September 01, 2014

Labour Day in British Columbia and the rogue government of Christy Clark

It's Labour Day. A day to celebrate workers and recognise the contributions made to our society by the labour movement. Things like the minimum wage, limits to child labour, weekends, the right to organise, workplace safety and health care. In fact, recognising the need to assist people in our communities, and in the absence of good government, the first United Way in Canada was started by unionists. All of us in Canada, regardless of class or employment status, have been well served by a strong labour movement.


Our provincial premier is at it again, distorting facts and misrepresenting issues as it relates to the teachers of this province and their lengthy battle with a government determined to break the union. Through tweets yesterday, then reprinted on Christy Clark's facebook page, she said:
Unfortunately, the BCTF rejected our offer to reopen schools while the two sides enter mediation to reach an agreement. Instead the BCTF is sticking to its strike and demanding twice as much money as everyone else in the public service has received.

Her tweets are misleading because it was never the teachers' decision to enter mediation. The Education Minister Peter Fassbender, another low wattage bulb if ever there was one, said the decision was left to the mediator Vince Ready and the talks were entirely exploratory. Ready was to determine if the two sides were close enough to proceed with mediation, and they weren't. The teachers did not reject anything. In fact the head of the union is still asking to meet with the Premier in an effort to bridge discussion. Teachers are not asking for twice as much money as everyone else and the Premier knows that too.

Minister Fassbender wants the BCTF to set aside its grievances about class size and composition, which is largely what the dispute is all about in the first place.

Christy Clark needs to turn down the emotional rhetoric and offer real leadership instead of ice bucket celebrity. Political points gained at the expense of teachers and children won't work. Class size and composition do belong in a collective agreement. The Premier needs to restore the funding she illegally cut twelve years ago. That legal fact was determined by the Supreme Court of Canada, though apparently it means nothing to her government.

It's Labour Day in BC. We should celebrate the strides we have made as a society and be wary of the people who want to dismantle public institutions in the name of a market economy. We need to raise our children to be active, thinking citizens, and not just members of a consumer society, whatever the hell that is. Public education is important in creating a just society for all of us and not just the ten percent. We need to be very wary indeed.

Copyright 2014 by Jim Murray.

August 29, 2014

Sandhill Wines, Peller Estates and Calona Vineyards

The photograph over a doorway in the impressive sales and tasting centre in downtown Kelowna is one of the few reminders of an amazing past for this group of wineries. That the three notables in the picture might look a wee bit suspicious is not a concern.

Calona is the oldest continuously operating winery in British Columbia with roots going back to the 1930s. Financially it was backed by the Capozzi brothers and became famous for its imitation of the successful Gallo Brothers in California, right down to the gallon jugs. Thankfully that image changed over time, though memories, and some labels, persist, including Schloss Laderheim, once Canada's best selling white wine.

The Capozzi family, including the shades, sold the winery in 1971 and several owners came and went until Andrew Peller Limited bought the operation in 2005.

Since 1997 the diamond in the operation has been the Sandhill brand under the direction of winemaker Howard Soon. Sandhill wines are all single vineyard wines and while blends are made, they are only made from grapes of the same vineyard. All the wines are good with the Small Lots program being excellent.

The labels on the bottles, and the picture wall of notables hanging in the tasting room, prominently show the winemakers and the growers; the owners being somewhat less important.

Soon's influence and expertise has probably influenced the other brands too and the Peller Estates range provides some excellent values.

The tasting room is large and breezy and showcases Sandhill wines of course, but other "rooms" offer tastings of the two other brands, and they are worth the visit if only to discover a surprise, like the 2010 Syrah from Peller Estates at an exceptional price. We should have bought a case.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

August 28, 2014

Nk'Mip Cellars in Osoyoos

The signs are different at the sprawling campus that includes Nk'Mip Cellars that overlooks Osoyoos and the lake. The land is owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band, as are the various businesses which include a resort, winery, golf course, and much more.

The band became involved with growing grapes in the late 1960s at their Inkameep Vineyard in Oliver. A more aggressive business model was the result of the election of Chief Clarence Louie 25 years ago and his single minded focus on job creation for band members. Ten years ago Mr Louie told an Alberta conference on aboriginal development: "My first rule for success is, 'Show up on time.' My second rule for success is, 'Follow rule number 1.' Our ancestors worked for a living," he told the gathering, "so should you." What followed has been a major development scheme that generates wealth and employment beyond the band itself.

Amidst the condos and conference facilities is the original Nk'Mip Cellars winery, wine tasting room and restaurant. Throughout Nk'Mip and its related enterprises, there is a dedication to service, and that service is exceptional: highly professional yet casual, and always centred on the customer. While the wine tasting room was busy during our visit, the servers were devoted to the task, encouraging and educating with every pour. "No" seems not to be a word used at Nk'Mip; every effort is made to find a way to say "Yes."  I also heard a tremendous sense of pride in what was happening here, and in being a part of that success. There are many businesses that could learn a few things from this place.

And the wines? They have always been consistently good and some are truly fine indeed. I like the Talon and the Merlot, and their Chardonnay is affordable and elegant.

