Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Of Fire and Wine

By Julianna Hayes
Some friends and I were sitting on my deck when we noticed the orange glow of the Rose Valley fire across the lake in West Kelowna.

Already wired after an afternoon of media drama over the Glenrosa blaze, which broke out earlier that day, this new and unrelated natural disaster developing before us was pretty much impossible to tear our eyes from.

We sat mesmerized by the spreading flames until the wee hours of the morning. Our collective weariness and mental turmoil, combined with the effects of an endless stream of wine, eventually compelled us to contemplate our own actions should we ever be faced by a fate similar to that of the West Kelowna evacuees.

One of my friends asked if my home was threatened by a forest fire and I was forced to flee what I would choose to save from the flames. The situation is unlikely considering I live a block from downtown - any fire would most probably originate in the house itself and there would be no time to consider rescuing any belongings other than live bodies.

Nonetheless, I humoured her and thought carefully about my answer. “My dogs, of course,” I said, “but the rest is just ‘stuff’ and can be replaced.” (Granted, I suspected even then that this was merely bravado bolstered by booze talking.

“What about all your wine?” she persisted. “Wouldn’t you want to take that?”

“Maybe some,” I replied, “but not to save it… to drink it.”

We all chortled over that, but the fact is I was deadly serious. After my recent move, I know I couldn’t face schlepping all those bottles again, even for a fire. But I reasoned that some liquid balm would be required to soothe tattered nerves amidst all hassle, haste and hysteria.

The next day found me in my little cellar turning over the wines, studying the labels and making a perfunctory note of what wines would be scoped up for medicinal purposes and which ones would be sacrificed to the fire gods. It occurred to me that not only would the remaining bottles not survive the embers, but would very likely feed the flames.

I decided that since there was a risk that I might return home to any empty shell following a hurried exit it made no sense to leave the best behind. So the bottles I chose to accompany me on my fantasy evacuation were treasured. They guaranteed that even if I ended up herded like cattle into some public school gymnasium, I’d be enjoying something pretty sweet out my paper cup.

Of course, my disaster plan also meant that should my house be unscathed, I’d have pillaged my collection for nothing, and have only uncelebrated dregs facing me in the aftermath.

I recall reading stories about wine collectors in areas at high-jeopardy of wildfires fitting their homes with flame-resistant storage systems - ideally rooms built out of concrete and ranging in price from $15,000 for a tiny closet to a cool quarter million for a the flood-proof, earthquake-proof, bomb-proof model. My own sad assembly hardly justifies such an expense.

Other at-risk homeowners with less disposable income have opted for the off-site secure storage route, where they stash their precious cargo in a climate-controlled warehouse - a sort of oversized safety deposit box. While this will keep your collection protected from harm, it also bars you from easy access to it. That’s a bonus for those not capable of keeping their mitts off their wine, for me the convenience of having bottles at the ready is half the pleasure of a cellar - kind of like having a wine shop in your home.

Still, practical matters are something local interface residents with a penchant for wine might start wanting to consider, given that we’re experiencing the second major fire season in six years. While many belongings can be packed into a storage van and left indefinitely, wines will perish in 30+ degree heat in rather short order.

And friends you’ve arranged to camp out with might not be enthused if you show up with your kids, dogs and 1,000 bottles at their door - or, at least, not without a corkscrew.

Wine Notes

Blue Mountain Brut (NV)
Talk about value in this crisp, dry bubble. Features delightful effervescence and a clean nose of green apple, lime, mineral and just a touch of yeast. Dances on your tongue deliver tree-free freshness, apple skin, lime zest, mineral and snappy finish. Pair with anything!
Would I Buy It? It’s already a household staple
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A *Awesome value for bubbly fun
Price: $23.90
Availability: Winery, select private retailers

Stoneboat 2008 Pinot Blanc
Peach, pear, honey, spice, apple, mineral and grapefruit aromas. Bright entry of tree fruit and citrus and a bit of creaminess. Nice minerality on the finish. Perfect for a lovely white fish dish.
Would I Buy It? Definitely
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Score: A- *Underrated varietal that really delivers on quality and price
Price: $17
Availability: Winery, select private retailers

Mt. Boucherie 2006 Summit Reserve Syrah
Nice surprise from this under-the-radar West Kelowna winery. A Syrah that packs a punch with blackberry, black cherry, plum, savoury components of soya, pepper and some vanilla and sweet spice. Luscious fruit on the palate, spice and savoury flavours and a hint of black pepper. A finalist in the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Awards of Excellence in British Columbia Wine.
Would I Buy It? Yes
Cellaring Potential: Drink over the next five years
Score: A- *Everything you seek in a scrumptious Syrah
Price: $25
Availability: Winery, VQA shops, select private retailers

Blasted Church 2007 Merlot
Black cherry, chocolate, pepper, resin, cedar, black olive, earthy and slight Madeira-like notes. The palate is full and round with intense dark fruit flavours, earthy, spicy and Porty. Shows some aged character. A finalist in the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. Awards of Excellence in British Columbia Wine.
Would I Buy It? Once in a while
Cellaring Potential: Drink over the next couple years
Score: B+ *No mediocre Merlot here
Price: $25.90
Availability: Check with winery

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