Despite all the gloom coming from BC wineries post-Comeau decision, we would argue there are some wins. First, while the Supreme Court ruled in favour of allowing provinces to decide what passes into their borders, they did state on the record that provinces protecting their own producers was unconstitutional, setting a standard for opening up negotiations between provinces, and in the process making it apparent that provinces like Ontario who are shielding its market from BC wine to protect their industry, are not playing fairly.
Second of all, before we can ship out caseloads of wine, people have to know about it – and I don’t mean in the cheapass CiC way (bad mass-produced wine from afar but cellared in Canada and sold as local wine)** that the international wine community has been accustomed to considering as BC wine. As familiar as we are with the range and quality of BC wine on this side of the country, it is virtually unknown beyond it. There are of course exceptions, Decanter’s Steve Spurrier loves us, but marketing is the key to the success of our winery industry.
Here’s the thing, the Okanagan produces wine on a relatively small scale. The ensuing higher costs mean two things: one, the domestic market is key. It’s simply too hard to compete in terms of volume with the big boys internationally, some of whose land is hundreds of times cheaper (Chile, Argentina), leading us to the second… we must compete on quality! And to this end, BC wine is about to add another tool to its kit. It’s called a sub-GI (sub geographic indicator), and the Naramata Bench has applied to become one (see their release here). What this means is that the region will be able to firmly brand itself as a unique and premium wine producer worthy of such a designation due to its special sense of place and style just like Médoc or Pouilly-Fuisse or Golden Mile does.
Becoming a fancy terroir of note is no easy feat. A soil scientist consultant and research scientist from the Summerland Research and Development Centre were hired to study the topography, climate, soil and other geographic factors that define the area. Factors that should prove that it cannot just be lumped in with the broad Okanagan classification that stretches 220km from the dessert all the way up to Salmon Arm. It is now at the stage where it needs to pass through the BC Wine Authority before going to the province’s Minister of Agriculture for the final seal of approval.
It appears Naramata is not alone, the unique region of Okanagan Falls (and apparently Skaha Bluffs in the near future) is also gearing up to become a sub-GI region. According to Quench magazine “what sets Okanagan Falls wines apart …are the high percentage poured whose grapes actually originate from the area that defines its membership.” Also the area is known in contrast to their warmer Southern neighbours as great Burgundian style winemakers, and while the volcanic, glacial, and loamy soils ideal for such wines abound, they do vary interestingly from parcel to parcel (think Synchromesh’s zingy aromatic Alsatian/Germanic styles), but quality-wise the region is nothing but consistent, and there’s a lot of soil science to back that up.
Exciting times are ahead for the BC wine industry to cultivate their rep as boutique, smaller batch, quality winemakers. As BC wine scribe Anthony Gismondi succinctly put it – “It’s hard to overestimate the power of place in the wine business, especially when it’s certified and audited. B.C. wine country is getting its act together”.
** The BC wine industry has recently won this battle, and the deceptive “Cellared in Canada” labelling is now outlawed for wine that has no Canadian grapes