La Dolce Vita: Keeping in touch

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When I visit a winery I am always happy when I am asked to sign up for an email newsletter. It’s a pleasure to open up my email and get the latest news about a winery’s special events, wine releases and harvest activity. Wineries with active websites and strong email lists also tend to be the ones that offer online purchases, too.

Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot of consistency when it comes to online presence by wineries. Some do it extremely well and others either don’t have the resources or interest to conduct what is essentially the entirely new business of e-tail commerce.

Since the opening of Creston’s Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery last year the owners have done a marvelous job of getting the winery’s name and products out and about. That they are comfortable in doing so shouldn’t come as a great surprise. Petra Flaa has an information technology and management background. Her husband, Bob Johnson, is in the oil industry and he’s using his numerous connections to great advantage. Johnson is a personable, knowledgeable wine enthusiast who hasn’t let his busy oil patch business interfere with his plans to be in Creston full time. He’s taken sommelier courses and worked hard to get Baillie-Grohman wines into stores and restaurants in Alberta and B.C.

Johnson and winemaker Dan Barker have hosted wine writers and people in the hospitality industry, introducing what they firmly believe is a distinctive Creston Valley terroir to a growing number of very impressed folks. Johnson has been interviewed for numerous publications and media shows, including a session with Terry David Mulligan, whose radio show is broadcast around the province and on the Internet. Baillie-Grohman, apparently, will also be mentioned in an upcoming feature in Air Canada’s in-flight magazine. The feature is focusing on three New Zealand wineries, including Barker’s Moana Park, which continues to haul in awards and accolades from around the world.

Keeping up with Baillie-Grohman news is easy. The winery’s website has a sign-up link to subscribe to the newsletter and Facebook and Twitter users can also link up.

Of course communication is only part of the business plan for a winery that made a commitment to quality when the vineyards were planted and Barker was hired on. The wines are receiving excellent reviews despite their relative youth, and my own tastings have confirmed that Baillie-Grohman is a winery to watch.

Flaa and Johnson are committed to sustainable practices, too. The vineyards are being cared for in a way that could pave the way to organic certification in the future. Minimal water is used on the vines. Flaa is looking for ways to reduce the amount of water used in the winemaking process. And a bank of solar panels on the winery building helps reduce the winery’s carbon footprint.

Visitors to the Erickson winery can look forward to an enhanced experience when the tasting room opens on June 16. The tasting room itself has been enlarged and tours are being planned. Flaa has also been busy with plans to create an outdoor picnic area near the tasting room. Visitors will be able to purchase wine that they can enjoy on benches in a nicely landscaped area and Flaa is working out details that could see the winery offer some food items or connect with local restaurants for delivery.

I’m convinced that the Creston Valley has a strong future in the wine industry and Baillie-Grohman will play a vital role in its progress. As Bogie said in Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.