Export — or die 

B.C. wine retools for the 21st century

click to enlarge PHOTO FROM SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Vineyard in a valley of British Columbia

British Columbia wine makers find themselves at a crossroads this summer. There's no denying the region has grown up — just look at the price of local wine to see that we take a backseat to no one. The question is, can they sustain the interest and the prices now fetched and, more importantly, build on a fabulous decade of growth from 2004 to 2014?

Many believe our B.C. wine makers have to get serious about exporting wine in the coming decade, if not internationally, at least across the nation. Both are going to take a lot of work. Ontario and Quebec show little signs of easing entry restrictions on British Columbia wine (namely the right of local producers to ship direct to customers in those provinces).

The world awaits British Columbia wine but so far we've shown little interest in climbing that export mountain. Many are waiting for government support to export, but without a rock-solid business plan it seems unlikely local producers would attract any serious aid from a government clearly more focused on selling gas, oil, timber and wheat.

That said, "export or die" should be the rallying cry of producers across the country, even if it won't happen overnight. There's still plenty of work to be done before export levels take off, the most important of which is certifying the origin of every wine made in B.C. None should leave the country without third party authentication.

The current rules and regulations that govern B.C. wines, the original VQA legislation, and the more recent laws covering the Wines of Marked Distinction are simply not equipped to handle the fast-moving, modern-day industry where wine moves around at a dizzying rate. Authenticity is the key to our future, so a small industry group has formed a task force to propose a new direction for all wines grown and produced in British Columbia.

Interestingly, starting this week, you can have some say in the direction industry takes by answering a handful of key questions about what, if any, new rules should be implemented regarding the authenticity of origin and production of local wines. 

In a groundbreaking survey shared with the public, you will be asked if you support the creation of additional appellations and sub-appellations to better identify the origin of all B.C. wines.

  Yes, I do, is the answer.

Currently there are five very broad regions in play on B.C. labels: the Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Since these regions were established in 1990, many vineyards have been planted outside the catchment areas. Places like the Fraser Canyon/Lillooet, Salmon Arm, Trail, Kamloops and more are now in the game, and each is in need of its own geographic identity.

As well, a one- or two-degree change in temperature could make grape growing possible in many other regions of the province in the coming decades, so it's best to be proactive and prepare and protect some obvious regions and names now.

One of the questions the B.C. Wine Appellation Task Group is exploring is whether sub-appellations should be further expanded within B.C. This is a crucial decision because in my estimation you can't ask consumers to spend $30 to $100 on a bottle of B.C. wine without being more specific about its origin. All the world's great wine labels indicate very specific sub-appellations, an area not much bigger than your neighbourhood. We need to move in that direction, too.

Don't be scared off by the notion of sub-appellations — you're surrounded by them.

Take the future potential Whistler/Pemberton wine region. Certainly that moniker, like the Okanagan Valley, would be sufficient for broad blends made with grapes from all across the Sea to Sky region. But for those special wines grown on specific sites, it makes perfect sense to add another level of geographic designation or a sub-appellation. In the case of Whistler that might be Blueberry Hill or Alpine Meadows or Creekside or Bayshores or, in Pemberton, Big Sky.

I think you'd agree that neighbourhood names transport you to a specific place, one you can quickly identify with.

Now transfer that thought to the Okanagan Valley. It's time we recognised the obvious sub-appellations within the Okanagan Valley around the villages of Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Oliver, Osoyoos, Summerland, East Kelowna, The Mission District, Lake Country, Vernon and more.

 Then along with changes to appellations comes the need to authenticate the origin of every wine. A yearly government audit of each winery should be mandatory to certify the origin of every grape and make sure the stated production agrees with vineyard hectares planted. 

 To better illustrate my point I'll leave you with three wines all currently using the broad Okanagan Valley appellation that could profit from a better system that would pinpoint and authenticate their origin.

The Hillside Pinot Gris Unoaked 2014, Okanagan Valley $20 (sub-appellation should be Penticton Naramata).

Hillside has made the long journey to terroir-based, Naramata wines (this one comes from just above the village.) So vibrant with orchard fruits and bits of white peach and melon, this wine is juicy fresh and delicious, complete with a beautiful Provençal hue. It's pinot gris for grown-ups. Stock up for the summer. 

Wild Goose Botrytis Affected Riesling 2013, Okanagan Valley $40 (sub-appellation should be Okanagan Falls).

In 2013 for only the third time in 25 years, botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, returned to Wild Goose, an Okanagan Falls pioneer, infecting the bunches of grapes, shrivelling them up and concentrating their sugar content. Expect a spectacular honeyed, tangerine fruit wine flecked with bits of ginger and stony minerality. Elegant, complex, almost Mosel-like style. This wine will live for a decade and beyond. 

Painted Rock Red Icon 2012, Okanagan Valley $55 (sub-appellation should be Penticton Skaha Bench).

One of the best yet from its expressive floral thyme, tobacco nose to its cassis, boysenberry, sage, floral, black olive, and eucalyptus flavours. This will require three to seven years to develop to its full potential. 

I could go on and on, but you can make up your own mind. There will be two specific surveys — one for public input and one for growers, producers and industry players.

To take part in the survey, go to www.bcwinetaskgroup.ca. And don't forget to say yes to sub-appellations.

Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com. 


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