In September AdVINEtures had the privilege of being asked to join Her Honour Judith Gichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia and forty other members of the consular corps and directors of the Government House Foundation on a three day trip to the Okanagan. Our purpose was to join Her Honour as she presented her award to 12 outstanding wineries.
The trip was a wonderful mix of nationalities, personalities, formalities and informalities. Our group could not have been more different: consuls and honorary consuls from 5 different continents were joined by some of the most giving people in our province: directors and staff of the Government House Foundation, who work tirelessly to make our province better. And amongst these dignitaries was one lowly wineblogger, your scribe. Our group met in downtown Vancouver early on a Wednesday morning to meet two vehicles: a big tour bus and the Lieutenant Governor’s limousine.
We boarded the bus and I sat next to Eric Charman, OBE, a director of the Government House Foundation, tireless philanthropist, wine lover and, my favourite uncle. We would spend the next three days together having an absolute ball, getting to know the other dignitaries, viewing some spectacular wineries in the beautiful setting that is the Okanagan Valley and of course, drinking some award-winning wine. As Eric and I settled in to our seats on the bus I was looking out the window at Her Honour’s gleaming black limo with its special license plate and British Columbia Coat of Arms and Flag. It all looked very regal, quite befitting the Queen’s representative in British Columbia. As we were preparing to leave, Her Honour boarded the bus, big smile and sparkling eyes and chatted with a few people at the front. I thought what a nice touch to say hello and wish us all a good trip before taking off. But to my surprise, she took the seat in front of us, the bus doors closed and we all began the five hour drive to Penticton. Her limo followed us, there if suddenly she needed it, but not occupied by Her Honour. This, I was to learn, is typical of our Lieutenant Governor: she is the most down-to-earth, unpretentious person of the people you could possibly meet. The five hours up to the Okanagan flew by. Of course, as good luck would have it, I ended up in the best seat on the bus. With Eric Charman sitting beside me and Her Honour in front of me I was completely entertained the entire way with great humour and conversation.
Our trip took us to 12 wineries over three days where our delegation joined Her Honour in presenting these prestigious awards. What we saw were some beautiful wineries that created settings which blended in with and made the most of the natural beauty of the Okanagan. And we tasted some delicious wines that showcased the quality of what the very best in British Columbia can produce. One revelation for me was to learn that the panel of judges who determined the winners, really knew their wines. Theirs was not an easy job. Over 500 wines were submitted. Each wine was tasted twice. From this, only 14 were selected to receive the Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence.
In tasting each of the award winning wines I came away with a much higher opinion of the best wines in British Columbia. The wines were clearly deserving of their award. I came to realize that BC is capable of producing a much higher quality of wine than I had formerly thought. I was particularly impressed with the red wines, a category that I previously felt was not a strong point in BC, often lacking the body and intensity of great wine and frequently possessing too much green and herbaceous flavours. But the panel did an excellent job finding both whites and reds that showed balance, intensity and varietal expression. It changed my thinking about BC wine.
BC wines are seldom rated by the larger wine press such as Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate, The Wine Enthusiast, etc. It therefore adds importance to the Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of Excellence that these awards really set the bar for the top wines in the province. The list is THE go-to list for savvy wine shoppers seeking the best that our province has to offer.
The 2016 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in British Columbia winners were:
Bordertown Vineyards & Estate Winery 2013 Living Desert Red
Ex Nihilo Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir
Gold Hill Winery 2013 Meritage Family Reserve
Hester Creek Estate Winery 2013 Syrah Viognier
Intersection Estate Winery 2013 Cabernet Franc
Kismet Estate Winery 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Lunessence Winery & Vineyard 2014 Riesling Icewine
Okanagan Crush Pad Winery 2014 Haywire The Bub
Quails’ Gate 2014 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay
Red Rooster Winery 2012 Reserve Merlot
Ruby Blues Winery 2015 Commune Viognier
St. Hubertus & Oak Bay Estate Winery 2014 Riesling
The Lieutenant Governor has presented the Award for Excellence in British Columbia Wines each year since 2003. It is just one category of many that the Lieutenant Governor recognizes each year, including Awards of Excellence in Literature, Public Safety, Engineering, and Architecture, among many others.
The Award for Excellence In British Columbia Wine obviously means a great deal to the recipients. It could be clearly seen on the faces of each as Her Honour presented their award. It was an emotional moment, one where the pride of achievement was very noticeable. That sense of pride was enhanced by the words Her Honour spoke to each recipient. It was quite something to hear the incredible grace and humility with which Her Honour spoke and to see the emotion in the winemakers faces as they heard those words. Her Honour comes from a ranching background in Merritt and clearly has a deep respect and love for all of the land in British Columbia. So when she recognized the many sustainable farming practices that are being employed with the Okanagan’s wine industry, it truly was a high honour.
I returned home from the trip with a much greater appreciation of the quality of wine being produced in British Columbia. I also returned with a much greater appreciation of the role of the Lieutenant Governor and the enormous contribution that she and the other tireless workers at Government House are making to our province. And I returned home with an even greater sense of pride in being a British Columbian.