Free Vines

Actual grapes not included . . .

I love the contacts you make in this business, and it's great fun helping to pass stuff along to oenophiles. My pal Juhan has some pinot noir vines free for the taking. They're in the Vancouver area, and no, we can't ship. But if you've got space to plant 'em, contact tim(at) and I'll hook you up. more

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Happy New Year

The Shofar, made from a ram's horn, is blown to call upon listeners to begin repentance

I love commemorative holidays, even when they're not mine. I think you learn the most about people from the celebrations of their shared experience, culture and heritage. By understanding what others revere, or even just the things they hold to as an honour to their antecedents, you find deeper understanding. more

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The Best Doctor

I swear, this looks just like the Grateful Dead concert I went to . . .

There's an old story they tell in Germany about the Archbishop of Trier. Poor old fellow was on his deathbed, and try as they might, the barbers could do nothing (hey, it was the 14th century: a haircut was probably preferable to anything else they tried). As a last request he was brought a glass of the local Bernkastel wine. He drank a glass, and suddenly perked up. He finished the bottle and sat up in bed. By the end of the week he had finished hogshead of the stuff and was riding horses and eating elephants raw. "This wine is the best Doctor", he declared. And so from then on they referred to their local wine as 'Bernkasteler Doctor'. more

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Winexpert Western Canada Retailer Conference

A den of iniquity. And good buffet lunches.

For a guy who doesn't gamble (because I can do math) I spend an unusual amount of time in Casinos. However, it's not the lure of gaming that attracts me, nor showgirls or even lounge acts: nope, it's almost always work. Last Sunday it was our 2008 Western Canadian Retailer Conference at the Fabulous River Rock Casino in Richmond BC. more

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Canadian Harvest

How do they all know to change colour at the same time?

Apples be ripe, nuts be brown, harvest of grapes has come around: Canadian wineries started picking the 2008 vintage this week. Word from Niagara is that quality is looking pretty good. Although there was a worrying amount of rain in summer (which growers responded to by thinning fruit to concentrate sugars) the end result was only a slight delay in harvest: mild winter temperatures and a hot, dry spring gave a good fruit set, and until Hurricane Ike roared through Ontario, the Autumn was mild and calm as well.

Growers are reporting good results from Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from some regions is running 21° Brix (enough for 12% alcohol or so), and crop size will be average-ish. more

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Rice and Fall

Rice wine? Technically it's beer, but it's weird drinking carbonated sake

First it was pet food laced with melamine, then lead-toys and contaminated baby formula and now pesticide contaminated rice used to make saké. What's next, cyanide toothpaste? Razor-studded contact lenses? more

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Conference Blogging

The city has a thousand stories . . .

Hello Toronto! I'm blogging from the ballroom of the 2008 Winexpert Central Canada Authorised Retailer Conference, and now I'm exhausted from typing all that out. Today is a long day of me talking, and talking and talking about Operations Excellence in the on-premise operation--five hours of all-Tim, all the time, with a lively finish at the end with Dave Laroque doing a wine tasting/wine and food pairing to cap the day off. more

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Lounging Around

No, that's not my beer--I never drink before breakfast

Before I started traveling for a living, I knew nothing of airport lounges. Oh sure, I knew that CEO's and sports stars had private places where they kept away from the hoi-polloi, but it wasn't something that intruded on my consciousness. I'm neither CEO nor a star (except in my own mind) but weirdly enough, airport lounges have come to feature prominently in my life.

When you travel enough, say thirty or forty plane trips a year for a decade, eventually airlines think you're worth paying attention to. No matter that I always fly the cheapest ticket, they seem to like me anyway. As such, Air Canada kindly sent me a 'Star Alliance Gold Status Member' card. It's the secret decoder ring that lets me use their Maple Leaf lounge facilities in various airports around the world.

Far from being fancy-pants and indulgent, I actually find that they're almost a necessity for someone who travels so very often: snacks, free internet, AC outlets, showers and above all, oases of calm in the middle of frantic travel, they help keep you from going buggy the tenth or twelfth time your flight is delayed or your luggage is sent for an unplanned excursion in Sri Lanka.

If you have the ability to use one, I can highly recomend it. Unless you can avoid flying thirty or forty times a year, which I recommend even more highly. more

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Don't Mention the Wine

Waiter, there's a stupe on the fly!

