Wine and the River, 2014

I am not drinking it as I write (I swear) but rather musing over ROAM’s evolution as an adventure company with respect to the grape.  I do not know what exactly it is about wine and wineries but ROAM has a long history of being associated with some of the world’s best varietals.  Perhaps chance or simply an issue of demographics?  Or maybe wine drinkers enjoy the wilderness for similar and often the more subtle reasons why they enjoy wine.  I am not sure what it is but there must be some correlation? 

A wonderful guest and avid fly fisherman, Dan Duckhorn, once said to me “if you want to make millions in the wine industry start with a billion.”  He speaks from experience as Dan and Margaret Duckhorn co-founded  Duckhorn Vineyards  who are major producers of wine in California.  A year later, Tom Baldacci came to Chilko on a father-son trip shortly after establishing Baldacci Family Vineyards in the Stag Leap District of Northern California.  Originally a real estate investment, something about the land unlocked Tom’s imagination. 

Working for George and Martha Butterfield in 2000, I learned more about wine in one year than I had learned in my cumulative lifetime.  They are partners in not one, but two different Premiere Cru vineyards in France.  Unknowingly, I once betrayed the Butterfield’s during lunch at a famous New York eatery.  Dining with Tom Matthews of Wine Spectator, I inadvertently agreed with his assertion of a certain bordeaux being tastier than a burgundy we were trying, not realizing it was one of George’s.  Martha quickly defended her husband’s honour by saying “Brian’s palate prefers bulls blood” which was, to be fair, an accurate description.  At that juncture of my life, I was more akin to purchasing wine based on price thus making “on sale” my favourite grape.

As my palate has matured (yes, only my palate has matured), I was lucky to make the acquaintance of Robert Wolfe.  A former wine critic and writer, Bob started a cool organization called the Oregon Pinot Noir Club.  I worked a river trip with Bob when he was sommelier on a fancy-pants Y.P.O. trip down the Colorado.  For those unfamiliar with Y.P.O., its an acronym for Young President’s Organization and is where super successful rich people hangout and travel together.  To join you need a minimum net worth that slightly exceeds my guiding salary. 

After some successful wine trips in California, Oregon and even Idaho, the program moved north and had a variety of interesting guest hosts.  For a number of years we focused on BC wines with local expert, Jon Langilles, from BC Wine Guys who has an extensive knowledge of the great local BC vintners and a cellar to match.  Other trips had vintners, Deb and Dana, from Cantinian Wines in Mendoza covering a variety of Argentine wines and last year the theme was Chilean to be reflective of the great Futaleufu River trips in Patagonia.

For 2014, we have Matt Brewster featuring Spanish and Portuguese wines.  Matt spent many years in the wine importing and sales industry and has personally tasted more than 30,000 wines (a lofty achievement I hope to match one day).  The event will be on the Chilko River June 21st and features two nights at Bear Camp followed by a 6-day river adventure and the longest day of the year for drinking vino around the campfire!

 The Wine on The River Trip is always a joyous event and Mr. Brewster’s notoriously heavy pours will certainly keep things flowing.  If that is not enough evidence that wine and adventure are a perfect pairing, believe Homer as he wrote:
“It is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine
that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool – it drives the
man to dancing… it even
tempts him to blurt out stories
better never told.”

Killing Bears and Tourism with One Shot

The world is going crazy for bears these days.  And for good reason as these kings of the forest are fascinating and magnificent beasts.  The government of Alaska recently announced they are accepting applications for the lottery to visit Katmai National Park or McNeill River State Game Sanctuary.  These are two renowned sites for excellent viewing of brown bears in the wild.  If you have never been there, it is an amazing place and you should add it to your bucket list.

Alaska has brilliantly fostered the bear viewing opportunities they have and now the demand to see these animals in the wild is so high they have to run a lottery almost 6 months in advance.  A total of 185 guided viewing access permits are available for the prime viewing spot at McNeill River and another 55 standby viewing permits are given out allowing participants to stay in a nearby campground where the bears also assemble.

