The Ethics of Talking About Wine in British Columbia

The Alumni Association of the University of British Columbia in the Canadian rain forest city of Vancouver is hosting a debate and wine tasting of wines from my valley, although the valley and those grapes are both found five or six driving hours away over the mountains and in the dry Interior grasslands of the Columbia Plateau. You can read about it by clicking here. I’m floored. Imagine. The citizens of a distant city, in an entirely different biological region, are proposing to determine, over sips of wine, whether a vineyard should make its decisions based upon wine-making fashions or on terroir, which is the sum of geological, climactic and horticultural factors which determine the flavour of a wine, and they’re attempting to do so by a simple populist vote. There’s no mention in the write-up of other important factors, such as environmental factors, loss of indigenous habitat, climactic change, Indigenous peoples’ land claims issues, the threat to the last remaining pristine temperate grassland on earth, possibilities for meaningful and sustainable agricultural renewal on Indigenous Syilx and Secwepemc models, and so forth.

P1530740Noble Ridge Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

In addition, there’s no mention of the slaughter of starlings that goes into this wine production, the subsidized use of precious water to grow luxury products at very low yields for export to Chinese billionaires, instead of using the land and the water to create food for the people of the Okanagan, while tens of thousands of people in the region go to food banks to try to get something to eat that lies within their budget. None of that. Just an academic debate about terroir or fashion. Terroir includes all the issues I mentioned above. I hope the debate includes meaningful discussions about environmental factors, loss of indigenous habitat, climactic change, Indigenous peoples’ land claims issues, the threat to the last remaining pristine temperate grassland on earth, possibilities for meaningful and sustainable agricultural renewal on Indigenous Syilx and Secwepemc models, the ethics of water use and land speculation, the connections between land and water use and poverty, and the ethics of a distant people determining the fate of people in an entirely different region.

P1540471Vineyard at the Rise, Bella Vista Hills, Okanagan Landing

If it doesn’t, then I believe it essential that the people of the Okanagan gather and hold a conference to determine the fate of the parklands, waterways, industrial planning, developmental density and transit infrastructure of the City of Vancouver, and enjoy it over some imported coastal halibut and smoked salmon. Anything less is slavery. In other words, the people of the Okanagan will determine the future of everything you can view in the image below.

Vancouver_ibVancouver, a Neo-Colonial Capital? Source.

Yes, it’s preposterous. But it would be preposterous if an organization in the City of Vancouver would have the gall to attempt to determine the fate of our own country without even having the decency of bringing the discussion to us and opening it up to the real and pressing issues at hand rather than only the limited ones that fit into its own cultural and investment paradigms. How shameful that would be. Let’s hope that the discussion is broad and innovative, and is moved to a more suitable location. There’s still time.

11 replies »

  1. When I saw the announcement for this event, I had similar if less thorough thoughts as your own. There is a bizarre and appalling set of assumptions embedded in the decision to hold the event.
    This would be a great letter to the editor of the Kelowna Daily Courier and the Vancouver Sun. UBC people do read the paper, but they might not see your blog.


      • Or perhaps you could write the organizers of this tasting yourself and invite them to hold it in the proper place. And to consider the many other factors you mention which should affect wine production. Thinking about terroir is fine, but bringing wine down to a case of fashion is ridiculous, and demeaning to those who produce it with some passion and vision.


      • Hi,

        I intend to write them, yes. I’ve written them before about other issues. Sadly, fashion is a big part of the wine industry today, worldwide. There’s too much wine grown, for one thing, and fashion is the signature of our age. When it impacts people and land, however, as it does in the Okanagan, that’s when enough is enough! In Germany, there’s fashion and tradition, and at least they’re in some kind of balance, with the worst problem being over-industrialization and the loss of hand-worked vineyards, but here? It’s all one issue.


  2. Hi Harold! Want to get together a team and go to this thing? Often such panels are opened up to discussion from the audience; and they are certainly opened up to questions. Let’s sign up and go ask some pertinent (and impertinent) ones!


  3. Reblogged this on Sable Aradia, Priestess & Witch and commented:
    If you live in my home Okanagan Valley, I encourage you to read this and offer your opinion. I am thinking I might go and attend the panel just so that I can bring up some of Harold’s excellent points. I know that a few of my friends in the Okanagan would love to join me.


  4. I hope this blog reaches folks who are UBC alum and/or live in Vancouver so that they can attend and raise the important questions your ask in person. Yes, colonialism is alive and well, but analysis like yours helps support effective resistance and eventual change.


  5. Hi Harold, Great article and very informative!
    The wine industry is beginning to look grim with capitalism, market flooding, environmental issues, and outrageous business costs to name a few. It’s hard enough for the industry professionals. Things have to change and soon.
    I noticed the vineyard at the Rise, Bella Vista Hills looks amazing, I have to see about getting a tour. Have you been to Cedar Creek or Sandhill wineries in the Okanagan area? I went once with Mojotours and it was an amazing experience. I would go again in a heartbeat.


    • The industry has become a tourist industry, and is in a process of shaking down to big players, with restaurants, and so forth. The vineyard at the Rise doesn’t bottle their own wine, sadly. I’ve heard it goes to West Kelowna. Turtle Mountain Vineyard in Vernon does sell its grapes in the Shuswap. You can taste the terroir there. I used to go to Cedar Creek long, long ago, when it was one of the 8 wineries in the valley. It’s a bit overbuilt for my liking now. I’ve never been to Sandhill. There are wayyy too many wineries, but there are still a few good ones. I do recommend Meyer and Blue Mountain in Okanagan Falls. It all depends on what you are looking for.


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