Joie’s Heidi Noble As Globe & Mail “Flashpoint”

Heidi Noble (and friend) on her Naramata farm.

There was something odd when I read Alexandra Gill’s column today, and I’m not talking about her anaesthetic-free disembowelment of Market.

I’m instead referring to her other piece, a fine read on BC wines and the Wine Fest called BC Wines Face Homecoming Test. Buried in it was something strange that has been eating at me all afternoon. It was when she quoted JoieFarms winemaker Heidi Noble as saying: “B.C. is not good value.”

Huh?

It’s a ballsy quote for a BC winemaker to give a reporter. True or not, can you imagine the CEO of Jaguar saying the same thing about his cars? I mean, not only does Noble now have to face her peers (whose products she just pooh-poohed) for the rest of the week at Wine Fest, she also has to explain herself to all of her customers who might be wondering why they should buy Joie at all if it is “not good value”. You follow?

About fifteen minutes ago I received an email from JoieFarms. With their permission, I’m printing it in its entirety:

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Dear JoieFarm Supporters,

We wish to address a quote attributed to us in the Globe & Mail’s March 25, 2009 article “BC Wines Face Homecoming Test”. For those of you that read Alexandra Gill’s article, we are certain you raised an eyebrow when Heidi was quoted as saying “BC Wines are not good value” in an article addressing this years theme country of BC headlining the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. This quote was not only taken out of context, but presented entirely without context for such a complex subject.

We wish to express our excitement to be participating in this years Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival and are proud to have taken our own table in the main tasting room to stand up with the best of the BC wine industry representing the quality wines of our region.

We value your support and wish to thank you for helping us to sell out the 2008 vintage of our wines. We are proud to celebrate our 5th anniversary of JoieFarm wines this year and are committed to making more great wines of quality and value, this year and beyond.

After having spoken with Ms. Gill about the article, she thought using Heidi’s quote would be a “flashpoint” for conversation. We absolutely agree with the immediacy of the topic and for those of you interested in the nature of that complex subject… here are our (missing) thoughts below:

The question of whether BC wine is good value or not needs to be contextualized from the standpoint of cost. As former sommeliers, import wine salespeople and now wine producers we are well-versed in the realities of global wine production. The Okanagan Valley is amongst the most, if not the most, expensive, of all wine producing regions in the world. Three major factors contribute to this situation, the extremely high costs of land, labour & equipment.

As the winery business is quite new in the Okanagan, we do not have centuries of tradition where vineyards and wineries have been passed down through families for generations. Most of the actual investment has taken place over the last 20 years.

The Okanagan Valley is quite small with much of the available valley floor taken up by lakes that make grape growing possible at such a northern latitude. Tourism and development compete with agriculture for the land and as such this has driven up the price fivefold in the past 7 years. The rising demand for BC wine has resulted in the demand for more grapes than are available. The price for an unplanted acre of appropriate vineyard land ranges from $140,000 – $300,000/acre. An additional $25,000/acre needs to be spent on planting the vineyard and it takes 4 years until the vineyard is in full production. These prices are far beyond almost every wine producing region in the world.

The booming economy of the past several years has led to a shortage of agricultural labour. Basic farm labour costs us, at JoieFarm, between $15-$17/hr, much more than the pennies per hour paid in areas such as Argentina, Chile or Eastern Europe.

All of our equipment and most of our packaging needs to be imported and paid for in either Euros or US$, both of which are currencies that significantly exceed the Canadian dollar. Most of our winery equipment comes from Italy, France, Germany or Switzerland. The remainder comes from California. All of our bottles come from Europe, Asia or Mexico. We are in the most remote part of North America and increasing fuel prices have driven transportation costs through the roof on all of these items.

In conclusion, cost is only one factor when considering the actual “value” of a wine. Quality, authenticity and relationship to the place of origin are also significant factors. From a purely dollar standpoint, BC wines are challenged to compete with large scale areas such as Argentina, Chile, Spain and Australia, especially at the lower price points, but this is the reality of the global economy versus regional pride and a sense of place.

Sincerely,

Heidi Noble & Michael Dinn
JoieFarm
www.JoieFarm.com

On behalf of everyone here at Scout, a hearty congratulations to Heidi Noble, this week’s Globe and Mail “flashpoint”.

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Read The Gluttony Blog

  • http://www.waldorfwine.com khristian

    Maybe Ms. Gill should review the egg on her face!

