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 Symphony Orchestra: Late Night Paris

Two weeks ago, Mack and other social media folks were invited to attend an Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concert as a thank-you for having blogged about their shows in the past year. It was a nice gesture, and we happily accepted the tickets.

The tickets say “ESOBLOGGERS” in the top left corner!

The show was Late Night Paris, their second in a series that debuted this year with a later start time (9:30 p.m.), no intermission, and is billed as “interactive and spontaneous” with an opportunity to chat with Conductor Bill Eddins. The concerts also feature live jazz in the lobby afterwards, making for a very full night.

Before the show, we met up with Philip Paschke, the ESO’s New Media Specialist, and organizer of the blogger appreciation event, at Moriarty’s. I was tempted to order a dessert (made by Duchess!), but stuck with a drink. While I enjoyed the very pink Bellini, the stem of the glass was sticky. Ick.


The group eventually made their way to the Winspear, and then parted ways, as we were all given the choice of where we wanted to sit. Mack, Jeff, Brit and I all took the plunge and opted for a seat in the Choir Loft, behind the stage.

Jeff and Brittney

The Choir Loft definitely provided me with a different perspective of the orchestra. Not only were we able to watch the audience from our seats, but spy on the musicians as well, and notice all the small details (page turning, mallet swapping) that go unseen when facing the stage.

The audience

The orchestra

That said, an unfortunate consequence of our placement was an inability to hear what was being said into the microphones, as the speakers in the Winspear Centre face the opposite direction. Brittney said that she didn’t have any trouble discerning the banter between Eddins and Conductor Luke Waldin, but for me, it felt a bit like watching the one-sided conversations with the teacher in Charlie Brown – after some muffled sounds, the audience would erupt in laughter.

Bill Eddins and Luke Waldin

As advertised, the tone of the evening was very light – at one point, Waldin even walked on stage, just before Eddins was about to begin another piece, with a glass of wine in his hand. The mood was noticeably more carefree than some concerts I have been to in the past – I can see how this series would appeal to a wider range of people who might appreciate music but may not have the knowledge that more serious patrons do.

As for the music, I loved the Bizet Symphony in C Major – spirited and uplifting, it was a joy to listen to. Eddins is always fun to watch too – he conducts with his whole body, complete with kicks and full arm sweeps.

The ESO has introduced their concert line-up for the 2010-11 year, and Late Night with Bill Eddins will be back. Your next opportunity will be on January 21, 2011, for Late Night Percussion.

You can read Jeff’s thoughts about the night here and Brit’s post here.

Symphony Under the Sky 2009

Mack and I attended our first Symphony Under the Sky concert in Hawrelak Park over the weekend, and it pushed me to realize one reason to love Edmonton.

It was a task itself to get to the venue – a lack of planning on my part meant we ended up driving, and encountered more vehicles parked around Hawrelak than I have ever seen before. After crawling through the one-way thoroughfare with no luck, we drove to the University and took a free shuttle bus from Stadium Car Park. While we usually take public transit to events of this nature, as it was our first time, I don’t think it was pressed upon attendees enough that parking would be limited (but yes, I accept our punishment for forsaking transit).

At any rate, we arrived having missed the first song, and had to listen to the second (a medley of well-known Hollywood tunes) standing. Our tardiness meant our purchase of reserved seats ($27 a ticket versus $18 for grass seating) was an unexpected boon, even though the available selection (in July, no less) was few and far between.

Our view of the stage

The concert, titled Hollywood Adventures and Romances, was an evening of familiar silver screen scores and songs. While I do enjoy the occasional purely classical number, I have to admit I tend to prefer popular music. The program included songs from Titanic, The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (my favourite was indeed the latter, and I spent Labour Day re-watching the movie on DVD). Mack enjoyed the encore of the theme from E.T., his favourite childhood film.

Robert Bernhardt was our conductor for the evening. His sense of humour helped make the light evening of music more enjoyable. Also worth mentioning was one of the cellists, who not only brought out a lifejacket before the Titanic number, but also a hat and whip before the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a set of alien ears before E.T. Tyler Hamilton, a top-10 finalist from Canadian Idol’s first season, made a guest appearance, and sang an amusing duet of “People Will Think We’re in Love” with soprano Kathleen Brett.

We spent some time at intermission wandering the area, and avoided the temptation of mini doughnuts and Fat Franks (they are everywhere!). We spotted some concert freeloaders just outside of the amphitheatre fence – I’m sure there will be a similar article written about the best place to treat yourself to Symphony Under the Sky as there was about the Folk Fest.

Packed Amphitheatre

At the break, we ran into one of our former high school vice principals also taking in the show. She indicated that she was a Symphony Under the Sky regular. This comment triggered the thought that all Edmontonians likely have a favourite festival, and a time of year in Edmonton that they look forward to most (for me – the Fringe, of course). And though Labour Day may trigger a change in season, the festivals don’t end here (the Edmonton International Film Festival is in a few weeks, with dEdmonton just around the corner, followed by LitFest, among others).

On the people power front, festivals rely on locals to donate their time. Nearly every event, whether a day in duration or fourteen, would not happen if not for Edmonton’s amazing culture of volunteering. But more than that, I’ve come to realize the variety of festivals – from anime to multicultural, social justice to theatre – provides citizens with the opportunity to lay claim to one in particular that speaks to them and it becomes their yearly in-city escape; a perennial convergence of those with a shared passion for that theme, medium or philosophy.

I think it is about time Edmonton dropped our “City of Champions” nickname to formally adopt “Festival City” instead. While it’s not a new concept (Edmonton Economic Development Corporation has marketed the city as a festival destination for years), it occurred to me this weekend how our year round events, each one distinct and unto their own, help to bring out the best and showcase the tip of the iceberg of what we have to offer.

Lovely scene after nightfall

Thanks to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra for a great evening, and for the realization of one of the many reasons why Edmonton is a great place to live.