PENTICTON - Friends, business associates and customers are still coming to terms with the passing of one of Penticton’s most revered wine connoisseurs.
Aaron Peter Olfert, 37, died of natural causes Saturday, Oct 24, at his home in Penticton. Olfert has worked for the last eight years at the VQA Wine Information Centre on Vees Drive in Penticton and the news of his death has left everyone who knew him, from wine centre customers, to fellow workers, winemakers and vineyard owners, deeply saddened, stunned and shocked by his sudden passing.
“He had a huge reach. This is a small business, like a family,” wine centre general manager Laura Kowalchuk says.
She says the six employees of the store are still dealing with the loss and indeed, the mere mention of Aaron’s name brings immediate tears.
“Aaron had an amazing gift of being able to instantly find a connection with anyone, any personality. He exuded welcomeness and kinship.” she says.
She also describes Aaron as having had 'an amazing palate.'
“He wasn’t professionally trained in wines, but he had an innate canniness to connect people’s palettes to a wine,” she says, describing one instance where a customer came into the store vaguely describing a wine. “Aaron immediately went to the shelf, grabbed a bottle and told her to try it. She’s been coming back ever since.”
Kowalchuk says the news has been hitting everyone hard.
“As people are coming in and finding out about Aaron’s death, the reactions have all been the same,” Kowalchuk says. “Everyone is shocked and saddened.”
She says staff are taking some comfort in the knowledge of the positive impact Aaron had on so many people, adding she doesn’t expect to find anyone soon who will be able to fill his shoes in the wine shop.
“He truly was one in a million,” she says.
Coworker Christine Robinson says he was a positive person willing to help everyone.
“People recognized him,” Robinson says. “He always had a big smile on his face, always positive and funny and uplifting, always willing to get to know everyone. He invested in other people’s lives.”
Robinson recalls when Aaron helped her step dad select wines for her wedding last year.
“He loved wine. He knew lots of people in the wine industry, including winemakers and growers — he made all kinds of friends," Robinson says emotionally. “It was hard not to feel kinship with him once you met him.”
Aaron leaves behind his soulmate Meredith McNeill, parents Art and Michelle Olfert, siblings Kathryn, Jason, Kristen and four nieces and four nephews. A celebration of life will take place at Poplar Grove Winery on Friday, Oct. 30, beginning at 1p.m. The winery is located at 425 Middle Bench Rd. North in Penticton. A shuttle service will be available at the Wine Information Centre, beginning at 12:15 p.m. and running on an ongoing basis afterwards.
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