Preview: Flavours of BC’s Naramata Bench Wine Tasting & Auction

This guest post was written by Mack, an Edmonton-based geek who fancies himself a part-time foodie. You can find him online at his blog, and on Twitter.

On Wednesday I had the opportunity to check out a preview of the Flavours of BC’s Naramata Bench Wine Tasting & Auction. The 3rd annual fundraiser for the Winspear Centre and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra takes place on January 28, and features the sounds of Sandro Dominelli performing smooth jazz plus more than three dozen wines. At the preview, we got to taste nine of them.

Flavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine TastingFlavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine Tasting

We tasted wines from four different wineries: Kettle Valley, La Frenz, Lake Breeze, and Laughing Stock Vineyards. I enjoy wine, but I am definitely not a connoisseur. Usually I am more than happy to select a bottle from the shelf based on just the name or label. Fortunately for me, there was a little of both at the preview!

David and Cynthia Enns both had established careers in the investment business when they purchased Laughing Stock in 2003. The name is a play on the risk of launching a winery, and the financial references don’t end there. When they released their first wines, they called the event Laughing Stock’s Initial Public Offering (IPO). And they have some of the most unique bottles I’ve seen – instead of traditional sticker labels, they feature information printed directly on the glass. The bottle says “LFNG”, the would-be stock symbol for Laughing Stock, and features the date and a variety of stock prices from that day printed in the style of a stock ticker tape. It’s eye catching!

Flavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine Tasting

We tasted three wines from Laughing Stock: Portfolio 2007, Blind Trust Red 2008, and Chardonnay 2009. Portfolio (the winery’s flagship) is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, and retails for around $40. Blind Trust Red is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and retails for around $29. The Chardonnay is aged in larger format French oak barrels, and goes for about $26. Of the three, I enjoyed the Portfolio most.

Flavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine Tasting

La Frenz was started by Jeff Martin, known for spearheading Quails’ Gate in Kelowna. Their bottles feature a QR code on the back, which is still fairly unique, but something I expect more wineries will adopt in the future. We tried two of their wines: Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Semillon, which sells for about $28, is blended with 10% Sauvignon Blanc and had a nice citrus flavor. The Cabernet Sauvignon sells for about $37 and had great color. Among other awards, it won Double Gold and Best Over $25 at the All Canadian Wine Championship last year.

We tasted two wines from Kettle Valley, which features the Kettle Valley Railway on its labels: Merlot and Pinot Noir. The Merlot, which sells for about $26, was one of my favorites of the night. The Pinot Noir, which sells for about $36, was good as well, with earthy tones. Both are multi-sourced wines, fermented in French oak.

Flavours of BC's Naramata Bench Wine Tasting

We also tasted two wines from Lake Breeze: Seven Poplars Sauvignon Blanc and Seven Poplars Merlot. Seven Poplars denotes the winery’s premium wines, created from select barrels and select vineyards. The Sauvignon Blanc, which sells for about $27, was sweeter than I prefer, which made me think that Sharon would really have enjoyed it. The Merlot, which sells for about $37, was my favorite of the evening. It was full bodied and very flavorful.

If the wines at the preview were any indication, the fundraiser later this month will be an enjoyable affair. Tickets are $90 per person for the main event, or $150 if you’d like to sample the VIP tasting, which gives you access to exclusive library wines and the chance to learn from the winemakers themselves. For more information, including a list of the featured wineries, check out the Winspear Centre’s website.

Edmonton’s Food Bank: Expressions of Hunger Contest

In high school, a few girlfriends and I volunteered for Edmonton’s Food Bank, back when the main warehouse was still located downtown, just off Jasper Avenue. Our weekly task centered around repackaging dry or fresh goods so individual portions could be placed in hampers. I remember marvelling at how well coordinated the Food Bank was – the organization seemed to operate with assembly-line efficiency, with our portions eventually taken to the hamper assembly area, and bagged into hampers to be picked up by clients. There never seemed to be a time when the interview rooms were empty – frontline staff were continuously busy, taking calls or assessing clients in person.

Though the Food Bank’s location may have changed, the need for their service has not. And while there may be a collection box at the exit of every grocery store in the city, donations to the Food Bank are often an afterthought, in spite of their continuous provision of food to Edmonton’s needy on a daily basis.

For that reason, I really admire their current campaign called Expressions of Hunger, an attempt to engage creatives in the city on the subject of hunger. Open until March 31, 2010, the contest encourages photographers and writers to submit photos, poetry and short prose to illustrate one of five categories: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and environmental.

