Wine industry reeling over loss of Olfert

There are sure to be more than a few glasses of wine raised in memory of Aaron Olfert, who died of natural causes on Oct. 24.

Aaron Olfert

Aaron Olfert

There are sure to be more than a few glasses of wine raised in memory of Aaron Olfert, who died of natural causes on Oct. 24, just shy of his 37th birthday.

His death has left the wine industry reeling said friend Kim Lawton, who met Olfert not long after she moved to Penticton.

“He was just a champion of B.C. wine and just a darn nice guy too.”

Olfert was one of those people that make a lasting impression on everyone they meet. Laura Kowalchuk, manager of the Penticton’s VQA Wine Information Centre and Store, where Olfert worked, said he was more than an employee.

“I don’t even like to use the word that he was my employee, because it seems so cold. He was my little brother,” said Kowalchuk, explaining that the store is more like a family. “He brought laughter to our day. He made us want to come to work. He never had an unkind word for everybody. We are devastated.”

Allison Markin said Olfert just managed to brighten your day when you walked into the store.

“He stood out for a lot of people”, she said. “He just really loved B.C. Wine, loved his job and loved helping people. He was always smiling.”

Wine blogger Luke Whittall knows firsthand about Olfert’s love for and knowledge of wines. The two worked together for a time at the store, and Olfert helped Whittall develop his blog and podcast which Olfert appeared on a number of times. Whittall said calling Olfert a wine expert might give people the wrong impression.

“He was very personable and laid back talking about wine. That came through on the podcast,” said Whittall. “He was a good counterpoint to me, being a little more serious about it at the time. He would always tell me don’t be so serious about it. We were a good match that way.”

Olfert had a special skill with wines, according to Whittall, and an extensive knowledge of the industry.

“He just had a way of helping people find wines he thought they would really enjoy. He was very good at connecting what people thought they wanted and what he thought they would like. People would come back to him quite often to get more. They trusted his judgement on the wines.

“You have to be very personable to do that and knowledgable about wine at the same time.”

Wine wasn’t the only thing Olfert was enthusiastic about. A drummer, Olfert joined together with Matt Sartor of Sartor Estate Vineyard and Lee Holland of Celista Winery to perform as the Van Horne Trio.

There will be a celebration of life for Olfert at Poplar Grove Winery on Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. Kowalchuk notes that the Wine Information Centre will be closed that day to allow staff to attend. There will also be a shuttle service from the Penticton and Wine Country Visitor Centre, 553 Railway St., in order to preserve the limited parking at the winery for family members.