.99 | 90/100
The estate high-end Chardonnay program is permeating the entire lineup of Rodney Strong Chardonnays, leading with less overt oak and fruit, replaced by more texture and complexity. The light, volcanic, white ash soil of the Chalk Hill appellation is at the centre of this story. The style is fresh with bright, juicy, mineral, pear, apple, and Meyer lemon fruit flavours with mineral, nutty, wet stone undertones that complex the character further. You can serve this with an array of seafood including crab, halibut, mahi mahi, roasted chicken and creamy cheeses.
Finca Cuarta by Ruben Maure Ribeira Sacra 2017, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain
$19.99 | 88/100
Finca Cuarta is a rare 100 per cent Mencia grown at Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, northwest Spain. It was thought to be a rogue Cabernet Franc clone (it’s not), although there are similarities: savoury fruit and rich, dense, soft tannins. Finca Cuarta is on the deeper, more vibrant spectrum with earthy, firm, dense tannins, cardamom spice and juicy wild red and blue fruits sprinkled with a stony, mineral undercurrent. First planted by the Romans and expanded and refined by the monks during the Middle Ages, its many monasteries gave the Sacred Shore its name. Carefully harvested by hand on steep vineyard terraces typical of this appellation, this is 50-year-old vines and was aged in French and American oak barrels for at least three months.
Fonseca Bin No 27 Finest Reserve Port N/V, Douro Valley, Portugal
$21.99 | 88/100
Fonseca Vintage Port is highly sought after wine by collectors, but you can multiply those drinkers by tens of thousands when it comes to Bin 27. Launched more than 40 years ago in Britain, it has become a particular favourite in North American. The market was searching for a no-fuss port with some power and fruit, right up Fonseca’s driveway. The goal was “a smooth, full-bodied and densely fruity blend in a style known at the time as “vintage character,” but today tagged Finest Reserve. The firm was in the habit of naming its crusted ports using bin numbers, and Bin 27 was born. Little has changed today. The attack is sweet and spicy with a touch of fire, sugared blackberry, cassis, dark cocoa, black tea, and finished with black pepper. Christmas pudding comes to mind.
Chef Warren Chow of Vancouver Private Dining offers us this ultra-seasonal risotto: “This is a dish I like to make when it’s still winter, but transitioning into spring time here on the West Coast. Nearing the end of Yellowfoot season, I wanted to compliment them with the nice smokiness from the bacon and earthiness from the leeks.”
Leek and Double Smoked Bacon Risotto
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) Arborio rice
4 cups (1 L) chicken stock
1/4 cup (60 mL) unsalted butter
3 oz (85 mL) Pinot Blanc white wine
1 small shallot, small dice
7 oz (198 g) smoked thick-cut bacon
1/2 cup (125 mL) sliced leeks
5 oz (142 g) Yellowfoot mushrooms
1/2 cup (125 mL) shredded Grana Padano cheese
Dill for garnish
Heat chicken stock in a sauce pot until simmering and set aside for risotto. Dice the bacon into 1/4″ (1 cm) cubes and render them in a medium saucepan on low heat for about 10-15 minutes until slightly crispy. Remove the bacon bits and use the same pan to sauté the mushrooms in remaining fat on medium-high heat until golden brown, season with salt, remove from pan and set aside.
Heat large sauce pan on medium heat, sweat shallots and leeks in butter until translucent. Add arborio rice and cook for another 2 minutes. Deglaze with white wine and stir until wine is evaporated. Add 1/3 of the hot chicken stock and keep stirring to incorporate. May need to lower heat at this point to prevent burning, you want it at a simmer. While constantly stirring, you will add 1/3 of the chicken stock two more times until fully absorbed or to the doneness of your liking for the rice. I like to cook mine to al dente, usually about 15-18 minutes. Fold in the shredded cheese while risotto is still hot, season to taste with salt, remove from heat and plate. Top with the Yellowfoot foot mushrooms and dill to serve.
Makes 4 servings
The double-smoked bacon risotto with Yellowfoot chanterelles is an umami explosion you could pair with a fruity Pinot Noir or a mineral, crisp white wine.
CedarCreek Pinot Noir 2017, Okanagan Valley, $24.49
An easy-sipping, charming, drinkable style that is risotto ready.
Ormarine Picpoul de Pinet Les Pins De Camille 2017, Languedoc, France, $17.99
Fresh and citrus scented with a mix of honey, quince and ginger that you can use with this dish as a squeeze of lemon.
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