BC Wine industry Top 10 news stories of the past year

We count down a year in the BC wine industry

What does it take to become wine savvy these days? Other than tasting wine, of course!

One way is to become familiar with news about how our local wine industry is evolving (when it is not being dragged into a political quagmire, of course).

We read about how millennials are going wild for wine over other beverages. Right here in B.C. we are blessed to have an impressive indigenous wine industry, and all generations of wine lovers are getting to know it.

There is a community that is intent on building a “wine culture” in British Columbia. Growing our viticulture, tourism and other agriculture sectors that could benefit us all.

It has not been without its bumps though, as you will read below. In an effort to make readers more “savvy,” I am counting down the top ten BC wine stories of the past year.

  1. The Story of Ziggy. How an adorable whippet named after a hard-to-pronounce grape variety got caught in a battle with a mega-corporation is one of the more unusual BC wine stories of the year. 40 Knots Estate Winery and Vineyard is a small family-run winery in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. “Ziggy” — their winery dog named after the Siegerrebe grape — happens to match the Ziggy® brand of delicatessen products from Loblaws corporation, triggering a heavy-handed trademark dispute by the grocer. Hopefully wiser minds will prevail, and the big guys lay off the fledgling winery.
  2. Millennials making wine. In an industry where the upfront costs of establishing a winery can be in the millions, what a relief it is to see young couples (some just starting families) starting new wineries in BC. Most are starting in the province’s emerging wine regions further north and on the coast where land is cheaper. But their wines are something to get excited about.
  3. Grape expectations from the Gulf Islands. Of BC’s five recognized wine appellations, the tiny Gulf Islands growing region is probably the least well-known. The impressive Sea Star Vineyards based on south Pender Island has been working to change that. That winery recently acquired some dormant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards on neighbouring Saturna Island. Expect bigger volumes and even better wines grown beside the Salish Sea.
  4. Unlock the Vault. The tiny hamlet of Naramata, located near the end of a winding two-lane road through vineyards and breathtaking views of Lake Okanagan, had a big four-and-a-half-acre site sitting idle for about the last ten years. It was the location of the BC Tree Fruits packing house, and it was snapped up in a sale in 2017. The new owners have big plans for the property, including making it a storage area of dozens of local wineries that lack enough safe, temperature-controlled cellar space for their own wines. It also has potential for becoming a hub for a proposed “secondary tasting room” license. We will watch the development of this site with interest!
  5. Desperately seeking Sandra. One of BC wine’s most passionate advocates is the now former CEO of Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery, Sandra Oldfield. When the winery was bought in a large acquisition of wineries by Andrew Peller Ltd., Oldfield found herself suddenly on the outside looking in at the industry. No industry can afford to lose a leader like Sandra, which is why what is next for her career is a big story for the industry.
  6. Van Wine Fest celebrates Canada. As one of North America’s largest celebrations of wine culture, the Vancouver International Wine Festival meticulously maintains a focus on international – and not just domestic – wines. So, when Canada comes around as a theme region – as it did during its celebration of 150 years of Confederation – it is an occasion. The festival not only showcased wines from Ontario and the emerging wine region in Nova Scotia, it hosted a day-long symposium on the industry’s future in Canada.
  7. Expert hired to recommend liquor biz reforms. While the BC wine industry is going through unprecedented growth, there is a view that antiquated government regulations are holding the wine and hospitality sector back from reaching its true potential. Mark Hicken is a lawyer who has long advocated for regulatory reforms. That is why it is exciting to see BC’s new government announce that they were retaining Hicken’s help in coming up with some practical changes.
  8. Wine country weathers the elements. First, it started with high waters and a torrent of rain in the spring. Then came the wildfires, which filled the air with sometimes dense haze. It had people cancelling vacations across southern British Columbia, and as a result tasting room visits were down, and wine sales struggled to meet targets. Wineries will be glad to see the back of the 2017 weather.
  9. Here come da judgment. The Comeau decision was brought to Canada’s Supreme Court in December, and now the waiting begins. For our wine industry to reach new markets, it must establish new channels through direct-to-consumer (DTC) wine sales. The court’s decision is expected to be delivered in the summer of 2018.
  10. Wineries sold, industry jolted. The news of Andrew Peller Ltd. Purchasing Gray Monk Winery, Black Hills Estate, and Tinhorn Creek Vineyards was hands down the biggest news story of 2017. There had long been rumours of pending winery sales, but nothing of the scale of that announcement last September. Other wineries were eventually sold to big companies as the year wound down. It was a signal of BC wine “growing up”.

Only the big news of BC wine getting caught in the interprovincial crossfire of Premiers battling in February would top our number one story of the past year. Of course, we should all hope that the best thing that can happen in 2018 is that the industry’s best wines ever get bottled.

It will be a joy to start talking about the wines again!

Latest tastes

Fort Berens Meritage Reserve 2015 – more information.
“This rich, full-bodied wine is a beautifully balanced blend of 56% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Cabernet Franc. It is lush with flavours of dark cherries, blackberries and chocolate. The seemingly endless finish has peppery tones that make it the perfect wine to complement a grilled ribeye or tuna steak.”

Well-balanced with ripe blackberry notes, I paired this with a savoury rack of lamb. Grapes are a British Columbia BC VQA blend of Lillooet (Cab Franc) and Merlot and Cab Sauv sourced from the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. Great value at $27.99/bottle. Order direct from the winery.

A perfect pairing for a Portly Chef dinner @fortberens Meritage Reserve 2015

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