I’m just back from a few days in the Okanagan wine country of British Columbia, Canada, hanging out with Canadian food and wine writers and bloggers at the second annual Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop.
Most of you are American, so I thought you should know about a food writing workshop in a gorgeous food and wine region of British Columbia, in case you ever need an excuse to visit.
I’m from British Columbia, born in Vancouver, and wanted to get back to the province to see the Okanagan again. As a kid, I remember driving up with my family (about a 4-hour drive inland) to enjoy the the fruit orchards, swimming, and to search for Ogopogo in the 100-mile long Lake Okanagan. He’s the Canadian version of the Loch Ness Monster. I had never been back, until now.
I had two other reasons to attend. The workshop’s founder, Jennifer Cockrall-King, a blogger, accomplished freelance writer, and upcoming book author, charmed me with her modesty about the conference and her own accomplishments. (Canadians are given to circumspection and politeness. I used to be like that, but now I’ve been in the States for a few decades and I’ve taken on American ways.) Also, Penticton & Wine Country Tourism paid for me and the other speakers to attend. I’m not saying you will get the same deal, but they are very interested in helping food writers who come to explore and write about the region.
The conference was a combination 2-1/2-day writing workshop and exploration of the area’s farmers, wineries and restaurants. I gave a class about food writing fundamentals (you know, action verbs, similes, etc.). Other accomplished Canadian editors, writers and consultants presented on social media, pitching magazines and food writing. Cockerall-King gave away so many books that all the attendees got at least one.
The farm-to-table movement is in full swing in the Okanagan, and we experienced it first hand at three dinners by inventive chefs who had searched for super-fresh, often-organic ingredients. Two of the three meals were as good as those I’ve eaten at award-winning restaurants. Paired with several wines chosen from more than 100 local wineries, and hosted by winemakers, wine educators, and the chefs, the dinners were a highlight of our workshop. Included in the selection was a wine from Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced in-ka-meep), North America’s first aboriginal-owned and operated winery.
We also visited a farm that makes wine vinegars, the local farmer’s market, an apple orchard, and a tour of three wineries. At the farmer’s market, I bought 3 pounds of organic pears for $4, an incredible bargain compared to the San Francisco Bay Area, where the same amount would cost $6-$9. I also purchased a bag of dried mulberries and contemplated a bag of foraged, dried morels that cost $140. I also bought a bag of roasted hazelnuts grown in nearby Agassiz.
One afternoon, despite pouring rain, we visited a century-old apple orchard, still owned by the family that started it.
The event was a welcome change from some other writers’ conferences I’ve attended, where we’re stuck in a big hotel for days, or in a room somewhere for the duration. It was fun to learn more about the region, drink wine, eat good food, and make new friends. The area reminded me of Sonoma or Napa from 20 years ago, and I wonder how it will evolve as media attention grows.
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