In April, the entries will be posted online where people can vote for the top three photos, poems and prose in the five categories, with winners being notified on May 3. The three winners in each of the five categories will be showcased at City Hall on National Hunger Awareness Day (June 1) and until June 4, at the Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse, from June 7 to June 23 and exhibited during the Works Festival of Art and Design at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts from June 25 to July 7.

I emailed Tamara Stecyk, the person behind Expressions of Hunger, with some questions about the Food Bank, and to find out her inspiration for the contest.

  1. While the necessity to help some Edmontonians meet their basic needs is growing, does the Food Bank foresee any particular areas of heightened need for 2010?
    Edmonton’s Food Bank experienced a 70 per cent increase in use from March 2008 to March 2009 as a result of the economic downturn (from just over 9,000 people per month to almost 15,500 per month). As an organization supporting the community for almost 30 years, this is not the first time we’ve seen challenges like this.  In 1996, we were serving almost 19,000 people per month and it took 12 years to see client numbers fall to the 9,000 people per month. We anticipate that the need for our services will continue throughout 2010 and over the next 5-10 years.

  3. What is the biggest misconception about the Food Bank?
    One of the biggest misconceptions is that the Food Bank serves a particular demographic in Edmonton. In reality, anyone is one pay cheque away from using the Food Bank. If you lost your job, your marriage fell apart, became very sick or faced unforeseen expenses, you may need to turn to our organization to help you through that tough time.

  5. How did the Food Bank conceive of the Expressions of Hunger contest?
    I work in the Special Events and Community Relations department at Edmonton’s Food Bank, and was struck by photos related to food banks that I came across on the Internet. Active in social media, I was also aware that there is a strong photography community in Edmonton and proposed an online contest that would explore the nature of hunger in our society.

  7. What has the response been to the contest so far?
    The response to Expressions of Hunger has been a bit disappointing. We have 4 photo and 10 literary entries. With such creative talent in the Edmonton area, we thought we would receive more response. But there still remains a month left for submissions so perhaps possible participants are procrastinating.

  9. If you could encourage every person to recognize National Hunger Awareness Day (June 1) in one way, what would that be?
    We encourage people to recognize National Hunger Awareness Day by organizing a food drive, a fundraiser, a discussion around food insecurity or participate in Expressions of Hunger. For more information about National Hunger Awareness Day, click here.

Thanks to Tamara for answering my questions! Click here if you want to find out more about Expressions of Hunger, and check out the Food Bank’s Twitter account here.

Edmonton AIDS Walk for Life 2009

The 2009 AIDS Walk for Life took place this past Sunday. Mack and I participated for the second year in a row, and began raising money for it a few weeks ago. As some of you may have known, we were in a bit of a competition, and in spite of his “Twitter clout”, I won! Well, ultimately, HIV Edmonton is the winner, but thank you to all of my sponsors who helped me raise $260 (Mack raised $210). All of the money raised from the walk stays in the community to help with HIV Edmonton’s work with prevention, education and support for those living with HIV, among other activities.

With the water bottle and reusable bag I “earned” from raising over $250

It was a beautiful, albeit brisk, day for the 5km walk, and the weather was a blessing for the event, held in Churchill Square this year. The outdoor setting made everything seem more lively, and welcomed any and all who were in the area to enjoy the festivities. Besides music and entertainment, Planet Organic and Starbucks were on hand distributing refreshments, and walkers were treated to free pizza from Pizza 73.

Churchill Square

Burlesque performer Sophie Sticke

At the same time, there seemed to be more confusion that arose out of the open space, a natural result from a latent ability to exert control over a wide area. Last year, a button we received at the end of the walk entitled participants to complimentary pizza and popcorn, but this year, because of the nature of the space, tickets were required for food. It hadn’t been communicated to us that tickets could be used for a free hot dog from Fat Franks (we only stumbled upon this after deciding that we would buy food ourselves), and I’m sure many participants who hadn’t wanted to eat prior to the walk weren’t aware of this fact.

Nitpicks aside, it was still a great event. Nick Lees, the “Mile High Marshall” and Sophie led the way on a float of sorts down the walk route. There’s something about just being a part of a crowd, knowing you are a part of a movement larger than yourself that is wonderful to experience.

Nick Lees and Sophie

And we’re off!

Mack gets his walk on

Along the walk route

At the Legislature

Instead of stopping halfway through the walk at the Legislature for a photo, the organizers decided the group shot would be taken at the end back at Churchill Square. The stairs on the Centennial Plaza were the perfect place to do so.

Group photo op

Thanks again to everyone who supported us!