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Archive for April 2014

Sip and cycle in Osoyoos

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bikers (2)

Silver Sage Pearle is a port-style wine made from blackcurrant and blackberry. The tasting notes tell me it’s good with cheese cake, vanilla ice cream, or mixed with vodka, or with champagne.

There are a couple of other things it’s good with, according to Silver Sage sales manager, Elena Dudlettes. “It’s good with a Cuban cigar,” she says. “Or just with a Cuban. Carlos, Ramon, Enrique … take your pick!” she adds with a wink.

“Your team loses in the last minute and you need a drink,” she says, introducing the next wine for us to taste. “There’s nothing wrong with a glass of this with bacon and eggs for breakfast,” she says of the Silver Sage Gewürztraminer. “Hey, you don’t do bad things, you have nothing to talk about,” she says about … I can’t recall what that was about.

Elena had me at hello.

Dark blue and ripening fast, these grapes soon became Merlot at Hester Creek, the first winery on a tour of the Golden Mile Bench near Osoyoos.

Dark blue and ripening fast, these grapes soon became Merlot at Hester Creek, the first winery on a tour of the Golden Mile Bench near Osoyoos.

Silver Sage is the last of seven wineries on a Sip and Cycle Tour through Okanagan wine country last October. Several hours earlier, five of us had set off with Richard Cooper, owner of Heatstroke Cycle and Sport. Cooper was born and raised in Osoyoos and operates Heatstroke from the Watermark Beach Resort on Osoyoos Lake.

I’d been expecting pedal bikes. After over-indulging in goat cheese lamb meatballs, pan-seared scallops and flank steak in the Watermark’s tapas bar the night before, I’d been hoping for pedal bikes. If I was to visit seven wineries, I reasoned that I’d have to earn every sip. The sight of bright orange Pedego electric bikes leaves me mildly disappointed.

Until I try one.

In seconds, I speed up Hester Creek’s driveway just by easing back on the throttle, mounted on the handlebars. I coast back to the bottom and do it again for fun.

Hester Creek, the first stop on the Golden Mile Bench – three verdant terraces and a series of alluvial fans on the slopes of Mount Kobau between Osoyoos and Oliver.

Hester Creek, the first stop on the Golden Mile Bench – three verdant terraces and a series of alluvial fans on the slopes of Mount Kobau between Osoyoos and Oliver.

“I told you it was like riding a bike,” says Cooper, who’s used to guests falling in love with his bikes. “There’s no way we could keep to our schedule on ordinary bikes. And let’s be honest, who wants to pedal uphill on a wine-tasting tour?”

He’s got a point.

Hester Creek is our first stop on the Golden Mile Bench – three verdant terraces and a series of alluvial fans on the slopes of Mount Kobau between Osoyoos and Oliver. As well as an opportunity to taste a multitude of great wines, the Sip and Cycle Tour is a lesson in geography, chemistry and history, key ingredients in the area’s wine production.

Luke Whittall greets us Hester Creek and first pours a taste of the Character White, which includes a blend of the Okanagan’s only Trebbiano. The award-winning Trebbiano is made from some of the oldest vines on Hester’s Mediterranean-style estate, but sadly, it has “Elvised,” says Whittall. “Left the building, sold out,” he adds by way of explanation. Like the Okanagan Valley itself, the Golden Mile terroir and its blend of gravel, silt, clay and sand, was formed as glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago, says Whittall.

Just above the valley floor, the Golden Mile is better protected from severe frost. In fact, knowing that a single degree Celsius can make a huge difference to wine quality, vineyards use wind machines to blow away cold air.

Only on a wine-tasting tour can you really appreciate what a 48-volt, 10-amp electric engine can do. The Pedego is one sweet ride!

Only on a wine-tasting tour can you really appreciate what a 48-volt, 10-amp electric engine can do. The Pedego is one sweet ride!

