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Photo by Kim Lawton/DogLegMarketing.ca
Hillside Estate Winery
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Photo by Roslyne Buchanan
Meyer Family Vineyard
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Photo by Roslyne Buchanan
Fort Berens Estate Winery
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Photo by Kim Lawton/DogLegMarketing.ca
Fuchsia-stained, the once-white plastic bins overflow with succulent clumps of purple grapes, so plump that the skins are bursting and releasing notes of blackberry and warm spices.
This scene was often repeated with other grape varietal wineries across British Columbia, a testament to 2014’s successful harvest season. Mother Nature and mindful viticulture dealt an incredible hand, setting the ante for winemakers to capture the jackpot and carry it forward, so we can taste the beautiful bounty well into the future.
It’s not just the growing season that creates a report card worthy of glowing smiles and nods of approval, rather a host of industry accomplishments. Orchard & Vine Magazine measured the pulse with a survey; conversations with key personalities; reports from the BC Wine Institute and other sources; and with an attentive ear on twitter and #BCWineChat. The results are in and it was truly a year of achievement, although not without its challenges: It is farming after all!
Awards are highly gratifying and helpful in marketing so it’s little wonder achieving them was noted frequently as the most rewarding accomplishment. At the international 19th Northwest Wine Summit, La Frenz was named the top winery of distinction for capturing the most gold medals. La Frenz enjoyed the unprecedented distinction of being named the Best Small Winery of the Year for the second year in a row at the Riverside International Wine Competition. Owner Jeff Martin said, “The win is great for La Frenz and actually a good day for all Canadian wine. When light shines on one, it builds profile for the quality within Canada.”
John Skinner, Painted Rock Estate Winery, commented similarly when it was named Winery of the Year at InterVin International Wine Awards. “It was huge for us, reinforcing the decisions we made when we selected this site, and highlights the quality possible in the BC wine industry,” said Skinner.
At the Pacific Rim Wine Competition top honours were Gold/Best of Class Merlot Monster Vineyards 2011, Pinot Noir Quails’ Gate Winery Stewart Family Reserve 2011, Syrah Church & State Wines Coyote Bowl 2011, Chenin Blanc Quails’ Gate Winery 2012 and Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris Wayne Gretzky Okanagan 2013 while Gold Cabernet Franc Poplar Grove Winery 2011, Merlot Burrowing Owl Estate Winery 2011, Pinot Noir Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery 2012, Syrah Burrowing Owl Estate Winery 2011, Chardonnay Burrowing Owl Estate Winery 2012 and Quails’ Gate Winery 2011 Stewart Family Reserve, Riesling Off Dry Fort Berens Estate Winery 2013, Riesling Off Dry Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery 2012, and Other White Blends Noble Ridge 2012.
In the inaugural 2014 Canadian Wine Industry Awards of the Canadian Vintners Association (CVA), George and Trudy Heiss of Gray Monk Estates, the oldest family-owned and operated winery, received the Award of Distinction. Regarded “as the highest form of peer recognition and appreciation of outstanding leadership, commitment and passion for the advancement of the Canadian wine industry”, it was bestowed in concert with the BC Wine Institute’s Wine Industry Recognition Award to Senator Ross Fitzpatrick, founder of CedarCreek Estate Winery.
The 2014 WineAlign National Awards of Canada presented Platinum Medals to Laughing Stock Vineyards, Mission Hill Family Estate, Nk-Mip Cellars, Orofino, Quails’ Gate, Road 13 Vineyards, St. Hubertus, Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Thornhaven Estates. For details on these and the numerous gold, silver and bronze medals received by BC wineries at various competitions, check out the BC Wine Institute (www.bcwine.com) and the wineries’ own websites.