From the 'What the . . . ?' department of Decanter Magazine, German wine takes top international trophy for Pinot Noir. more

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Conferences Call

Fourteen inches of black and white glory--who needs plasma? Other than vampires, I mean.

In accordance with the 'desert or deluge' principle at work in my work life, I've got a TV appearance tomorrow morning. Holy overexposure Batman! Luckily I'll probably be on for less than three minutes total. more

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Death By Grape

What on earth is that thing--how am I supposed to fit it in my Blu-Ray player?

It's starting to occur to me more and more frequently that I'm as old as dirt--in some ways. This inter-web thingy is a miracle that I couldn't have envisioned when I was a callow young hoyden, using a reel-to-reel VCR (Google it, kids). Case in point, YouTube--who'd have thought you could share movies of such fascinating things as people getting hit in the groin with millions of other like-minded folk around the world, all for free and all on your own? more

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Whine Spectator

Would you buy a used Mouton from this magazine?

Wine hoaxes, fraud and raw greed, part deux: Robin Goldstein's charming and amusing little hoax on the Wine Speculator Magazine brought forth the wrath, ire, discontent, and bunchy underpants of the magazine's editorial staff, and they rebutted him faster than murky sherry (winemaking joke, sorry), saying that they tried really, really hard to verify stuff and his fake list was good anyway, so what's the harm? more

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The Yakima River Valley. So beautiful, words fail.

This Labour Day weekend the long-suffering missus and I made a return pilgrimage to the Yakima Valley, one of our favourite wine regions and a long-time stomping ground for antics and exploration. On the other side of the Cascade mountain range, the vineyards of Washington are in a rain shadow that keeps them virtually desert-like most of the year (it's nothing like Seattle once you get over the Snoqualmie Pass) and sage and dry gullies greet the eye for many long miles between Cle Elum, Ellensberg and Yakima City.

We've been travelling there every year since 1998, without exception. We even crossed the border into the USA on September 12th, 2001, when border security was more than a little tight. In that time I've seen it go from a handful of barn-based wineries run by growers and orchardists to a full-on wine tourism centre, complete with star wineries, character winemakers, quiet standouts, cult wines and more styles and different bottlings than you could shake a very big stick at. We've hit the taste of Washington, the Prosser Food and Wine Fair, and enough farmer's markets to start our own grocery store.

As is our custom, we went down to the Yakima KOA to do a little camping. Nothing tops off a day of wine tasting like playing cribbage on a picnic table, by a crackling fire with a nightcap of really good Tequila in Mexican hot chocolate. One of the best, absolutely most wonderful things about Yakima is the culture and influence of the local Hispanic population.

Migrant farmworkers who followed the harvests in the USA for years would run up from San Diego, through California, Oregon and on up into Washington state, following the ripening fruits and vegetables. At the end of the line in Yakima many of them settled down, brought their families and made lives for themselves. Spanish is commonly spoken, Hispanic markets full of wonderful ingredients are common, and taco trucks and agua fresca stands are plentiful on corners and side streets. You can buy all manner of staples, like a hundred varieties of dried peppers, a couple of dozen fresh ones, canned tomatillos and poblanos in adobo, hominy, cone sugar, crema, and dozens of fancy Tequilas. Some of these items are simply unobtainable in Canada, others are merely priced out of this world.

Everything was in place as it should have been, with the unfortunate exception of the KOA. The bureau of land reclamation had bought the land, and by the time you read this it will all be underwater, as they remove the dikes and turn it back into creekbed for the Yakima river. We were lucky enough to get a hotel room (thanks Hilton travel points!) but it just wasn't the same, and they asked me to stop making cocoa over the gas fireplace in the lobby.

Old Vines at Kestrel. Doesn't look a day over 80. more

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And the Winner Is . . .

That'd be the Pyew-litzer in my case . . .

Wow! When I ran off to tour wine country in Yakima I had no idea so many entries for my 'favorite wine/favorite wine and food experience' win-free-stuff contest would come in right at the deadline! When I opened my inbox last night it was crammed full with great stories and wonderful reminiscences about wine and food experiences. Everyone seems to have a favorite, but not just wine. Folks also write very movingly about the time place, and especially the people they shared their wine with. To me, you're all winners because you share your love of wine and the sweet life with others. more

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