“We’re left with amazing soil composition around different creeks,” says Whittall, who gives us a 101 class in how local geology can affect grapes and the wines they produce. Whittall has worked in most aspects of the wine industry, from crushing grapes under foot (“the Stairmaster from hell!”) to the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance), the regulatory body guaranteeing quality and authenticity of origins for Canadian wines.

We try Hester’s Reserve Merlot, Late Harvest Pinot Blanc (similar to an ice wine, but not) and my favourite, The Judge – a hugely fruity red that smells of pepper and caramel, and makes me want to order a steak immediately.

Next-door to Hester Creek at Gehringer Brothers, Bob Park gives us several of the vineyard’s 22 wines to taste and a pocket history of the region. “Walter and Gordon Gehringer bought the property in 1981 when there were only four estate wineries in B.C.,” says Park. “They were taking a bit of a gamble. Back then, the few wineries were protected from foreign competition and made cheap wine for local markets.

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“NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1991] changed that. Knowing they couldn’t compete with California wine producers, the government paid B.C. wine producers to rip up their inferior hybrid vines and replace them with premium European grapes and promote a shift to higher value wines.”

Today there are more than 200 wineries in B.C. and 60 varieties. “Last summer, wine was the number one best seller, according to the Liquor Distribution Board,” points out Park. “It used to trail behind beer and spirits.”

I thank Park for the history lesson and buy a bottle of Gehringer’s Auxerrois. We’re back on the bikes and waving at passing motorists who look bewildered at how easily we speed along the Okanagan Highway. Just down the highway at Inniskillin, Audrey Silbernagel leads us directly to the main event – Inniskillin’s Tempranillo Icewine. The sweetness seems to last forever and at under 10 percent alcohol, I’m not about to leave anything at the bottom of the glass. It might be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever tasted. On impulse, I tell Silbernagel I’d like a bottle and hesitate only for a moment when I discover it’s a $100. (My budget blown, I passed on the $35 Riedel icewine glass.)

Bruce Fuller, the larger-than-life owner of Rustico Farm and Cellars.

Bruce Fuller, the larger-than-life owner of Rustico Farm and Cellars.

Tastes of Mamma Mia Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, Syrah, Quattro and Maximus follow at Cassini Cellars, poured by owner Adrian Cassini himself. “How involved are you in the daily business?” one of our group asks Cassini.

“Today is Sunday and I’m here,” says Cassini with a tired smile. “So are my wife and daughter.” Cassini used to run fitness clubs in Vancouver. “Then I had a mid-life crisis and decided to build a vineyard,” he says.

Someone else obviously putting his heart soul into the business is Bruce Fuller, the larger-than-life owner of Rustico Farm and Cellars. Fuller’s in cowboy gear when he greets us and he stays in cowboy character as he tells jokes almost as quickly as he pours Rustico wines into whiskey tumblers. Fuller’s tribute to the Okanagan’s mining and ranching history is behind names like Bonanza Zinfandel, Mother Lode Merlot and Isabella’s Poke, a Pinot Gris with a saucy story.

At Black Hills Estate Winery, a dedicated 'wine evangelist' pours a bottle of 2011 Nota Bene, a Bordeaux-style red wine.

At Black Hills Estate Winery, a dedicated ‘wine evangelist’ pours a bottle of 2011 Nota Bene, a Bordeaux-style red wine.

We turn off the Okanagan Highway and throttle up to the Black Hills Estate Winery. With its manicured lawns, swimming pool, cabana and sleek tasting room, Black Hills is the antithesis of Rustico. A ‘Wine Evangelist’ already has a table set with numerous glasses ready for tasting. Lunch is served and we taste our way through several vintages, including a Carmenere, unique in that Black Hills is the only winery in Canada producing this varietal on its own. I forget the budget I’d broken three wineries ago and buy a bottle of Black Hills Chardonnay. At Silver Sage Winery, I’m powerless to resist the smooth-talking Elena and buy a bottle of Sage Grand Reserve because Elena says it complements turkey and Thanksgiving is only a week away. (For the record, Elena was right.)

