Jennifer Schell moves from verbs to vines

Okanagan cookbook author now creates wine at Schell Wines

  • Apr. 5, 2019 7:30 a.m.

– Story by David Wylie Photography by Darren Hull

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Okanagan wine and food writer adds “winemaker” to list of achievements

Years of telling stories from the food and wine world has Jennifer Schell rooting local.

The Okanagan-based bestselling author and vintner wants people to know where their food comes from.

Buying local is central to her folklore-filled cookbook series: The Butcher, The Baker, The Wine and Cheese Maker. The first of the three books won a variety of international awards, including Best Local Cuisine cookbook in Canada at the Gourmand World Cookbooks Awards, referred to widely as the Oscars of food publishing.

She followed it up with two more installments under the same name — By the Sea and In the Okanagan.

“I’m fascinated by people and their passions. It really inspires me and ignites me. I get excited about what people are growing and making,” she said. “It’s really contagious.”

Jennifer encourages people to talk to farmers and winemakers, adding “everything I do revolves around that introduction.”

When her first book was published in 2012, a renaissance of the farmers’ market was occurring.

She had written and edited magazine stories on food and wine for years, earning a knowledgeable reputation in the food world throughout the Okanagan and beyond.

The book’s format featured recipes accompanied by profiles on people behind the recipes, such as the chef, farmer, baker or winemaker. Their passion for their craft is the thread that ties them together.

“They’re all doing what they love and it’s all benefiting humanity, and helping to feed our community,” she said.

The book featured 150 people. She insisted on big photos so people could see those behind the dish.

The follow-up, By the Sea, was published in 2015 and featured Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Jennifer, who also takes her own photos, toured the shorelines and farms, learning about things like diving for geoduck and gathering sea urchins.

“The people who I feature are all [oriented towards] sustainable, mostly organic [practices] and sharing a philosophy of protecting our land and waters,” she said. “The characters out there are amazing.”

Jennifer has a personal connection to local food producers. She was born into a farming family, multi-generational on both sides. They grew tree fruits, raised chickens and made wine at her family orchard in southeast Kelowna.

Her parents still live there.

“I grew up at a time when the farmer was not being recognized, when people were not worried about where their food came from,” she said. “I watched my dad and my grandfather lovingly tend their land. It’s a beautiful art.”

The price of land has fast become prohibitive for new farmers. Yet people find creative ways to grow their food with less space by backyard farming and leasing space.

The third book, In The Okanagan, was published in 2016.

“I just love shining the spotlight on these people,” she said.

Jennifer has been working on a new book called BC Wine Lovers’ Cookbook and it’s being published by Random House.

The book is a tapestry of the incredible diversity in the BC wine industry, she said. And it has recipes from all over the world including Israel, Italy, Spain and France.

Jennifer said some of the recipes she included were from old-school recipe cards complete with “grandma writing” on them.

“These are family recipes. A lot of them have a wonderful tradition attached — it’s the dish they make after harvest, or after the first crush at the winery,” she said. “It’s a very international flavour in a very local book. It paints a unique picture in international diversity. It’s an international melting pot of like-minded, passionate people.”

The book will be out in spring 2020.

Going above and beyond just writing about wine, Jennifer is now making it herself.

She and her brothers — Jonathan and Jamie — ventured into their own family wine business. They recruited minimal-intervention winemaker Rob Westbury and, in 2017, Schell Wines was launched.

Their first chardonnay used grapes grown down the road from their family farm. The second vintage used grapes from a friend’s farm in Naramata. They dubbed it Wren.

Even the logo design was kept in the family, with their niece, Hillary Schell, designing it.

They have also done a red blend, named Ruby, after an aunt who recently passed away.

“Wine is a local celebration. I wanted to get that really immersive experience into that world. Now I truly understand the undertaking and the investment,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer is passionate about small-batch wine. She’s one of the organizers of the Garagiste North Wine Festival, which started in 2015. The inaugural festival was listed in the London Financial Times as one of the top wine festivals in the world.

“The world of wine is very interested in the small producers, the small lot, the boutique, the hard to find,” she said, adding that it’s the winemakers or proprietors who are at the festival pouring their wines, not just company reps.

It’s part of an international garagiste movement. (Garagiste is defined as: “a small-scale entrepreneurial winemaker … especially one who does not adhere to the traditions of wine-making.”) The cost of buying a vineyard is unachievable for most, so the way to break into the industry is to find a winemaker, source grapes and do custom crushes.

“The crowd that comes to this festival are the wine lovers. It’s a passion-filled community. They’re wearing their heart on their sleeves, pouring their wine, building their dreams,” Jennifer said. “It’s the future of the wine industry.”

Asked about the most helpful tips she’s gleaned from years of writing about wine, Jennifer said she has discovered that the highest quality wines definitely depend on sourcing the highest quality grapes.

“The good wine is grown in the vineyard,” she said.

That means relationships with growers are important to develop.

“If you don’t have the relationships, you can’t buy the grapes and then you can’t make the good wine,” she said.

She can be found online at jenniferschell.com.

authorBC WineBoulevard MagazineFoodFood and Wine

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Port Hardy museum celebrates emergency services with new exhibit

The emergency services exhibit opened last week (June 6).

Port Alice RCMP are asking the public to slow down in construction zones

The alleged dangerous speeding incident is still under investigation.

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

North Island College announces 2020 graduation award winners

North Island College has announced the award recipients for the 2020 Graduation… Continue reading

‘Someone knows something’: a look into Vancouver Island missing persons with interactive map

There are more than three dozen people listed as missing throughout Vancouver Island

B.C. records 62 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths since Friday

Province has just over 200 active cases

Canadians torn on scaling back COVID-19 benefits to save money: poll

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they were worried about the size of the deficit

Port Alberni will have a salmon derby on Labour Day after all

Alberni Valley Tyee Club reveals ‘socially distanced’ derby only for Labour Day 2020

‘Trauma equals addiction’: Why some seek solace in illicit drugs

Part 2: Many pushed into addiction by ‘toxic stress,’ says White Rock psychologist

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

Suspicious fire quenched before reaching gunpowder in Nanaimo’s historic Bastion

Probe underway in basement blaze that erupted near where powder stored to fire signature cannons

Duncan model makes quarter finals in ‘Maxim’ magazine contest

Brandee Peart among top one per cent left in competition

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

Most Read