Don Triggs at work on the vines for the expected 2013 launch of the Culmina Family Estate Winery.
With most of the 2012 vintage picked and delivered to wineries, the industry expects a banner year for both quantity and quality, according to the BC Wine Institute.
According to an industry source, some wineries are bursting at the seams, which could suggest surplus wine for some and inadequate storage capacity. Our insider puts his finger on this shift: While Merlot is a perfect fit for the Okanagan, there is a little too much at this time, but clear trends are near impossible to deduce in B.C. where there is a little bit of everything, a mishmash of varieties and styles.
Ultimately, Merlot will likely end up playing a supporting role in new, unconventional, non-meritage red blends. “The red blend category outpaced everything,” says Jody Levesque, a marketing manager at Constellation Brands. She stresses the red blend styles are not restricted to dry reds. “They even include sweeter reds that introduce wine to people who didn’t drink,” she explains.
With competition for consumer attention and dollars heating up, 2012 marked the emergence a number of effective and innovative strategies for making and selling B.C. wine. Notable developments are highlighted below.
■ The commercialization of FreshTAP allows wine to be served from a keg in restaurants, comes from a subsidiary of recently-launched Vancouver Urban Winery. Wines are shipped in bulk to the winery and transferred to 19.5 litre stainless steel kegs pressurized by nitrogen. The kegs are shipped to restaurants where wines are served at the peak of freshness by the glass.
Although the technology is not new – it’s used for beer, and Naramata Inn has been offering Nichol Vineyard’s Pinot Gris from a keg for a while – this promises to revolutionize the service of wines by the glass in restaurants. Benefits include lower costs all-around, fresher wine and no spoilage from half-empty bottles, and a price break for consumers. While the wines by the keg cannot be sold as BC VQA wine, even if it is exactly the same as the wine in the bottle, the number of wineries (about 30) and restaurants (50 accounts) enlisted for this service in so short a time is impressive.
■ Recently, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery introduced a new look for its highly rated Black Sage Vineyard wines, as part of a rebranding plan for its wine portfolio. Now Black Sage Vineyard wines – a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Pipe Fortified Wine - sport clean, modern, smart, more masculine labels putting more focus on the stature of the vineyard and the bold style of the wines.
“We wanted the wine to stand out as unique and special, and differentiate them from the other wines,” explains Jody Levesque. She points to the Napa Valley where wineries are taking the time to ensure that labels for iconic California brands like Robert Mondavi Private Selection reflect the quality in the bottle. “We realize that consumers have only a set amount and we have to exceed expectations,” she adds.
There are many variations to this theme in B.C. One of the most intriguing examples of cleaning house is the new name and label at Bench 1775 on the Naramata Bench, replacing Soaring Eagle. Another is the striking Saxon Winery label.
The best news in 2012 was Bill C-311, which finally allows wineries to ship their wine inter-provincially for personal use subject to provincial limitations. Many provinces including B.C., Alberta and Manitoba have come on board with Ontario and Nova Scotia expected to follow suit. With strong interest in B.C. wines across the country, this gives B.C. wineries a major boost. Much credit for this change to the Importation of Intoxication Liquors Act of 1928 goes to Okanagan area MPs Dan Albas and Ron Cannan.
New federal government rules for Allergen labelling came into effect in 2012. Sulfites greater than 10 ppm and, important for wine that is unfiltered, any significant amounts of residual protein from the use of egg (ovalbumin), fish (isinglass) or milk (casein) products must be declared on the label. The rules apply to 2012 and later vintage wines and all wine packaged without a vintage date.
■ The only one of the original farmgate wineries still family owned, Wild Goose Vineyards & Winery, celebrated the grand opening of an impressive, new 1,800 sq. ft. tasting room and winery expansion on August 18.
■ Once known for its quaint Quonset hut location, Black Hills Estate Winery opened a 3,000 sq. ft., $1 million tasting area and wine shop on Black Sage Road on June 8.
■ CedarCreek Estate Winery marked 25 years as CedarCreek under the Fitzpatrick family; it originally opened in 1980 as Uniacke.
■ On a perfect spring day in June, Trudy and George Heiss celebrated a trio of anniversaries – 50 years of marriage; 40 years since they started planting vines in Okanagan Centre; and 30 years since Gray Monk Estate Winery opened in 1982.
■ Calona Vineyards, B.C.’s oldest continuously operating winery, turned 80 in 2012 with little hoopla. Launched as Domestic Wines and By-Products in 1932, it is now owned by Andrew Peller Ltd., and occupies a sprawling, 1950s era complex of buildings, together with the newer Peller Estate Winery and Sandhill Wines, on Richter Street in downtown Kelowna.