Coasting along Black Sage Road, with seven wineries behind us and pedaling just for show, I truly appreciate what a 48-volt, 10-amp electric engine can do. At $2,400, the Pedego is a sweet ride. Looking back, I’m just relieved I didn’t try and buy the bike as well.

If you go:

The Sip and Cycle Tour plus one-night’s stay at The Watermark Beach Resort is $169. Call 1 855 270-76991 855 270-7699 or visit watermarkcycling.ca and heatstrokecycle.com for more details.

 

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Las Vegas: The beaten track and the single track

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red rock

For a city synonymous with late nights, Late Night Trailhead just outside of Las Vegas is decidedly different. There are no buildings besides an outhouse, no meandering pedestrians or neon, and certainly no noise. Instead you’ll find about 200,000 acres of desert known as Red Rock Canyon, home to tarantulas, rattlesnakes, burros, bunnies and wild vegetation that can either harm or cure you.

More than 80 miles of trails lure another desert creature, namely the mountain biker – about 2,000 of them locally, according to Brandon Brizzolara. Brizzolara is a guide and mountain bike specialist for Escape Adventures and Las Vegas Cyclery. He grew up in Vegas and fondly remembers when even The Strip had its own biking scene.

“From Tropicana to Fremont we’d have BMX sessions on The Strip like it was a skate park in the 90s,” he says. “Vegas is a pretty active community, it’s just The Strip that’s a little out of shape.”

In his element, Brandon Brizzolara, guide and mountain bike specialist for Escape Adventures and Las Vegas Cyclery.

Brandon Brizzolara, guide and mountain bike specialist for Escape Adventures and Las Vegas Cyclery.

We’re here for The Strip and the desert – the beaten track and the single track: Neville and Leah and their teenagers, Ryan and Emma, all of us with contrasting wishes and expectations for our three-night stay in Las Vegas.

Shopping had been my kids’ idea. For hours we’d lost ourselves in high-octane consumerism at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, a consumers’ paradise with 170 stores, 15 restaurants and several entertainment venues. Britney Spears has her own store here where Britney merchandise exhorts shoppers to “Work it, Bitch”.

It’s a legitimate vice in Sin City, but shopping – and Britney Spears – make me uncomfortable so I stood with a crowd and watched a guy get his belly tattooed at Club Tattoo. Leah got a manicure at Original Diva and had nails “to die for” long after returning home. Ryan and Emma blew their entire budget.

On all of our wish-lists was a Vegas show. Britney had taken March off so we chose Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana, a celebration of circus traditions set in an abandoned theatre (but in reality at the Aria Resort and Casino). The show blends anarchic humour with the precision and grace of aerialists, acrobats, jugglers, high-wire and trapeze artists. The clowns made Ryan uncomfortable but he’s only 16; otherwise we left well entertained.

At 550 feet tall, the High Roller is the crown jewel in Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s LINQ development, a pedestrian-friendly retail, dining and entertainment neighbourhood on The Strip. The High Roller opened March 31. Denise Truscello photo

At 550 feet tall, the High Roller is the crown jewel in Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s LINQ development, a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood on The Strip. The High Roller opened March 31. Denise Truscello photo

The spa treatment was Leah’s idea, but I was happy to tag along. For the Vegas rookie it can be tricky finding places on foot and ESPA at the Vdara Hotel was no exception. We could see it set back off The Strip, but The Strip has a way of keeping pedestrians on The Strip. We eventually got there by walking through another hotel, The Cosmopolitan. Any stress I might have felt at being late for a spa treatment soon melted away under the sensuous heat of volcanic stones, body brushing, exfoliation and a scalp massage. Beats shopping any day of the week!

Great food was on everyone’s list and the following three restaurants more than delivered. The Yard House enjoys an enviable location just a few feet from the High Roller, the world’s biggest observation wheel. At 550 feet tall, the High Roller is the crown jewel in Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s LINQ development, a pedestrian-friendly (hallelujah!) retail, dining and entertainment neighbourhood on The Strip. The High Roller opened March 31, two weeks after our visit, but we were content to admire it illuminated in green for St. Patrick’s Day from the deck of the Yard House. The beer list alone would entice me back to the Yard House, but the St. Louis-style ribs and truffle fries had me at hello.

