Owner Tracy Gray next to the wines in her store – the layout and selection of wines at her new Kamloops store is virtually identical to the Kelowna operation.
Discover Wines in Kelowna is the number one VQA store in the province, measured by sales. Owner Tracy Gray hopes that she can turn her purchase of another VQA license, which she has moved to Kamloops, into B.C.’s number two store.
In addition to the Kamloops opening, 2013 is the tenth anniversary of Discover Wines and Gray reflected on the wine business.
There are only 21 licenses for VQA stores in the province and there are unlikely to be any more. Gray explains, “The limit on the number of VQA wineries is part of the NAFTA agreement.”
The VQA licenses were a form of protectionism.
Considering the success of the wine industry in B.C. it’s hard to remember the switch to an unprotected market was viewed as an industry catastrophe in the ‘80s. It was very uncertain that B.C. wines could survive the onslaught of competition from the best wines in the world. The VQA was a way of providing at least one guaranteed outlet for B.C. wines.
When Gray and her former business partner, Suzanne Mick, first opened the doors in 2003 stocking options were much more limited. Gray says, “Ten years ago if someone came in, we’d take what they had, but now we’ll sample their wines and we’ll take the wines we think will do the best. We look for something different or unique. If you’re a new winery it’s hard to find something that will make your Pinot Noir stand out when I have 30 more on the shelves.”
In 2002 there were 74 wineries in the province; as of 2012 there were 214. While they are not all VQA compliant, there has been a huge growth in VQA wineries, which now number 132.
Comments Gray, “It’s better now because there’s so much more wine and B.C. wine is so much higher in quality.”
Gray feels the good news about the expansion of wineries is not just because of a wider selection.
In 2006 bad weather took a huge toll on grape crop yields. Fewer quality grapes meant less production and Discover Wines had a tough time just getting enough stock Gray recalls. Now, unless a terrible season hit the entire south half of the province from Vancouver Island to Creston, from the border to Kamloops, there will always be quality wines to pick from.
The Kamloops’ wineries, of which Discover has already received demand for Harper’s Trail, is a fairly recent example of the expansion. It also doesn’t hurt Discover’s Kamloops opening to have a homegrown team player in the mix. “People there are already asking for Harper’s Trail,” she smiles.
With the Kelowna store already number one in sales Gray says it is close to the ceiling. “To grow this business, we’ve gone as far as we can [with the first store].”
Selling wine is only the obvious part of the business. About a fifth of sales are from wine accessories – everything from books to aerators and cork screws to glasses. Kamloops not only had no VQA store, but there were offerings there for many of these accessories. Gray says Kelowna is relatively saturated and she has already shipped accessory products sitting on the shelves in Kelowna that were snapped up in Kamloops.
Discover Wines also had a healthy contingent of customers who made the trip south to buy product from her, but who now form the healthy base for her Kamloops operations.