  • http://www.farmsteadwines.com Anthony Nicalo

    There is no egg on Ms. Gill’s face. Heidi Noble’s argument in her email response is merely an explanation of why BC Wines are not good value. Even the BC government recognizes that BC wines are not good value- isn’t that why they place a 100% tariff on imported wines? I’m on the Joie mailing list and buy some of their wines, but not because I think they are great value. I buy them because I think Joie is miles ahead of many BC wineries in trying to make something that resembles an agricultural product instead of a beverage made from grapes. Heidi’s email is more of the same back-patting that is all too common in the BC Wine Industry. Had she stuck to her story (quoted properly or not by Ms. Gill), I would have been far more supportive. At some point, the free pass has to stop and the BC wines have to be evaluated on their merits. If the land and inputs are so expensive, quit trying to make a wine that competes with commodity products on value and make a wine that competes with world-class, artisan wines. No more shortcuts with pesticides, herbicides, commercial yeasts, enzymes or irrigation. The real fallacy in the Globe and Mail article is that BC wines will now be competing with the best imported wines of the world. The truth is they are primarily competing against other industrial products, not the artisan wines Joie hopes to make oneday.

  • artie

    Nothing wrong with a little honesty in this time of dishonesty. Thanks Heidi for your insight and your opinion, and your wonderful wine which I am happy to continue to support as it is a fine example of the terrior of the naramata bench. Peace

  • Bc Girl

    Well I think we all know that is not the first time that Ms Gill has “misquoeted” someone in order to get her opinion across. I odore the fact that Heidi Noble has taken the time (please note this is a very busy/intense time for Heidi and Michael) to address this situation before it was taken any further.

    I appreciate Ms Gill insight at times, but most often than not her “opinions” are printed in way that makes you think she only wants to sell more papers.

  • Chris

    Anthony, you put pretty stickers on lame bottles of wine and then hawk and twitter them up for a living. Maybe leave the winemaking to the winemakers and shut the fuck up. Thanks.

  • http://bmannconsulting.com Boris Mann

    Hmm, Chris, sounds like an ad hominem attack to me.

    I’m a fan of Farmstead’s wine selection. I actually wish that more products would work this way. I can look for the Farmstead stickers, and, like ordering organic local produce from Spud.ca, I know that I’m getting a product that has been produced in a way I agree with. It helps that they all taste good, too.

  • http://www.amealiaoil.com Rachel Black

    Anthony, your stickers are not that pretty (they’re okay) but your wines are great and I believe in what you are doing. If only there were more people in the industry who would encourage consumers to look beyond the glass. It is evident that more education is needed.

    Thank you Hiedi for taking a moment to explain some of the issues you face as a winemaker in BC. It is great to see a serious dialogue between the press, winemakers and consumers.

  • http://winecase.wordpress.com Remy

    Chris, if your only argument is insult, it isn’t worth putting it up.

    I don’t believe Heidi Noble’s letter is really in contradiction of her original point.

    Funny, if she’d said QPR, nobody would be fretting, I’m sure.

  • DK

    Having been sent here to comment by Farmstead’s Facebook page, I had to laugh when reading Chris’ comment. It is not so much argument as it is a general feeling in the local wine trade. Farmstead is a good concept. If only they sold good wine…

  • Jake S

    Despite the fact that this original post was in regards to the press release by the lovely and talented Heidi Noble…

    It’s complete shit that the local wine trade’s sentiment is negative towards Farmstead wines. I strongly disagree with your comments – which seem to be more of a personal attack on Anthony. Of the well over a dozen I’ve tried, I’ve yet to try a Farmstead bottle I’ve considered “lame” and many of them I love, and I believe these sentiments ring true with anyone involved in any premier wine program in the city. Not too sure what fancy “wine trade” circles DK and Chris are rolling in…

  • Michael Dinn

    Anthony,

    Value, much like “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder. You value the wines that you import because of your relationships with the people and the places from which the wines originate. It is your job as an importer to help the people of BC form a relationship with your wines by acting as the intermediary and telling the story of the people and the places from which those wines originate. The people of British Columbia place value on British Columbia wines because they have formed their own relationships directly, without an intermediary, and that makes those bonds stronger and more tangible than the stories of people in another place.

    The value of British Columbia wine can also be measured in more tangible ways. Chefs in BC have learned over the last 20 years that supporting local farms and farmers has resulted in a bounty of incredible ingredients that they never could have dreamed of when they started to do so in the mid-80s. These farmers have helped to make them better cooks. As a result, the citizens of Vancouver dine out more than any other city in the country. Everybody wins. Sommeliers have been engaged in a similar relationship over the past 15 years and the synchronicity between the food of these farmers and chefs and the wines of these growers, vintners and sommeliers has resulted in the emergence of a distinct West Coast cuisine with a genuine consciousness of place. For more on this subject, please consult the essays in Heidi’s book “Menus from an Orchard Table” (Whitecap, 2007)

    The discussions of aesthetics, quality, price, the “real” price of a wine when EU farm subsidies are included in the sale price of a wine, and actual, rather than your perceived, methods of production, etcetera, are a lot longer than this comment area has space but the final point I will mention here ties back into the very real aspect of how people make a living. The BC fishing & lumber industries have been devastated over the past 20 years. The BC wine industry has risen over that same period and provided a domestically produced, finished product with a massive multiplier effect that has become the economic engine of the entire Okanagan region. At a time of real financial crisis in the world, the BC wine industry has been one of the buffers that has helped to mitigate the impact on the entire province of BC. Never underestimate the value of supporting ones neighbours.

