Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Coffee Encounters Tells the Story of World's Coffee and the Suspended Coffee Movement

Putting the Suspended Coffee Movement into perspective, now that it's about to strike Portland and Seattle straight in the crema.

Let's take a break from all the wine for just a second to talk about coffee, a great new book, and the ways in which we can all be more kind to one another. Over the last year, I worked with Smudge Publishers, an Australian publisher, on the 543-page book, Coffee Encounters. One of five contributing authors, I labored to tell the story of Australia's entire coffee industry, and the story turned out to involve everyone from specialty coffee roasters in Sydney and baristas in Melbourne to Ana Maria, a struggling coffee picker in Guatemala, and the Suspended Coffee Movement. This massive coffee-table-style book—one that's actually about coffee:-)—shares the perspectives of hundreds of people in the coffee industry, and it taught me about the Suspended Coffee Movement, a movement that shares coffee and more with those less fortunate.

The children of Guatamalan coffee picker Ana Maria, Mario and Melanie

If you've been watching the news, then you've likely heard about the man who bought 500 coffees at a Tim Horton's in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on July 22, 2013. He simply ordered a coffee and a Boston-cream doughnut and 500 additional coffees and told the cashier to give the coffees away for the rest of the day. This trend has caught on over the last week, and now over 9,500 coffees have been purchased. My questions is: Is this related to the Suspended Coffee Movement?

The Suspended Coffee Movement is believed to have begun in Naples, Italy, and then Bulgaria took up the cause, and it seems to be rapidly gaining speed right now. The Suspended Coffee Facebook page is less 8 months old a and it has well over 100K Likes, and I have a feeling that the mystery man in Edmonton was influenced by the movement. In buying 500 extra coffees, he, either purposefully or not, created 500 suspended coffees.

The Suspended Coffee Movement is simple: While purchasing your morning brew or afternoon pick-me-up, buy an extra coffee and the cafe will give it to a person in need. Many cafes feature Suspended Coffee stickers in their windows to let you know that they participate in the cause. That's it. A random act of kindness with a huge following.

It seems that a lot of the people in the coffee industry care deeply about the world and the people in it (I can't believe I'm even writing this as though it's novel, but hey—). Maybe this is because coffee spans the world and, further, because it takes people all over the world to create the delicious cup off coffee that we enjoy each morning. Smudge Publishers has taken up the cause, too, and the Coffee Encounters book is dedicated to Ana Maria, the Guatemalan coffee picker so poignantly depicted by writer Tyson Hunter, and her children.

Additionally, Smudge Publishers started the charity, Picking Up The Pieces, which will begin with helping Ana Maria and then continue to provide running water, electricity, sewerage, gas, and more for others in similar situations. $5 from every book sale of Coffee Encounters will be given to Picking Up The Pieces, and, until you find Coffee Encounters on a book shelf near you (at the moment, it is not distributed to the United States) you can purchase a Suspended Coffee today. Good luck my friends, and be excellent to one another.

Coffee Encounters: Adventures to Origin:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Wine Tasting at Quails' Gate, the Okanagan Valley

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington.

In the northern Okanagan Valley, near the town of Kelowna, Quails' Gate winery is offering some deliciously fascinating white winesnot to mention the views that come with them:

The Stewart Family moved to the Okanagan Valley in 1908, and, like many winemaking families in the Okanagan, they started out growing fruit trees. They founded Quails' Gate winery in 1989.

Interestingly, the first non-native people to move to the Okanagan Valley lived on what is now the Quails' Gate property, and, while wine tasting, you can check out the original farmstead, the Allison House. According to Wikipedia, Susan Louisa Moir Allison was a Sri Lankan-born Brit who moved to the Okanagan Valley in 1873. She was an author who loved interacting with the indigenous people, the Okanagans, and she had a whopping 14 kids—mostly in this little house at Quails' Gate pictured here:

The Allison Family House

Susan reportedly saw the famous monster of Okanagan Lake, Ogopogo, which might look something like this (2011 Riesling by Monster Vineyards—delicious in its own right, too):

Alright, enough history and folklore. At Quails' Gate, I was shown around by The Wine Doctor, Isaac. Dr. Isaac got his moniker during a live radio show, when he asked the disc jockies to send a shout out to his kids from the "Wine Doctor." The name stuck, and the Stewart Family even made him a name tag. It was a good thing the doctor was in the house when I visited, because I was feeling ravenous. "No problem," said Isaac, "take two merlot and call me in the morning."

Earning his title, Dr. Isaac explained that some of the winery's vineyards grow out of an extinct volcano cone, and the winery's foch vines are the oldest vines. Foch is a type of grape, and, no, it isn't pronounced that way. It's pronounced fōsh. I'd never heard of the grape before and was excited to get to try it.

Of all their wines, I truly loved the 2012 Chenin Blanc for its tropical fruit, kind-but-firm acidity, and light, care-free-summer-days attitude. It's been served to President Obama and Prince William and Kate Middleton, and you can try it too with incredible views at Quails' Gate. Other stand out wines, according to my tastes, were:

  • 2012 Chasselas (blend of pinot blanc and pinot gris)
  • 2011 Quails' Gate Chardonnay
  • 2011 Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay
  • 2011 Pinot Noir
  • 2011 Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir
The wines made with the foch grape are also worth a try. They are incredibly masculine, with huge tannins, deep fruit, and tobacco notes.

