I am the Fraser Valley’s Wine Guide. When I look back on my unimagined journey to this place none of it seems random, yet none of it was especially planned out either. I am still at the core a very ordinary person whose life has moved into some pretty unexpected and extraordinary directions.
First some personal history: I was born in 1968 in Chilliwack and grew up on a five acre broiler-breeder poultry farm where I was the middle one of my Mennonite parents’ three daughters. I did well in school and eventually won some awards and scholarships which I applied to my post secondary education at the B.C. Institute of Technology. I took an intensive two year Marketing and Tourism Management diploma course there and magically graduated Magna Cum Laude (which I still find baffling) in 1990. Afterwards, I worked in Vancouver’s tourism industry with the Japan Travel Bureau before moving back to Chilliwack in 1993 to begin having my babies. Seven years later I found myself staring down a failed marriage and the ominous need to re-enter the work force. I turned back to my tourism roots with a bit of a twist. In the fall of 1992 I had taken a weekend trip to the Okanagan that very literally was to change the course of my life.
It was a restless and rainy October Saturday in Kelowna that prompted my former husband and me to seek entertainment beyond the confines of the Lake Okanagan Resort and our hotel room. We hopped into our car and drove out to visit the wineries at Cedar Creek, Summerhill, and Calona. Even though I didn’t know much about wine then beyond the Baby Duck and apple cider my parents had provided and the Le Piat D’or we’d had at our wedding, I enjoyed the daytrip. Each time we travelled to the Okanagan after that, we’d make sure to stop and visit some of the local wineries.
In 1999 I went to my first Rotary Wine Festival at Minter Gardens in Chilliwack. What a lovely experience that was, to sip B.C. wines in an exquisite show garden as the sun went down.
So, when Chilliwack gardening guru Brian Minter posted a help wanted ad in August of 2000 looking for someone to work in his B.C. VQA wine shop at Minter Gardens, I applied for the position. The Minters saw my tourism background and figured that I would be a great addition to the Minter Gardens gift shop as well, so I worked one day in the wine shop for every three days in the gift shop, and was grateful for the opportunity. Eventually I was working in the VQA shop full time and soon I was in charge of ordering and inventory, and began to arrange little wine talks with tastings for the public. I also got to help organize the next five Rotary Wine Festivals a Minter Gardens, along with several other special food and wine events.
My first food and wine pairing epiphany came when I served a B.C. Riesling with the lemon chicken I had made for some dinner guests. I had put thought into which wine would go with dinner, but was amazed at how the two individual elements of food and wine really could come together to create something greater than the sum of the parts. With that meal, my food and wine pairing journey to enlightenment began!
I remember my visit from Lane Sweeting in 2003. I believe he was in the area checking out wine shops because he was planning to open his own in Abbotsford. We chatted for a while and my interest was piqued because he described to me a much grander scope and scale of wine, and his passion for sophistication and class in this envisioned boutique was clearly apparent. I filed this information into the back of my mind and told myself that when that store opened, I wanted to be there. Every time I drove past the Ramada Plaza at Whatcom Road I would look to see if I could see anything going on, but I never did. Then, in March of 2005 one of my sales reps came in with a wine delivery and happened to mention that he had just been at the new wine shop they were about to open at the Ramada. I jumped on this information and speedily emailed my resume, applying for a position. I was offered the job during my interview, and accepted. Resigning from Minter’s the next day was hard because I felt much gratitude for how they had helped me stay on my feet during a difficult life transition.
When I first came to work at Whatcom Wine & Spirits there was a definite uh-oh, what have I gotten myself into sort of feeling that came upon me when I looked around the store and acknowledged the bottles from Europe, the USA, Australia, South America, and South Africa. My experience until then had been exclusively with wine from British Columbia and it looked to me like there was a lot of learning to be done about terroir, climate, winemaking, and even different grape varieties. To add to the complexity, I had never been a beer drinker, and my experience with spirits was pretty much limited to a few random highballs during the B.C.I.T. years. I had a lot to learn! Sales representatives came to visit once the word got around about what we were doing at the Ramada Plaza, and appointments for wine tastings from every corner of the world followed. Tastings of spirits and other beverages mingled with the wine sampling. I bought and opened countless bottles of wine just to acquaint myself with what sort of wine a certain grape made, and what wines from different places tasted like. I even ordered the odd beer in restaurants and sniffed the liqueur bottles on my friend’s bar to learn.
After only about eight months I was promoted to the Assistant Manager’s position, and eventually I became the store Manager. We had already launched a Wine Club and I was putting together newsletters, organizing the educational wine tastings I’d dubbed Thursday Night Swirls, and arranging Winemaker’s Dinners. Most recently, my boss Paul Sweeting and I have begun the Certified Specialist of Wine course offered through the Society of Wine Educators out of New York, so soon we will have some letters to put behind our names on the business cards!
I don’t know where my life’s journey will end up taking me next nor when, but right now I am deeply satisfied doing what I do and being allowed to express my creativity and passion at Whatcom Wine & Spirits. I wholly appreciate the opportunities and the trust I have been given here to spread my wings. I intend to keep on both tasting and drinking wine so that I can continue to guide my Fraser Valley followers to the very best bottles for their palates, tables, and budgets. I find wine fascinating; I love the way it changes food and the social atmosphere so that each thing and each person becomes something and someone more somehow, by being together. And as many awakening type of moments that I have experienced with wine (and there have been many over the years) I am always anticipating the next one, and there is always joy in sharing in the discoveries of others.
So this is who I am, this is what I do, and you all are the reason why I do it.