    The wines of British Columbia may not be something that you, personally, value but the sommeliers, chefs, wine retailers and wine drinkers of British Columbia have chosen, and will continue, to differ with you.

    Michael Dinn

    JoieFarm

  • http://www.ectsticist.com Evan Leeson

    I have enjoyed every farmstead bottle I have opened, and the values represented by Anthony’s selections matter to me. Anthony’s full-spectrum selection criteria speak to the future of food production in general and I hope BC Winemaking in general comes to the table on embracing this ethic. It can only be a better outcome for everyone, though perhaps not the bottom lines of large producers bottling grape juice with alcohol in it with misleading labels. Marketing-as-lying is over.

  • George Baugh

    In a recent Globe article, Beppi Crosariol thought it might be time for someone to organise a blind tasting to compare BC wines to foreign wines, as the Californians did in the seventies when they put up their best against some top French wines.

    As an importer of foreign wines and a fan of BC wine, I for one would be willing to take part.

    Perhaps Mr. Morrison could help put together an event of this sort.

    Any one else care to accept this challenge?

  • http://www.farmsteadwines.com Anthony Nicalo

    Thanks Michael.

    While the farmers I work with certainly are amazing people with fantastic stories, I value wine as an agricultural product. Wine should be judged in the same way that both professional chefs and amateur cooks have begun to critically evaluate not only the flavors of foodstuffs, but also their provenance. Understanding how the grapes were grown and the farming practices, in addition to any additives used in the cellar are critical to assessing how much of a wine actually represents a consciousness of place versus a contrived beverage.

    I am just hoping for serious wine to be evaluated as an agricultural product, where it has been evaluated for far too long merely by score or mythical story.

    I don’t think it is fair to say that I don’t “value” the wines of BC, especially when I have bought wines directly from you in the past and will continue to buy your wines. I believe that you understand the importance of farming and are making every effort to move towards making a genuine agricultural product. I do not believe this is true of most wineries in the world. It is not about liking or disliking BC wines per se, as there are thousands of wines in Italy and France that are horrible value no matter the sticker price (and don’t even get me started in the States). Supporting farmers, local and otherwise is something I take quite seriously and is work that we do everyday through our non-profit organization, FarmFed. Much of the food movement tends to latch onto reductionist solutions and although I buy local food as much as possible, it is not better in all instances. I wrote about this last year http://www.farmsteadwines.com/other/2008/02/how-can-a-local-food-fanatic-be-a-wine-importer/

    Although you may disagree, Michael, I was defending Heidi’s comments as quoted by Ms. Gill. Joie Farm wines are to my understanding quite distinct from some of the products made by Vincor and to suggest that they are worthy of equal respect just because they are made in the same place is foolish. The Okanagan Wine Industry could likely learn lessons about sustainable production methods from the problems associated with intensive resource use that are becoming apparent in the fishing and timber industries.

  • http://www.mojo4business.com Sean Sherwood

    I love it when recess gets out and we all start chucking lunchboxes at the first sniff of conflict.

    Even as two respected and intellectual winegeeks get together over their own oenological chessmatch of semantics, we see the hurling of starwars graphic’d plastic filled with kraft singles grilled cheese and thermos’ full of campbells tomato soup. It’s the soup that’ll get you eventually, being that the ballasting effect brings considerable weight to the discussion.

    The question of value is subjective, very grey, and completely open for debate. Any debate on value is bound for the monkeybars, at recess, as the inevitable destination is a questioning of the other’s core values.

    What’s at stake, however, is made very clear by Heidi and Michael, and eloquently so. Our local, artisinal wine industry is besieged by heavily subsidized foreign juice that the mainstream customer deems ‘good value’. If we want to see more value, less price, better wine, more artisinal products, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a little more vocal (and not just with each other).

    So before you all form a circle chanting ‘fight fight fight’, i suggest a slightly more ‘Frank the tank’ approach. Dump the tomato soup, fill it with Joie, and chant ‘drink drink drink’. You’d be surprised at how quickly you’ll start agreeing with each other.

    I’ll of course defer to Michael’s expert palate at which Joie pairs best with kraft singles.

  • Scout Magazine

    Nice idea George.