It started at a little winery on the Naramata Bench on a blustery December afternoon. It ended with a stunning experience and an enhanced way to taste wine.

Naramata Bench…

The first time I met Sonya Patrick was at Misconduct Wine Co. when we took Michael’s cousin, Daniel, for a little tour through the Okanagan and inevitably ended up at Naramata Bench. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s an area that stretches about 18 kilometers long north of Penticton. 18 kilometers doesn’t seem that vast. But with rows and rows of vines packed on either side of the road it contains upwards of 25 wineries. All unique and all very close together. The funny thing is there doesn’t seem to be an attitude of competitiveness or arrogance along the bench; more of a community.

The Initial Experience…

Because it was the middle of December- not really a busy time for tasting rooms- and it was miserable out, there was only a selection of wineries open. We made our way through a couple and a tasting room associate at Red Rooster named a few more that would be open for the next hour or so. One had cheese- so we definitely wanted to hit that one. But I also knew I wanted to go to Misconduct, I don’t know why, maybe I had a feeling. We almost drove right past it, because it was near closing time and the guys wanted to go to the winery with the cheese… But I made them stop, because I always win ;). We walked up the stairs to what looked like a freshly done up barn and opened the door into heaven. Tiffany blue walls. Hilarious and catchy wine phrases. Beautiful chandeliers. It was classy, elegant and just a little bit rustic. We were the only ones besides a few workers mulling about and Sonya instantly welcomed us in. She was excellent. The epitome of customer service. Daniel is fairly new to wine so he had some hesitations and questions- she was all ears and put everyone at ease. Michael’s brain races a mile a minute and he could pick her brain for hours- she let him. I just wanted another gal to small talk with- she’s perfection. I should’ve warned you before, I hoped you got it from the title… But this blog won’t be about Misconduct. It’s about the experience and the woman who made that experience memorable.

Sonya Patrick

I couldn’t help but ask before I left if she would be willing to let me interview/chat with her so I could use her on my blog. Of course she said yes, we exchanged names, she gave me her card and I was pleased with the whole afternoon! About a week later I texted her asking if she’d be up for a coffee date, it was a bit before I heard anything back, but it was around Christmastime and everyone was busy so I tried not to read too much into it. A few weeks later I received a reply. A glowing, apologetic, yet lovely response saying absolutely I’d love to help you out… The message explained she had left Misconduct, not sure how helpful she’d be to my blog at this point, but was up for a visit!

Here’s what she taught me…

I really wanted to pick her brain about the proper etiquette to wine tasting in more of a casual setting- if there is any such thing- and how people can get more out of their tastings by pushing through the barrier of intimidation. I’m going to be honest, this was a tiny portion towards the end of our coffee (neither of us actually got coffee, but it’s much easier to say) when I thought I should probably ask a few journalistic questions so I don’t just go off on a tangent about our lovely interaction (which I’m already doing anyways, but whatever). ANY WHO. I find it can always be intimidating to head into a wine shop. Questions flood my mind from am I dressed appropriately to should I have a stronger knowledge of wine. Sonya quickly cleared these up for the Average Joe or Josephine: everyone is different. Especially everyone’s palates. If you don’t like their award-winning Chardonnay, you don’t like their award-winning Chardonnay. If you taste peaches in their Riesling- you taste peaches in their Riesling. Don’t like something? There is a spit bucket. Should it be over-used? No. Should you go in there guns a blazing about how horrible you think their Pinot is? Probably not. Find the happy medium, because that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. By they- I mean the tasting room associates which could very well be the GM or owner in some small wineries. They want you to love and appreciate their wines. They put a lot of work into a product and they’re standing in front of you, heart basically on their sleeve looking for a reaction. Any reaction will ultimately do, whether it’s you saying hmm maybe not an everyday wine, but I wouldn’t mind this every once in a while. Or this is the best thing I’ve ever tasted! Or if you don’t know something- A S K. If they’re passionate about what they do, they would be glad to enhance your experience by sharing some of their knowledge.

Think of it this waywhen you buy any product from a big box store, from electronics to food to clothing, the associates don’t have much of an investment in whether you like it or not. They ask if you need any help, sure, but they don’t expect you to stand with them and experience the product. Wine is very different. At least it is for me. Whoever is doing the tasting for you, more so at a smaller winery, probably had to do with bits and pieces of the whole process from pruning to bottling to serving. It means something to them. And it all leads up to the experience.

Slow down…

We chatted about how people are in such a rush, and this doesn’t change on wine tours. Some people absolutely like to take their time (me) hear the whole history (me) and develop a meaningful experience (me). But some people are looking to get hammered and guzzle down any and every drop they get. So perhaps next time you’re thinking about heading to a winery, throw away all fears of intimidation and feeling uncomfortable, these wine shops are set up to showcase the winery’s blood sweat and tears. Invest a little bit more into the experience rather than chugging someone’s livelihood and you will be surprised by what you get out of it. Whether it’s finally tasting the peppery flavour in a red, or being transported back to a memory after drinking a white, or melting into a puddle after sipping an ice wine. Mutual respect manifests in an incredible way and as much as sometimes it feels like they just want you in and out, Sonya notes they’re doing their best to give each group or person their own individual experience. So hang tight, they know you’re there, just let them get to you!

Everyone’s drinking it…

The Okanagan wine scene is still very young, but look around you, everyone’s drinking it. As much as companies and certain activists promote local products, sometimes it can be hard. But local drinking, that’s easy! So as rules and regulations loosen up, Sonya notes BC wines won’t be protected anymore and it could get harder and harder for some wineries to get into stores over the cheaper, imported wines like at say, Save-On, which now sells liquor in their supermarkets. So instead of going for the easy, cheaper bottle of a mass-produced wine, try to find something with a story or a memory that means something to you. Something locally grown. And wherever Sonya ends up next, I’ll be happy to recommend and visit ten times over. Xo

 

 

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