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What's happening in BC wine country? A BCWineLover/CityCaucus.com cross-post
2011 was a watershed year for BC's young and evolving wine industry. Once again cool weather would test the resolve of both veterans and newcomers alike. The mild springs and hot summers British Columbia got used to during the last decade are doing a disappearing act, forcing wineries to adapt to much lower grape yields and in some cases causing inconsistent output.
On the bright side, however, BC wine seemed to shift into a higher gear in terms of its overall quality, and the industry gained respectability and influence both at home and abroad. It's easy to overlook our successes and lose track of the events that are helping to shape BC's wine industry, which is what brings me to write this industry retrospective.
What were the biggest events which impacted British Columbia's wine industry? I present them in ascending order of significance.
#15 Culinary experiences expand in the Okanagan
Two years back BC Wine Lover interviewed local wine pioneer Harry McWatters about what he felt the industry could do to add value to the wine travel experience in our province. His advice – seen in this short video clip – was to increase the number of culinary attractions. "We've had a deficit in great culinary experiences historically, and we're starting to see now a broader range of accommodation," remarked McWatters, who goes on to say the challenge is to expand beyond just the traditional (summer) seasonal business.
To that end, 2011 was the year Okanagan wine country saw an increase in choice for fine dining. In recent years the Naramata Bench has had a couple of options at Hillside Estate Winery and Lake Breeze Vineyards where wine travellers could pair with delicious dinner and lunch dishes.
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Bill Eggert with Stacey and I visiting his barrel room
It's been a while since we've featured a cross-post from BCWineLover.com on CityCaucus.com. With the holiday season in high gear and more than a little wine flowing, we share the following look back at our BC wine experiences in 2010.
There is no doubt that Fairview Cellars Bill "The Bear" Eggert is one of the most colourful characters in the Okanagan wine scene. Somehow I feel that Bill would have been right at home with the folks who pioneered the land above Oliver, BC where his luscious grapes ripen in the sun. Eggert's winery is a very small operation, but the quality of his wine leaves a very big footprint.
Famous for his reds – a Merlot, an exceptional Cabernet France and a to-die-for series of Cab Sauv's – Bill wandered into white territory to produce a very distinctive Sauvignon Blanc which is usually sold out.
Our visit to Eggert's wine farm this past summer was too brief but one of two really wonderful experiences for us. The other was another brief visit further up the Okanagan Valley on the Naramata Bench. Van Westen Vineyards is another very small winery driven by a lot of heart of its two proprietors – Robert Van Westen and his lovely wife Tammi.
We literally were at the end of our day and the doors were about to shut at Van Westen's cinder block winemaking facility tucked along Aiken's Loop. When we arrived with a pair of friends they told us they didn't even have a glass to pour any wine in – but lucky for us we carry a set with us!
In both of these visits, one in July and the other at the beginning of September, we were invited to taste from the barrels of each of their cellars. In Bill's case we tried out his upcoming Cabs, and one left me weak in the knees. He smiled and said that one's not quite ready yet, but he knows it's special.
Visiting Rob's barrel room was similarly snug. He opened a barrel of Malbec that was a real treat. Apparently wine writer John Schreiner tasted it and said to Rob, "somewhere an Argentian is weeping."
Visiting the Naramata Bench is like a ride in the country but with benefits. Naramata is the bourgeoning "sub-appellation" of the Okanagan Valley that features some of BC's very best independent winemakers. We visited some of our favourite wineries on a glorious sunny day last week. Whenever it's possible to speak with one of the proprietors for a few minutes, we get a quick download on what's happening with their business and the surrounding region.
As we always only visit a maximum of four wineries (three is preferred) we settled on Lake Breeze Vineyards, Marichel Winery, Hillside Estate Winery and Nichol Vineyard. Lake Breeze and Hillside are more substantial operations and big wine tourist draws. Each has an accompanying eatery staffed with a professional chef and very pleasant servers; lunch at either venue is highly recommended.
By comparison both Marichel and Nichol Vineyard wineries are comparatively small operations. Both are run by a husband and wife team who pour their souls into what they bottle. Interestingly, both of these small wineries feature the Syrah (or Shiraz) grape as one of their core varietals. It's a grape that requires the summer heat that the microclimates of the Naramata Bench provide. Both Nichol's and Marichel's Syrah wines are simply some of the best bottles of BC wine you will taste.
Lake Breeze Vineyards hold the crown for the most consistently fresh and crisp Pinot Blanc wine in the province. Achieving "double gold" medals and Lieutenant Governor Awards hasn't let them sit back on their laurels, however. Lake Breeze are stepping up their efforts on red wines as well. In fact, it's a point of pride for co-proprietor Gary Reynolds that visitors are now making Lake Breeze reds their reason to visit.
GlobalTV News visits Laughing Stock Vineyards to talk taxes – see video
Well, this is definitely one of those stories where you've got to look carefully to see the wine glass half-full. The move to the HST in BC has created no end of consternation and confusion, but in the end we'll all just be fine, methinks. In the case of BC wine, there is no doubt that the HST will reduce costs for winemakers, which hopefully can be passed along to avid consumers like us!
The first folks to stake their turf in the new "HST world of BC wine" are Naramata's Laughing Stock Vineyards. I say good for them – and who better to take this step than business folk-cum-winemakers like Cynthia & David Enns. They have a choice of whether to keep the same price markup that their BC liquor store competitors have. In the case of the latter, the government is requiring stores to increase the markup with the new tax, which makes the wine cheaper. So in essence, you're getting the same price as before when you buy at your local store.
However, the rules are thankfully different for dozens of BC wineries who sell directly to customers. They have a choice of whether to increase the markup. In the case of Laughing Stock they decided that it would be better to have a 3% lower price in their wine shop. What a great idea – and I bet they sell a lot more wine as a result!
So it looks like one winery in BC has thrown down the gauntlet. What other BC wineries will follow suit? Read the following press release from the winery…