Chayo chef, Ernesto Zendejas.

Chayo chef, Ernesto Zendejas.

Just a short stroll through the LINQ brings you to Chayo Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, a two-storey fiesta in the making, anchored by a mechanical bull. Mexico City-born chef, Ernesto Zendejas, draws upon classical training in France to present an exquisite mix of flavours: Lobster tacos, bass ceviche, cilantro cream soup, shrimp fajitas – it’s tough to pick a favourite, but none of us were lining up to ride the bull afterwards. (Portions are decidedly North American – not French!)

Plates are meant to be shared at Crush, one of many dining options at the MGM Grand, but our family came close to making a scene over the sea scallop benny, comprising sunny-side quail egg, chorizo and chipotle hollandaise. Some meals are too good to be shared. The shrimp risotto and lamb sirloin with bacon brussels sprouts also didn’t last long.

Between the shopping, the show, the spa and the dining, we savoured afternoon pool time. In downtown Las Vegas, we mingled with celebrity lookalikes and body-painted models at the Fremont Street Experience, five city blocks of high-tech wizardry featuring a 550,000-watt sound system and a music and light show broadcast from an LED canopy 90 feet above the ground.

Sea scallop benny at Crush, MGM Grand. Don't even think about sharing.

Sea scallop benny at Crush, MGM Grand. Don’t even think about sharing.

And we ventured a little off downtown’s beaten track. Further down Fremont Street, past El Cortez, the city’s first casino, we found The Beat Coffeehouse and Records, the hippest little joint for breakfast and heaven to a 16-year-old who’s just discovered vinyl.

Nowhere though seems quite so off the beaten track as the Mojave Desert and the single track of Red Rock Canyon. The mountain biking had been my idea. Only 17 miles west of Las Vegas Boulevard, Red Rock’s Mustang Trails might have been on another planet, such is the contrast with The Strip.

For two hours we mostly coast on easy trails, stopping occasionally for impromptu descriptions of the vegetation. Brizzolara says he hasn’t taken a pill in more than 10 years, and why would he with nature’s pharmacy on his doorstep? There are seemingly cures for all ailments in the numerous sage bushes and plants like Mormon’s Tea, a species of Ephedra, which is traditionally used to treat asthma, hay fever and the common cold.

Ryan Judd in his element at Red Rock Canyon.

Ryan Judd in his element at Red Rock Canyon.

If inducement to remain on the bike were needed, there are no shortage of plants that could make for a painful landing: cacti, whose barbs expand after piercing skin, and the Joshua Tree, whose bayonet-shaped leaves feature serrated edges – handy for cutting barbecue wieners, according to Brizzolara. We stay on our bikes. My daughter, Emma, who’s never mountain biked, struggles gamely and mostly ignores her dad telling her to relax.

It’s the same advice she gave me at the Britney Spears store.

If you go:

  • Las Vegas Cyclery (lasvegascyclery.com) and Escape Adventures (escapeadventures.com) offer year-round tours (half day and full day) for mountain bikers and road cyclists, as well as hiking tours. If mountain biking, you’ll ride full suspension Santa Cruz 29ers and tours start at $129. Call 1 800-596-29531 800-596-2953.
  • We divided our accommodation between the Downtown Grand Las Vegas (downtowngrand.com) and the MGM Grand (mgmgrand.com). Formerly the Lady Luck, the Grand recently reopened after a $100-million renovation. It’s steps away from the Fremont Street Experience and features PICNIC, a wonderful rooftop pool. The MGM Grand more than holds its own on the pool front with four to choose from and a lazy river. It also offers Stay Well rooms, which comprise more than a dozen health and wellness features, including aromatherapy, wake-up light therapy and Vitamin C-infused shower water.
  • For more on ESPA at Vdara, visit Vdara Hotel and Spa.
  • For more on Las Vegas, visit vegas.com

Creature comforters

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SPCA branch manager, Cindy Krapiec, with Chicklet.

