If that’s a British Columbia wine you have in your glass, you can in large measure thank Tim Pawsey for putting it there. Not because he made it, or sold it, or poured it in a restaurant. But because, over three decades as a wine writer, he has championed our local wines and the people who make them, even when few others did.
“I’ve grown up with B.C. wines,” says Pawsey, who is a regular contributor to Vitis and blogs at hiredbelly.com. “The story’s just so good, and there’s so much more to come.”
For being such a steadfast yet clear-eyed cheerleader, the BC Wine Institute has just honoured Pawsey with its 2020 Industry Recognition Award, which recognizes “a non-winery industry individual, business or organization for support of the BC wine industry.” (The BCWI has also honoured Robert Smith, the director of sales for Hester Creek Winery, with its Award of Distinction, which recognizes a winery representative for outstanding leadership and support of BC wine.)
Pawsey, who is originally from England, came at wine writing sideways. He was writing restaurant reviews for the Vancouver Courier newspaper when Richard Carras, then the director of sales for Robert Mondavi Winery and later president of Authentic Wine & Spirits Merchants, told him that if he wanted to write about food, he should also write about wine. And then he invited him to a tasting.
“My first tasting was with Michael Mondavi at the Four Seasons and that really was intimidating,” Pawsey recalls. “The upshot of that was that the Mondavis became really close associates.” His wife Heather, who is an opera singer, even sang at the legendary patriarch Robert Mondavi’s birthday party.
When Pawsey started writing about wine back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the wine community was still looking to the Old World, with the occasional glance toward California and Australia. B.C. wasn’t even on the map. “People don’t understand that the atmosphere at the time was total disdain for anything except French and Italian wine,” Pawsey says. “But I realized that having a wine industry on our doorstep was fantastic.”
He adds, “My eyes were opened by people like Janice Lotzkar at the Raintree Restaurant. She had the first all-B.C. wine list and people thought she was nuts.” He firmly believes that it was the growth of the wine industry that shaped B.C.’s celebrated regional cuisine, even though back in the 1990s getting sommeliers to travel to the Okanagan was “an uphill battle.”
In a career of many highlights, one of the most significant was the establishment of the Vintners Quality Alliance in 1990. “Going to Jasper for the announcement of VQA was quite something. That was pretty monumental,” Pawsey says. “That was transformational.”
Although there had been fierce debate about VQA, the quality control standard was essential for B.C. wine. Pawsey, who was a founding judge of The BC Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in Wineand frequently judges other wine competitions, recalls what it was like judging B.C. wine in the early ’90s. “You never knew what was coming next in the glass. There was a lot of flawed wine,” he says.
By the end of the decade, that had changed. In 1998, when Canada House, the Canadian High Commission’s home in London, reopened after a lengthy renovation, Pawsey was on hand as B.C. wines were poured for the Queen and an unusually appreciative British media. The experience confirmed for him that he’d been right about the potential of B.C. wines.
“It’s amazing how rapidly things happened,” he says. Since then he’s seen countless changes, including the establishments of sub-appellations, the impact of climate change and the emergence of what used to be called “borderline regions,” such as Kamloops, the Kootenays and Vancouver Island.
And he’s had a knack for creating great friendships along the way. At a virtual celebration of the BCWI award on December 16, one major figure in the B.C. wine industry after another appeared on-screen to recall trips, tastings, anecdotes and kindnesses shared over a lifetime in wine.
“Oh gosh, I was totally overwhelmed. It’s a huge honour,” Pawsey says. “It sort of re-affirms what I’ve believed all these years. It’s a lovely affirmation for me.”
For more information about BC Wine Institute’s programs and services, visit WineBC.com.
@ Vitis Magazine