This news was covered in the front page of local and US newspapers and is something wildlife enthusiasts in the USA get excited about.  Applicants pay a $25 per person non-refundable application fee to enter the lottery.  If selected, non-residents pay $350 just for a permit to watch the bears.  Wow!  Alaska really has their act together and have cultivated a fair and thorough process for bear viewing.
Recently ROAM Adventures invested more than $700,000 to open our own deluxe bear viewing camp at the juncture of Chilko Lake and Chilko River.  This area has about the same number of bears (70-100) as McNeill River and we take 12 guests per trip to watch the bears feed on 2 million sockeye salmon spawning right in front of the property.

(Bear Camp – ROAM Adventures – safari style camp with a Canadian twist)

There are other lodges, like Tweedsmuir in Bella Coola and the Huston family who have invested millions in private guest ranches and rely on large quantities of bears to draw tourists.  So recently, to encourage and foster such investment, our forward-thinking British Columbia government has decided to completely eliminate the BC Ferry service to get to Bella Coola (all but giving a tourism death sentence to that area) and wants to re-open grizzly hunting in our valley.

Thanks a lot you wizards of foresight! 
The rest of the world is conserving and worshiping their bears and our province 
wants to shoot them. 

I have no quarrel against subsistence hunting by first nations or locals but I am morally opposed to trophy hunting of keynote species like grizzly, cougars and wolves.  I understand the hunter-gatherer ethos but it is not the 1800’s anymore and I truly cannot wrap my mind around the joy of whacking a bear with a gun from 300 feet, especially when accompanied by a guide like me who finds them.

Its an interesting paradox as I do not recall the BC government filling the airwaves during the Winter Olympics with images of hunters holding up wolf heads of their recent kills.

Sure some folks at Whistler did destroy more than 100 unwanted Huskies once the games were over but I did not think this behaviour was being adopted as new ground breaking economic policy?

Moral issues aside, and looking strictly from a practical and business perspective, it does not take a deep-thinker to realize the sustainable ripple effect of tourists on an economy compared to the economics of hunters.  Simply put, a few RV’s and hunters on quads ripping around the backwoods in “camo” does not create the same employment and tax base for the province as sustainable high-yield tourists who arrive by plane, consume local goods and fill the coffers of more than just a few lodges.

  C’mon British Columbia, we can do better than this. 
Lets follow Alaska’s lead and develop this segment of tourism.

The bear viewing season has extended the traditional tourism operating season and the Chilcotin is world class in this category.  Our bear viewing opportunities rival all of the national parks in Alaska and are much easier to get to and have better weather.  The reality is that the bears coming to the Chilko River travel from the surrounding area, which includes the Klinaklini, and even as far as Bute Inlet.  In my opinion, it would be bordering on insanity to re-open grizzly hunting in this area as it would be sending the wrong message to investors and tourists alike.

Hunting, in my opinion and especially given all the negative press about guns in the US and Europe, is not an area of growth.  It is at only an area of controversy.

As I stated earlier, I have no issue with subsistence hunting for traditional purposes or feeding your family but trophy hunting is not a winning formula for a region that is finally getting some positive momentum in this bleak but slowly improving economy.

Bear Camp was designed and built by BC residents and local artisans.  It draws guests from around the globe as well as locally and utilizes airlines, suppliers, restaurants, hotels, wranglers, other lodges and local employment.  We also operate river rafting, multisport and lodge-based programs through out the province.  There are great rivers and beautiful mountains throughout BC but the opportunity to see grizzlies in the wild sets the Chilcotin apart.

If you agree with my sentiment that grizzly bear viewing is a better strategy than re-opening the grizzly hunt then please take a moment and write our government, get outraged, send this to your friends and please support any efforts to stop the BC government from re-opening the bear hunt.

 Many of us rely on the bears for more than just a rug.