SPCA branch manager, Cindy Krapiec, with Chicklet.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

–          Mahatma Gandhi

At three feet tall and 200 pounds, Jiggy is hard to ignore: especially when he’s hungry. He’ll nudge you if you’re in his way and he’ll wag his tail when he’s happy. Only a cruel person would say he waddled. He sashays.

Jiggy is a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, formerly known as Jerry. A while back, Jiggy achieved local notoriety on the Sunshine Coast when the SPCA sought a permanent home for him. That search ended in West Sechelt where Jeri Patterson provides a home for some of the Coast’s unwanted animals.

“Two Jerrys would have been too weird so I renamed him Jiggy, but a lot of people remember him as Jerry,” says Patterson. “He’s considered a farm animal and most rescue properties prohibit farm animals – chickens, pigs, etc. My property is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve so after several foster homes, he came here. Now he’s home!

Jiggy - not a hungry pig to be truffled with.

Jiggy – a hungry pig not to be truffled with.

“All of us want to be made to feel special. Animals are no different.”

Patterson loves animals. Thankfully she’s not the only one who cares. Volunteers up and down the Sunshine Coast care for unwanted animals. Some open their homes, taking in abandoned cats, dogs, bunnies and the like. Others help by knitting toy mice or by raising money via yard sales, recycling, trivia nights and sponsored dog walks. Their work is essential because on the Sunshine Coast, the number of abandoned pets is rising.

It’s a pattern repeated during economic downturns, says Patterson. “When you see food banks so busy you realize that some people are barely able to feed themselves, let alone their animals,” she says. “It’s cheaper to help people keep their pets than to care for them in a shelter.”

In 2013, the local SPCA attended more than 50 investigations of possible animal cruelty, many of them requiring multiple visits. January 2014 has already been record-setting with 13 cruelty investigations. In Gibsons the same month, 37 stray dogs were reported by the district’s animal control officer.

“Thirty-seven strays is a massive amount for a community of 5,000 people,” says SPCA manager Cindy Krapiec. “I think most animal lovers and pet owners are aware of the extent of the problem with unwanted pets, especial through social media, but otherwise people have no idea.”

Happy Cat Haven volunteer, Marcia Timbers - aka The Cat Whisperer.

Happy Cat Haven volunteer, Marcia Timbers – aka The Cat Whisperer.

Together with her three staff, Krapiec run the SPCA in Wilson Creek, fulfilling the organization’s mandate of ‘speaking for animals’ by caring for abandoned creatures, investigating possible cases of cruelty, and educating the public about spaying, neutering and animal care. They receive no money from the government and rely almost entirely on fundraising. Far from being beleaguered though, Krapiec considers herself lucky to have “stumbled into” a job that brings something different every day.

“Even after three years, the learning curve is massive,” she says. “We spend a lot of time speaking with potential adopters, meeting animal owners and following up on cruelty cases. We try to educate first to find a solution. Litigation is a last resort.

“There’s a lot of science-based research to provide the best care for animals and that’s constantly changing, too.”

And then there’s the “never-ending” cleaning at the Solar Road facility, which last year handled 447 animals, including 196 dogs, 178 cats, 17 puppies, 36 kittens and 11 rabbits.

Krapiec acknowledges the extraordinary network of volunteers working alongside the SPCA, from business and community fundraisers to front-line animal rescuers like Clint Davy and the Gibsons Wildlife Rehab Centre, Violet Winegarden and the Happy Cat Haven, and Pam Albers of Pawprints Animal Rescue.

Violet Winegarden in her element at the Happy Cat Haven.

Violet Winegarden in her element at the Happy Cat Haven.

Then there are the veterinarians. “Local vets absorb a ton of cost,” says Krapiec. They are also among the first places she calls when homes are needed for abandoned pets. At the end of the line are people like Meghan Graves.

“I have no shame about calling Meg with a litter of animals,” laughs Krapiec.