Nearly every winery has a "reserve" range of the best wines they produce. Nk'Mip has that upper-tier too, though the "reserve" word is not used and understandably so. Here it is called Qwam Qwmt and the Meritage and Syrah are personal favourites.

The patio restaurant is, not surprisingly, a delight too, with an appropriate focus on the wines of course. The setting is fantastic, the food nicely prepared and presented with friendly and polished service.

And the meaning of Qwam Qwmt? The words come from the Salish language and mean "Achieving excellence." Nk'Mip and the Osoyoos Indian Band are on to something.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

August 26, 2014

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery

Long a favourite of ours, the Burrowing Owl Estate Winery invokes Tuscany.

This is a marvellous place at the northern most tip of the Sonoran Desert. Rattlesnakes are native to the area as are the owls which give the winery its name, though the only creatures bothering us on our visit were a few fruit flies.

Conservation is important to the owners, Jim Wyse and family. All tasting fees go towards the winery's Conservation fund, which has raised nearly $600,000 since 1994. Mr Wyse is a supporter of plans to create a National Park in the area, in spite of arguments against by a number of local land owners and the provincial government, which tells us more about Christy Clark and company.

Much has changed here since Burrowing Owl's beginnings in the 1990s. The tasting room is more elegant, the restaurant offers fine, casual dining with a view overlooking the vineyards and a luxurious guest house and pool (we were staying in the somewhat lesser Spanish Inquisition).

Our lunch in the Sonoran Room was relaxing and delicious. The peach "soup" for dessert was refreshing and sumptuous.

All the wines are excellent and some are simply outstanding. The setting, the care of the land and a dedication to wine making make for a great experience.

Photos by Jim Murray (view of estate from website). 
Copyright 2014.

August 25, 2014

Dirty Laundry Vineyard

Dirty Laundry Vineyard is located near Summerland and first opened in 1995 as Scherzinger Vineyard, the dream of a former German woodcarver named Edgar. He retired in 2001 and the new owners enlisted a marketing company to create a new image.

The marketing guy had previously turned Prpich Hills Winery into the more exciting Blasted Church branding. His research uncovered the story of a Chinese railroad labourer who opened a laundry in Summerland over 100 years ago. It quickly became a front for a bordello, and the washing business became known locally as the "dirty laundry."

The theme of laundry, and the naughty bits, overwhelms the current business. There is a script running here from the moment you leave your car and enter the tasting room.

That nudge, nudge, wink, wink thing is a bit much and detracts from the wines. Names include Bordello, Woo Woo, Hush and Secret Affair. A few years ago the winery's Reserve Chardonnay wasn't selling well enough and the name changed to Naughty Chardonnay. Apparently the oak can be a wee bit "knotty." And so it goes. Marketing is important here, and it works. Big time.

Whatever else, Dirty Laundry is popular with tourists and the tour bus operators that rumble down the Okanagan's highways. I think the theme has been taken too far, right down to the clothespin you are given as a souvenir, though they sell a great many bottles. Marketing, branding and imaging are front and centre, not the wines, though the whites are somewhat interesting, especially the Threadbare Gewurztraminer, which we enjoyed as a patio wine and Jeem was doing his laundry.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014. 

August 22, 2014

Osoyoos Lake, the beach and an apocalyptic sun

Osoyoos Lake is Canada's warmest fresh water lake, with summertime water temperatures averaging 24 degrees. It attracts tens of thousands every summer.

For some reason, southeastern British Columbia is popular with people from Alberta. Not that there's anything wrong with that, nor with people from Alberta. The license plates seen at the Spanish Inquisition are mainly from Alberta and the accent often heard in coffee shops and pizza parlours in Osoyoos is Albertan, and there isn't anything wrong with that either, though visions of tar sands and bursting pipelines filled with goop, tend to come to the minds of those from the southwestern coast of BC. Some of us drive around in great big SUVs too, far too many of drink coffees from disposable cups, and according to popular belief we all seem to be wearing yoga pants. All of which probably irritates people visiting from Alberta, especially the part about yoga pants.

In any event, the lake is warm and wonderful, though full of motorised craft. Speed boats and personalised water craft speed up and down and all around, mainly in circles to impress someone on the beach. This is not Idabel Lake, nor is it St. Mary Lake either.

Our afternoon at the beach was hot and muggy and there was taste of smoke in the air. What began as a clear morning in Osoyoos turned into a darker midday, the sun hidden at times behind clouds and smoke. While there were a number of forest fires burning in BC, this smoke was actually coming from fires burning across the international boundary in the US.

At times, the sun turned a brilliant red. The darkness on the beach caused many to look up from their phones, however briefly, to view what might have been described as an apocalyptic sun. What else could it be? The ear-splitting drone of high speed mechanisation on the water, the soundtrack from the best of the 60s, 70s and 80s booming in from the parking lot of the Spanish Inquisition, and hundreds of people on the beach, each staring at a personal hand-held device, oblivious to the world around them.

The end is near. Possibly in Alberta though just as likely in lululemon land.

 Photos taken between noon and 3:00p.
Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.