A small group of pioneering winemakers and grapegrowers came together in 1990 to create the British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance (BC VQA) and the BC Wine Institute (BCWI).
"Twenty-five years ago, we needed to implement standards for the industry," said founding member George Heiss, of Gray Monk Estate Winery. "Establishing BC VQA was the starting point to help move our industry forward. Now, with over 240 wineries in BC, we continue to be amazed at the growth and feel that BC VQA wines are essential to our industry's growth and success."
Heiss was one of only seven founding members of the BC Wine Institute, many of whom are still in business today, including Adolf Kruger of Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery in Okanagan Falls, Lanny Martiniuk from Stoneboat Vineyards and Harry McWatters of TIME Estate Winery, both based in Oliver, BC.
The founding of the BCWI and subsequently the Vintners Quality Alliance in BC resulted from the onset of the North American Free Trade Agreement. What followed was the removal of the majority of French hybrid and labrusca vines, that were quickly replaced with the vinifera varieties which today make up 97 per cent of the total BC wine grape acreage.
"The free trade agreement was the most significantly impacting event that ever happened to the wine industry in BC," said McWatters, pointing out that the subsequent BC VQA program set the course for the BC wine industry. "We adopted meaningful standards that gave consumers confidence in truth in labelling and a recognition of quality."
Kruger vividly recalls the days of having to convince consumers BC wineries were making products that were competitive with the rest of the world. He says it was the marketing provided through the BC VQA program that eventually gave BC wines the reputation they have today.
"The BC VQA designation put BC wines on the map, literally speaking," Kruger said. "Wines with the BC VQA designation provide assurance that people know what they are getting. Today it is accepted by consumers."
John Schreiner has been writing about BC wine since the 1980s and is considered a foremost expert on the industry. He says the growth of the BC industry over the past 25 years has been remarkable.
"It would be hard to find a wine region anywhere that has enjoyed such positive change and growth in 25 years," said Schreiner, referencing the record sales of BC VQA wine recorded in the 12 months prior to March 2014 at $225.9 million, compared with $6.8 million in the 12 months before March 1992.
"The BC VQA designation played a major role in that growth. In the initial years, it attracted consumers to wines of better quality than had previously been offered by many BC wineries," he added. "Today, when no one doubts the quality is high, BC VQA identifies those wines made from BC grapes and from growers delivering that quality."
Locally, the farm-to-table movement has continued to solidify BC VQA's place in the industry, seeing our market share continue to grow, as the BC VQA designation guarantees consumers they are drinking wine made from 100 per cent BC grapes.
But the rapid maturation of the BC wine industry in the last quarter century is not only measured in market share and dollar sales, but can also be measured by the significance of international recognition the industry has continued to receive, the attraction of world-renowned experts to the province and the important role the wine industry has played in driving tourism in BC.
"We haven't reached capacity for what we can do here," said BCWI President and CEO Miles Prodan. "We look forward to solidifying our reputation as producers of premium wine on the international stage."
BC Wine Institute
For details on BC VQA and the Wines of British Columbia, go to WineBC.com.
For industry updates and information, go toWineBC.org.