Graves is a registered animal health technologist and the office manager at Sechelt Animal Hospital. She’s also vice-chair of the SPCA’s community council, which meets monthly to organize fundraising, community relations, and advocacy. At home with her husband and two young children, she’s fostering two rabbits (in addition to one she owns) in her living room, along with two dogs, Winnie and Gunnar, plus five cats – all abandoned at some point.

“You end up doing stuff like that,” says Graves. “All staff at the clinic fosters or have fostered. It gets very personal. It’s never ending.

“There are not many jobs where you take this kind of work home with you. You stay up all night long. It’s like having a newborn, or multiple newborns.”

As for the family dynamic, Graves admits that Winnie and Gunnar don’t get quite so many walks now she has two young children. “But they get story time now, which they both seem to really enjoy!”

Smooshie refuses to say 'cheese'.

Smooshie refuses to say ‘cheese’.

Violet Winegarden can surely relate to a home full of animals. On a tour of her Gibsons home I lose count of the number of cats but Winegarden – who knows them all by name – estimates there are 55 to 60. Outside there’s an HIV pen for Laredo, Clancy, Blue and Rebecca. In a neighbouring pen are Chamberlain, Whiskers, Tiger and half a dozen more all crowding around Marcia Timbers, a Happy Cat volunteer to whom Winegarden refers as “the cat whisperer”.

“Violet works harder than anyone I know,” says Timbers. “Her phone never stops ringing from people asking advice about spaying or neutering.

“So many people say they just want their cat to have a litter. There’s no reason for a cat to have a litter,” Timbers adds, exasperated.

Inside the home, Winegarden shows me the Seniors Room for cats as old as 26; the Forever Room for sick cats like Bijou, (“27 pounds, fat and happy,” says Winegarden) who are in their final days; and the Adoption Room for healthier cats. In between is the kitchen where two cats take up residence in my camera bag as other cats wander in and out.

Amid the clean litter boxes, medical equipment and bags of cat food I notice a Governor General’s Award hanging on the wall. Since 1992, Winegarden and her band of volunteers have cared for more than 7,000 animals. During that time she’s witnessed the effects of unspeakable acts of cruelty. She’s bonded with countless cats, including one that used to play the piano with her. And with the help of Dr. Justin McLash of the Sunshine Coast Pet Hospital, she’s ensured that cats are spared unnecessary suffering.

black cats

“I can tell when cats are going to die,” she says. “We shouldn’t have to suffer to die.”

At 85, Winegarden continues to rise at 5 each morning for long days of cleaning, caring, fundraising and managing a sanctuary with monthly expenses of $12,000. I’m tempted to ask why, but during the course of a long conversation that afternoon, I don’t have to.

“I think I was born this way,” she laughs. “I’ve been in trouble over animals all my life. I just don’t see animals as any different from us. We’re all the same beings on earth. We’re here to be together.”

It’s hard to imagine one person taking over Violet’s work, just as it’s difficult to contemplate the Sunshine Coast without the SPCA and other pet-rescue organizations. Jeri Patterson knows as well as anyone that SPCAs do close down. After Chilliwack SPCA closed, Patterson, once a resident of Agassiz, got involved with cat and rabbit rescue at her licensed kennel at the request of the municipality’s animal control officer. (Surrey’s SPCA has also closed.) She continues to look after animals from that jurisdiction.

“People need to know this about the SPCA: If you don’t value it, you may lose it.”

  • There are numerous ways to help those helping abandoned animals. Visiting http://www.spca.bc.ca/branches/sunshine-coast/ is a good place to start. So is spaying and neutering your pets. If you witness animal cruelty, call 1-855-622-77221-855-622-7722.
  • Drop off grocery receipts and Canadian Tire money at Happy Cat Haven collection boxes at IGA, Super-Valu and Clayton’s stores. Or drop off cans and bottles for recycling at Happy Cat Haven, 760 School Road, Gibsons, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Yard sale items can also be dropped off. To volunteer, call 604 886-2407604 886-2407.

Written by nevjudd

April 5, 2014 at 10:10 am