Photo: Jurgen Gothe
The death of Jurgen Gothe on April 9, 2015, is such a loss
to all of us who experienced his generosity, his erudition and his wonderful
Born in Berlin
in 1944, he grew up on the Prairies. When he became bored in high school, he
decided he could learn what he needed to know on his own. He dropped out of
school and initially, supported himself by selling magazine subscriptions and
working in a gas station in Carberry,
Few self-taught individuals have accomplished as much.
Blessed with a voice of intimate richness, he started as a broadcaster in
private radio. That led to the CBC in 1985 to name him host on Radio Two of a
classical music program called DiscDrive. It was on the air nationally five
days a week until 2008. Its cancellation was part of the CBC’s unfortunate
decision to dump most of its classical music programming.
His refreshing approach, salted with quirky humour, made music
accessible to a large audience. In his highly rated three-hour time slot, he
programmed not just classical music (I recall him being a particular fan of
Mozart) but also jazz and bluegrass and whatever else appealed to his eclectic
I would think that Jurgen will have approved of the CBC’s
recent decision to give tenor Ben Heppner a classical music program on Radio
Two. Heppner has the same eclectic taste, wit and intellectual curiosity that
distinguished DiscDrive over 23 years.
Jurgen and I took up wine writing about the same time,
perhaps 35 years ago. We also met frequently at wine tastings and at wine
judgings. He had a fine palate. Most recently, he was the wine columnist for
the Georgia Straight from 1997 to 2014. His wine reviews were like his radio
work: entertaining, accessible and generous.
In the interest of full disclosure, I can tell you that
Jurgen reviewed most of my books. The reviews were always positive. While I
like to think that is because the books were good, I think it is more that
Jurgen just had a positive view on life. I never remember hearing a negative
comment from him about anyone.
In 1994, I wrote the first edition of The Wineries of British
With some temerity, I asked Jurgen to
write a foreword. It was one of the best essays in the book.
“Being a wine writer is, in this country at least, still
somewhat suspect,” he wrote. “For one thing, there’s all that free wine. ‘Bet
you get a lot of good stuff free, eh?’ people nudge-nudge at cocktail parties.
The wine writer chokes on his chardonnay. Thanks to the byzantine rules and
regs of our ten different-as-can-be provincial bodies of control, thanks to the
still-lingering fear that wine may yet be the handiwork of the forces of
darkness, the freebies are as scarce as affordable burgundy.
“Now and then we do get some plonk to sample: new versions
of the wine equivalent to the K-car; offshore blended cabernet-muscats; generic
varieties fashioned into low-alcohol, high-sugar fizzers with a fake French
I am glad that Jurgen experienced the positive changes that
were just beginning when that was written. Samples of good wine now arrive with
such regularity that every wine writer conscripts friends and neighbours to
finish the samples. I am sure Jurgen was no different.
As Jurgen observed then … and it remains true … we don’t
write about wine expecting to get rich. “I know most of the wine writers, real
and soi-disant, in the land. There isn’t a one of us who makes enough from the
fruits of these labours to keep a beach cottage in hydro,” he wrote.
“It’s similar to what musicians tell you. You can’t make a
living playing Bach. You can’t make a living writing about wine in Canada. Yet. Or
so I like to think.
“For years I was the wine columnist for a
hundred-and-something-year-old daily newspaper in these parts. I am too
embarrassed to tell you in public what they paid me. But I did get one raise in
ten years of never missing a Sunday: six bucks per column! As a sartorially
challenged Canadian sports commentator says: you gotta love it!
“And really, there’s the rub. Like John Schreiner, I have
been an enthusiast of and periodic apologist for British Columbia wines for what seems to be
a lifetime; since long before it was fashionable – or even safe – to do so.
“I recall how upset the winemakers one Okanagan wine
festival when we awarded no gold medals. (John Schreiner was one of the
judges.) The point was, no wine deserved any that year; boosterism can only go
so far. When gold standards were achieved the judges dispensed as much precious
metal as they could get their hands on.”
And Jurgen continued for several hundred more words,
showering a lot of kindness my way. I blush when I read that the book was “a
signpost along the road of an industry still in the making. It’s a position
paper telling us where we are at this point in time, what we are doing and who
is active in that doing.”
The book led to two other editions and numerous other
volumes on B.C. wines. The wines kept getting better and people actually wanted
to read about them. I did not need more forewords from Jurgen to bolster the
credibility of the books. As Jurgen wrote in 1994: “ We don’t have to apologize
He continued in his essay: “There are still people who feel Canada in general and British Columbia in particular cannot
produce fine wine. I call them people who have been out of town for a long
time. Let them live with their opinions; that leaves all the more for you and
me and John Schreiner.”
The foreword turned out to be a rave review.
And Jurgen ended the essay with typical wit. “And no, I
didn’t get paid for this,” he wrote. “I’m a wine writer after all.”
He wrote at least three books of which I am aware. There was
a 1990 volume called Good Gothe! The
Enthusiasms of an Airwave Connoisseur. His 1995 book of recipes, Some Acquired Tastes: A Recipe Album was
cited in an academic paper reviewing cookbooks by B.C. authors.
The most recent, I believe, was his 2005 volume of recipes, DiscCookery: The DiscDrive 20th
Anniversary Cookbook published by Whitecap. The recipes are, as you would expect from Jurgen, practical and
accessible. He even pairs them with wine and with music to listen to while
You can find them on Amazon and other used book sites.
Amazon says this about the 2005 cookbook: “DiscCookery even includes Gothe's
legendary Dinner and Ride Home for Cinderella: a stew of beef, peaches, corn,
and vegetables, cooked and served in a pumpkin.”
It has been a favourite around our house for years. Thank you
for that, Jurgen, and for everything else.