Love Quails

Quails' Gate is open daily for wine tasting, and they offer a basic wine tasting for $5 (fee waived with two-bottle purchase). Additionally, you can take the highly informative Family Tour, which is offered three times a day. It includes a wine tasting and costs $8. Pre-booking isn't necessary.

The winery has a nice porch with lots of comfy seating—ideal for soaking up the Okanagan atmosphere—and the onsite restaurant, Old Vines Restaurants & Bar, has equally dazzling views and serves a locally and seasonally inspired menu in a fine-dining setting.

Lastly, I visited Quails' Gate at a very special time: when the grapevines were blooming. Vines only bloom for a week or two each year, and, though the flowers are very small, they symbolize the beginning of another vintage of idiosyncratic wine, in this case, from the Okanagan Valley.

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Okanagan tourism board.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Wine and Cheese Tasting at Upper Bench Winery, the Okanagan Valley

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag, #NWRoadTrip.

Have you ever met a couple that just rocks? That's Gavin and Shana Miller, owners of Upper Bench Winery and Creamery, in the Okanagan Valley. Gavin makes wine; Shana makes cheese; and a more perfectly paired couple there could never be.

Shana welcomed me to Upper Bench. She makes all of her cheese onsite and sources all of the milk from British Columbia dairy farms. One of her assistants, a hard-working, cheese-loving young lady, was rocking out in the humid creamery to her favorite tunes. Steam bellowed and her body swayed to the music while she made the day's cheese, following Shana's precise methods and recipes.

In the tasting room, Gavin appeared, and he explained his winemaking background. Gavin had made wine in the Okanagan Valley for many years, working for some of the best-known wineries in the region, including Painted Rock and Poplar Grove, before teaming up with Shana and his partners to start Upper Bench in 2011. To make his wines, Gavin primarily grows or sources grapes from the Naramata Bench, one of the most famous and well-regarded grape-growing areas of the Okanagan. Upper Bench and the Naramata Bench are just a five-minute drive from Penticton, a beautiful town located smack dab in the middle of the Okanagan Valley (to give you an idea, Tinhorn Creek Winery is located about 20-minutes south of Upper Bench and Penticton). 

Gavin poured his 2012 Pinot Blanc and Shana served a plate of three cheeses: Kingcole, Gold, and Brie. I quickly fell in love with the Kingcole, a gentle blue cheese that had the perfect bite, as well as the Gold, a Upper Bench's signature cheese, a rich, semi-soft, surface ripened, washed-rind cheese with a whole lotta buttery flavor.


Gavin's wines showed off the Naramata terroir, and, among Upper Bench's excellent wines, my favorites were:
  • 2011 Chardonnay
  • 2011 Zweigelt
  • 2011 Merlot
  • 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
For a wine and cheese-tasting experience, visit Upper Bench Winery any day between 10am and 6pm. A tasting of four wines and two cheeses costs $5, and this fee is waived with the purchase of one or more bottles.

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Thompson Okanagan tourism board.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Wine Tasting at Tinhorn Creek Winery, The Okanagan Valley

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag, #NWRoadTrip.

One of the first things I learned visiting the Okanagan Valley, Canada: It's hard to find a winery or restaurant without incredible views! This wine region is beyond words, from the sheer rock face of McIntyre Bluff to the placid blue surface of Lake Okanagan. My first night, I stayed at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards and ate at the onsite Miradoro Restaurant. The hospitable and welcoming folks who own and operate Tinhorn Creek showed me how to relax Okanagan-style, and this ampitheatre lay between us and the valley as the sun set:

Tinhorn host concerts and weddings during the summer months, too

What an honor it is to visit someone's home, dine with them, and talk about the wine they create. Tinhorn Creek makes a range of wines, and I fell for their reds, which show the fruitiness that comes with great grape maturity as well as the high acidity that comes from a colder grape-growing environment. The Okanagan Valley, which is located in the southeast corner of British Columbia and runs straight down to the border of Washington, has a range of growing environments, and, in the south, where Tinhorn is located, cabernet franc, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon vineyards excel. In general, Bordeaux grapes are widely cultivated, as well as syrah and a handful of other bold reds that benefit from having a strong acid backbone. They paired perfectly with Miradoro's Lamb, which is a braised shank served over Moroccan-spiced lentils with cilantro and sour cream.

Of all the fantastic Tinhorn Creek wines I tasted, the 2010 Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc really stuck out. I don't know about you, but a good cab franc is hard to find. Usually, they're either too jammy or too vegetal, but Tinhorn's Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc walked the line: It had the rich cherry fruit and chocolate in front followed with herbacious notes, and a killer, integrated acidity the entire way through. The acidity was so well balanced that it seemed to be waltzing with the flavors, which, my friends, is simply classy.

Photo courtesy of Rick VanSickle/winesinniagara.com

Unfortunately, the 2010 is sold out, but you have options. You can wait for the 2011 Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc to be released; you can try out the regular ol' 2010 Cabernet Franc, which is also solid; and you can test these other Tinhorn Creek wines, which were my personal favorites:
  • 2012 Pinot Gris
  • 2011 Oldfield Series 2Bench White (which I believe is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, semillon, and muscat)
  • 2010 Cabernet France
  • 2010 Merlot
  • 2009 Oldfield Series 2Bench Red (blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petit verdot) 
To go wine tasting at Tinhorn Creek Vineyard, arrive any day between 10am and 6pm (just read the sign dummy). Wine tasting is free.

More of the wacky Okanagan "locals"

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Thompson Okanagan tourism board.

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