Sustainability ranked high in accomplishments and was often associated with better management of the vineyards in balance with terroir. Some vineyards planted new blocks and were considering whether or not to replace older vines with new varietals. We asked which varietals were emerging as signature wines, the feedback noted ones most frequently Pinot Noir, then Riesling, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Semillon and Malbec. In the BC Wine Institute’s 2014 Acreage Report, statistics revealed a similar pattern for the top 10 most planted varieties as follows: Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The varieties that predominate vary regionally within BC which suggests a greater attention to balance within the terroir. BCWI President and CEO Miles Prodan commented that the focus on “continual improvement in the quality” could be “measured in the record level of BC VQA market share here in BC and the overwhelming recognition in international competitions.” He said the report indicated a maturity of the industry and BC’s “evolution as a global wine producing region.”
Sustainable practices and organic materials are viewed as emerging trends with a focus in the vineyards to let land and grapes express themselves with less manipulation in the winemaking. While such practices were sometimes viewed as an initial expense, the less intrusive approach was seen ultimately as an investment. Some responders suggested they hoped it would translate into lower price points and better wine sales.
A number of new wineries and/or tasting rooms or adjunct facilities opened restaurants such as the Liquidity Bistro; Smoke and Oak at Wild Goose Vineyards; Blu Saffron at Volcanic Hills Winery and the Joy Road Vineyard Kitchen at Black Hills Estate Winery. Sandhill opened an urban winery in downtown Kelowna. Fort Berens Estate Winery broke new ground by opening in the heart of gold mining country in Lillooet. From what veteran wine expert and consultant Harry McWatters says, “Fort Berens has great potential and is the pioneer in what is BC’s newest wine region.” McWatters own highly anticipated project, a dedicated facility and tasting room to showcase Time Estate Winery, broke ground on Black Sage Road in Oliver and is scheduled to open in 2015.
BCWI’s Acreage Report denoted a trend toward virtual wineries where wine is produced under another winery’s license. This was supported in the popularity of Garagiste North: The Small Guys Wine Festival that debuted this year where the small case lot artisan wines commercially produced in the Okanagan Valley were showcased. The report also showed that winery-owned acreage is increasing “with sales of independent grower land more likely to be purchased by an existing winery, the grower starting their own winery or a buyer with the intent to open a winery.” The average independent grower acreage decreased (9.46 acres 15 years ago to 5.96 acres today), and the average winery acreage decreased (40.68 acres 15 years ago to 28.02 acres today) as more smaller wineries appear. On the other hand, holdings grew for von Mandl Family Estates as it purchased CedarCreek Estate Winery. It is a holding company of Anthony von Mandl, owner of Mission Hill Family Estate winery.
The survey revealed the greatest challenges as internal ones such as staffing, cash flow, vineyard management, equipment and supplies. As the industry grows, recruiting and retaining staff require innovative measures. Recent legislative progress to remove barriers and headway made between some provinces and internationally, opportunities at farmers’ markets, and new licensing categories were encouraging.
Of note, the Golden Mile Bench, located on the western slope of the Okanagan Valley south of Oliver was approved by the BC Wine Authority in a recommendation to the Minister of Agriculture as the first sub-appellation in the province. Sandra Oldfield, President and CEO of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards (located on the Golden Mile) says she is ecstatic about it. “It shows a maturity within the industry, allows us to draw a geographical line, tell a story about a specific region and provides proof to your consumers where your grapes were grown,” Oldfield says.
Many wineries were interested in attracting more out-of-province clients, and visitors in organized wine-loving groups such as the Opimian Society or the BC Wine Appreciation Society. Steps contemplated to attract those groups centred on social media and events with some traditional advertising in targeted media as well as direct mail and wine clubs. Speaking of which, Canada’s first Canadian Wine Tourism Summit held November 8, was developed by Allison Markin to mark Wine Tourism Day. Founder of All She Wrote, the consulting company that lobbied for and successfully mounted the 2013 North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, Markin pointed out, “As an industry we need to be collaborating now to create a strong Canadian wine brand and be competitive against other yet to be discovered regions.”
The one-day grassroots event is a great opportunity for dialogue on the exciting 2014 year and to celebrate the increased tourism which kept the tasting rooms hopping and many events sold out. As we take a breath and look forward, it seems the stage is set for a great vintage and a bright wine industry future. ■
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