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The Weekly Wrap: Some MPs and senators have betrayed our country. What are we going to do about it? 

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Liberal MP David McGuinty, Chair of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, responds to questions from reporters in Ottawa, on June 5, 2024. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press.

In The Weekly Wrap Sean Speer, our editor-at-large, analyses for Hub subscribers the big stories shaping politics, policy, and the economy in the week that was.

This treason could be the tip of the iceberg

The biggest news this week by far was the report produced by the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) on foreign interference in Canadian politics.

Based on voluminous intelligence shared with the committee, the report sets out allegations that several Canadian parliamentarians have wittingly or unwittingly had inappropriate (and possibly illegal) relations with foreign governments. In some cases, it sounds like these interactions may have stemmed from a combination of ego and ignorance. In other cases, they were more intentional including sharing information about colleagues and soliciting foreign interference in party nominations or riding elections.

The committee’s findings are of course shocking.

Malcolm Jolley: With CRUSHABLE, Laura Milnes finds fine wine, finer conversation, and a simple way to create community

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Customers toast with glasses of wine in a restaurant outside Paris, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Christophe Ena/AP Photo.

Until recently, the word “crush” had two principal usages. The first, to mangle the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, is a “violent compression,” which is what happens to grapes in a wine press. The second, following again my 1993 edition of the NSOED, is an infatuation, or the person or thing that the infatuation is directed at, which is how many of us continue to feel about wine.

Lately, the word has a new usage as a verb meaning to drink enthusiastically; perhaps because of a violently compressed infatuation with whatever is being drunk. From the verb comes the adjective “crushable”. A particularly pleasing and easy-going down wine can be, I have heard the youth say, “crushable.”

I don’t know which of these definitions, if any, Laura Milnes chose to name her club, organization, society, or whatever exactly it is. It doesn’t matter, because CRUSHABLE is one of the more interesting Canadian wine culture projects to emerge out of and beyond the COVID era. One that belies the conventional wisdom that consumers, particularly younger consumers, are turning their interest away from wine.

Tall, blonde, and just turned 40, Laura Milnes calls herself a prairie girl and retains a no-nonsense sensibility despite her glamorous looks. Born in Manitoba she moved west, first to university in Calgary, then into B.C. and the Okanagan wine scene. She worked all facets of the industry from the vineyards to the cellar, retail, and hospitality. And she promoted it from within, blogging and evangelizing along the way.

About five years ago, Milnes and her husband relocated from the west to Toronto, where he’s from, and where he pursued a job opportunity. As she adjusted herself to Toronto city life, she began to figure out a way to stay connected with the wine world she had left behind in B.C. and to get connected to the new one around her in Ontario. She was surprised to find this harder than she thought.

I met Milnes at a winemaker’s lunch wine at around this time. I recall her explaining that she intended to create a kind of wine club and that it would have a focus on Canadian wine. I also recall puzzlement that wine people in Toronto, whether trade or consumer, didn’t seem to know or care that much about the local wines from Niagara, or Canadian wines in general.

Five years later I found myself sitting around a dining table in a small candle-lit room carved out of a nook, up a flight of stairs in a warehouse building in a west-end neighbourhood that’s taking a little longer than most to gentrify. There, Milnes poured us each a glass of the 2022 Lighting Rock Viognier, from Summerland, B.C.

“This is a wine from a vineyard that no longer exists,” said Milnes, explaining that the winery had to pull up their Viognier vines after the disastrous Okanagan deep freeze of this winter. It’s too bad, because the wine, which I’d never heard of, was delicious: fleshier than most Viognier, almost closer to Chenin Blanc. This wine, while it lasts is emblematic of the wines Milnes serves at CRUSHABLE.

Milnes found the CRUSHABLE clubhouse site after an angry letter from her condo board stopped her from inviting members into her home. Before taking it over, she was briefly at a second venue on top of a pot shop on Spadina. That ended when her landlords got into some legal trouble unrelated to her. She is glad to be settled and uses the space to hold regularly scheduled evening tastings.

The tastings are two hours long, you can spit or swallow as you like, and she provides snacks while she leads a session, pouring rare B.C., Ontario, or Nova Scotia wines to groups of between two and eight people.

Sometimes the people all know each other. Sometimes they are strangers. The sessions are, by design, convivial and the focus is to enjoy the wine, as it’s meant to be. Sometimes the conversation is about the wine, sometimes the wine becomes a launching pad for other, more profound topics.

“It can be like therapy,” explained Milnes, as we moved onto a stunningly elegant, cool climate 2022 Birch Block Pinot Noir from Kaleden in the South Okanagan. “Sometimes we get tears, but mostly we just have fun.” However it goes, Milnes believes the secret to learning about wine, and how to enjoy it, is conversation: “We need people to talk to each other.”

Years in, Milnes is still amazed at how intimidated most of her members are by the wine world. She believes most wine consumers are poorly served by the way wine is sold in this country. Many come to her tastings surprised to learn that Canada makes some very fine wines. She thinks the hospitality industry could do a better job of showing consumers what we can make in this country.

“We need to pull our heads out of our [behinds], and start looking around at what we have,” she said with some exasperation. Halfway through the Birch Block Pinot, it was hard to disagree.

For all her passion and missionary zeal, Milnes is not a fundamentalist. CRUSHABLE club members can subscribe to delivered mixed cases of wine, which might come from anywhere. Where they won’t come from is the provincial liquor retail monopoly, something which, after years of living in Alberta, she is not impressed by.

Milnes also shows her sense of humour and entrepreneurial spirit with a line of wino apparel, playing on some of the world’s cooler wine regions and grapes. Assuming the title of “wine consultant,” Milnes is building a business around the idea of letting people into wine culture.

In the end, the CRUSHABLE concept is dead simple: educating consumers by bringing fine wine to its natural habitat—the table. There Milnes’ members can investigate the wines while enjoying them and talking about them. How many times do consumers order a $100 bottle of wine at a restaurant, listen politely to a quick explanation of what they ordered, and then more or less forget about it? Now we know there is a better way.