Nature Photography

Choke Cherries and Pinot Noir

I think it’s time to liberate the things of the world. Choke Cherries, Unite! Yup, as humans we’re used to talking about things with words, but here in the Okanagan Okanogan we are also talking about things with things. That’s human, too, and I’m glad of it. This, for example:

Choke Cherries Getting All Geared Up to Blooooooom

These bushes are growing in bear territory that has been recolonized by humans. How fair is that? 

These cherries are growing on the land. Within the shape of the land, they are words. IWithin the language that humans use here, though, English, they sound poisonous. Choke cherries. But, really, there’s a long tradition to that. Chokes are, traditionally, the wild, native pears of England. Here:


From these tea-bag tasting fruits is made that golden elixir, Perry. I wrote a book about that. With a recipe! OK, also a recipe for peace, but hey, peace and Perry. Mmm.

It follows that when Englishmen came to the Okanagan and found cherries growing in the arroyos, they called them chokes, because they grew everywhere, on their own. That’s kind of what English law was all about, after all: authority comes from the people, on the land. The courts draw their authority from that. It keeps us all honest.

What Looks Like a Grape, Acts Like a Grape, But is the Beloved of Bears?

Yup, a choke cherry. Good guess.

So, that’s the thing. The German and French wine industries got off the ground when they took the wild pinots from the hillside, cultivated them, learned how to grow them and to make decent wine from them, selected the best varieties, and named them, oh, you know, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Cabernet on the French side, and Riesling, Traminer and Veltliner on the German side. Think of it: the wine industry of Europe is made out of the cultivation of wild fruits.

 Wild European Grapes Left to Freeze on the Vine in the Okanagan

They call this ice wine. Brrr!

The wine industry of the Okanagan, however, is based on the cultivation of European grape varieties, and its self-proclaimed specialty, Ice Wine. (Hey, for fun, check out the math on that link. Soon it could be you saying; Hunh?) Let’s see if I got this right: the Europeans look around, see things (chokes) growing here and there, cultivate them, because that’s easier than wandering up into the hillsides after Emmanuelle Beárt, and pretty soon we have Chateauneuf du Pape. The Canadians, on the other hand, plant European grapes, ignore their chokes, and freeze their grapes on the vine so they can make sugary stuff out of them that tastes sweet, smells fruity, and has the decided aftertaste of grapes left months too long on the vine, pecked by birds, mouldered by mould, and, hmmm, just hmmmm. And this is a hell of a lot of work, too…

 Eiswein  Getting Ready for the Heat So It Can Get Ready for the Cold

Does that sound a little complicated to you?

Meanwhile, just a few metres away …

Choke Cherries Looking Down Over an Ambrosia Apple Orchard in Full Bloom

Orchards like this can only survive if thinned with poisons, cultivated with weed-killers, and fertilized with dissolved petroleum-based nutrients in their irrigation systems. The choke cherries just, well, watch, you know.

In Germany, the raspberries of every mountain farmyard, the Schwetzgen plums of Baden, the Waldkirschen of the Black Forest, and the Williams Holy Jesus Pears of the mountain meadows are made into aromatic schnapps that’s like drinking heaven, but what is done with choke cherries here? People tell their children that they are poisonous. Really. Isn’t that like saying, “Don’t go play with those Indian kids?”

Half of my first grade class was Indian kids. I think it’s time we grew up.

1 reply »

  1. I’ve watched bears feasting on choke cherries by the bridge over the Nicola River on Lauder Road (on the way to Douglas Lake). There’s a clearing there dense with cherry trees. I’ve always thought the fruit would make delicious wine or a kind of slivovitz — aromatic and medicinal!


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