Monday, February 25, 2013

Vancouver Urban Winery, BC

I'm a bit of a nostalgia-geek... I love history.

I can remember being a kid and watching movies about the middle-ages; kegs of wine lining the walls of "The Great Hall" of a sprawling manor or estate. I always thought that was pretty cool, even before I was a wine-drinker. Flash-forward a few decades and I hear a story about some guys who are doing the same thing but with modern technology. Wow@! Wonderful@! Where are they??

the Lounge @ Van Urban Winery

Believe it or not, we have craftsmen here in our own little city of Vancouver, BC who are kegging wine in stainless steel. They're doing it, they're building a market, and supporting a growing clientele.

Vancouver Urban Winery ) has sprung to the fore-front of an emerging industry. As the wine industry itself continues it's unprecedented evolution with sales growth in the double-digits year after year, and now decade after decade, business people like Steve Thorp @ Urban Winery see opportunity.

I've worked in the hospitality industry for over 25 years, and have seen change after change. But one of the biggest changes must be the dramatic increase in "wine-by-the-glass". Most restaurants two decades ago carried a mediocre selection of wines period, and the wines they carried by the glass went by the monikers of "House Red" and "House White". Not terribly inspiring.

Now there are entire restaurant concepts revolving around wine-by-the-glass.

One of the greatest pities of this - can we call it evolution? Is that the pace of wine-education in the service industry hasn't kept pace with the dynamic leap forward in wine-consumption. It's been a hundred years or more since we as a society consumed this much wine per person, and yet the average server pouring your wine in a restaurant, pub or bar has relatively little more experience then the barkeep or waiter who was doing so in yesteryear.

And what does this mean for you? What does this mean for the consumer? It means that time after time, bottle after bottle, wine is being poured that is corked, overheated, over-chilled, oxidized and so on, and so-on. You, my friend, are not always getting the wine that the winemaker intended. Indeed, in many markets, you rarely are.

I certainly don't want to come across as if I'm condemning the service industry; far from it! However, this is a simple truth of today - that we have far fewer wine-savvy servers then we have serving positions, and the ratio doesn't seem to be improving. What do we do Steve Thorp?

We install a wine-keg; a FreshTAP system; we go to wine-on-tap. And why do we do this? Zero chance of oxidization, zero chance of corkage, zero wastage, total control over pouring, total control over temperature and let me go on a little rant about wine temps! Far too often I'm served white wines that are barely above zero degrees; the aromas are deadened, the palate is opaque... truly, the better the white wine, the closer to room temperature we can serve it. And the other spectrum isn't pretty either... I was at a Zinfandel tasting many months ago, in the middle of a heat-wave in Summer, and it was held in a facility that had no functioning air-conditioning. 15% ABV Zinfandels in 30C are not pleasant my friends... the alcohol seems to expand in ones mouth, in ones nose, and becomes truly offensive.

And so what's not to love about the idea of FreshTAP; of wine-on-tap? Well I for one had no problem telling Steve that I wondered about the base-line quality of wines going into a keg. A keg - like what Budweiser goes into. Of course, as soon as the words were out of my mouth I looked around the room and saw the impressive array of BC wineries who were choosing this new wave of packaging. Savvy business people are getting in line to work with the likes of Steve Thorp and the Vancouver Urban Winery, and small wonder!

Reduced costs per bottle, increased quality, increased control over wastage (which can reduce profitability by up to 25%) and a reduced amount of shelving (or real estate as restaurant-gurus will state) all yield phenomenal results for the open-minded restaurateurs who utilize this. And this is without considering the dramatic environmental impact; less bottling, less boxes, less shipping... you get the idea. Though the number of BC establishments utilizing this system are small (around 50 out of several thousands), the number is growing.

We as consumers, and I've said this before, are at a New Age of wine industry. We have access to quality for price like never before. We have access to varietals that were on the verge of extenction. We have access to wine from a global market to a global market. And all of this can benefit from the FreshTAP system.

It's a part of the puzzle. Here are fresh, young wines that will stay fresh and young for month-upon-month, in the same condition they left the winery in. Here is a chance for young winemakers to truly speak to an international market about what they are trying to accomplish. Do you really know Beaujolais? Or Sancerre? Or Marlborough? Unless you've been there, and had some barrel-samples from reputable wineries... perhaps you don't know it as well as you thought you did.

But I had the chance, the opportunity, to taste something special at Vancouver Urban Winery.

Roaring Twenties Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand
$14.99 CAD (BC)
89+ points
  • brilliant example of typicity (the varietal). I would serve this in a lecture to illiustrate what a "classic" New Zealand Sauv Blanc can be
  • pale straw color with silver & green highlights
  • on the nose very soft herbaceous, green grass, melon tones
  • on the palate fresh lively acidity, tastes like young pineapple, strong undercurrant of minerality. Great balance and structure. Medium length
  • in short - this drinks like a $20+ wine for $15
Roaring Twenties Malbec
Argentina, Upper Mendoza
single vineyard
$14.99 CAD (BC)
88-89 points
  • what a treat to have a single-vineyard Malbec (or any varietal) for $15~!
  • to the eye this is a young wine, and so much more ruby color rather then garnet - lighter then most wines from this region that I've experienced
  • on the nose ripe plums and red cherries, savory earth
  • on the palate much the same, with fresh young acidity and approachable medium tannin, the concentration I found medium and somewhat simple, but simple isn't always a bad thing! On a Saturday night I would gladly crack open a few bottles of this when we have people over

In closing, I asked Steve what he would say to the wine-snobs in the audience who ask (and rightfully so) "What about wine being a living thing? What about a wine's evolution in bottle?"

Steve thought for a moment, then responded with true candor: (forgive me if this is not verbatim)
"The evolution of wine in a bottle is sexy. It's a sexy part of the wine-industry and something that I personally find appealing. We here at  Vancouver Urban Winery don't try to compete with that, we compliment it. We compliment how some wines are meant to evolve for years or decades by the same token that some wines are meant to be enjoyed fresh and fruity. 

There's nothing sadder to me, in this field, then knowing that the wine I'm having in a well-respected restaurant or bar is nothing like what the winemaker intended it to be. Now I get to facilitate that experience from winery to glass, and that's really the best part of my job."

Well said. I, too, have such aspirations.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

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