Big things happened on our wine landscape in 2016! More than 75 grape varieties planted across 10,000 acres in British Columbia managed to thrive throughout a somewhat challenging 2016 growing season that started early, got alarmingly hot, but ended on a reasonably cool note. Our total wine production is small but special, and heads are turning around the world as critics and the curious seek the next big thing. International tastings, competitions, trade events and visiting experts have been relentlessly spreading the word about B.C. wine. Here are a few of my favourite high points:
London’s Decanter World Wine Awards
When 16,000 entries were whittled down to the important hardware, Canada had snagged three of the precious 130 Platinum medals. Two went to Ontario, and B.C.’s winner was the Okanagan Valley’s CedarCreek Estate Winery Platinum Series Block Three Riesling 2015. Platinum means 95 points minimum, making this an incredible win! The wine is long sold out, so look out for the 2016 vintage. You won’t regret it - this wine is consistently brilliant.
Judgment of B.C., June 2016
To acknowledge the 2015 visit of Stephen Spurrier, a benchmark tasting reminiscent of the now-famous 1976 Judgment of Paris was initiated. For the second year, I was given the opportunity to curate and moderate the event, pitting B.C. Riesling and Pinot Noir against globally acknowledged counterparts. See the full results of the 2nd Annual Judgment of B.C., as judged by 29 renowned Canadian and international palates.
Slow progress on grocery store wine sales
B.C. VQA wine in grocery stores expanded at a snail’s pace over the past year. Announced with such fanfare in April 2015, wine in grocery stores has not advanced much since then, with just 12 locations selling BC VQA wine. Save-On Foods offers BC VQA wines for sale in 11 locations in B.C., and Loblaws successfully bid for 6 licences recently auctioned by the provincial government. One of the licences was immediately activated to install a wine store in their South Surrey Superstore. After almost 100 years (the B.C. liquor board was founded in 1921) we are being given a glimpse of what the normal world is like. With more licences poised to be activated, wine access and choice should increase. Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby and the Tri-Cities do not currently allow wine in grocery stores - will this change in 2017?
Canada announced as the theme region for VIWF 2017
Canada’s in the wine spotlight! On the final evening of the Vancouver International Wine Festival last February, it was announced that CANADA will be the theme region for the 2017 event. This means that wineries from across the land will be pouring wine for 25,000 admissions. At 39 years of age, VIWF is one of the biggest and oldest wine events in the world. Tickets go on sale on January 10, 2017.
A strong showing from Canada at Prowein
One of the hot-ticket items at Prowein 2016 was a special seminar decoding Canadian wine, moderated by Dr. Jamie Goode. Prowein is the biggest trade fair for wines and spirits in the world, and B.C. was there in force. Ten wineries from British Columbia poured for over 50,000 visitors in Dusseldorf, along with 10 wineries from Ontario, and 2 from Nova Scotia. Representing B.C. was Bench 1775, Burrowing Owl, C.C. Jentsch, Church & State, Gold Hill, Okanagan Crush Pad, Painted Rock, Poplar Grove, Quails’ Gate, and Wild Goose.
National Wine Awards of Canada
Held in Summerland, hosted by WineAlign and head judged by Anthony Gismondi, the National Wine Awards of Canada broke records for entries this year. As panel captain and a wine judge for the past 15 years, I was thrilled to see over 1,500 wines evaluated by the national judging panel, and eight of 15 total Platinum medals awarded to B.C. wineries. A heap of other accolades were awarded to B.C. wineries as well. Watch for my report this June when I travel to Nova Scotia for the 2017 National Wine Awards of Canada.
The Wine Appellation Task Group results are in
Sub-regionality is on the move as wine culture spreads throughout B.C. There are five official wine regions in the province: Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, as well as the unofficial Emerging Regions grape growing area. One of the notable advancements in 2016 saw the results of the Wine Appellation Task Group, which oversaw an industry-led review of the appellation system for wines produced from 100 per cent B.C. grapes. Before long, we should see the labeling regulation changes that will allow wine lovers to understand more about the specific origin of grapes used, which in turn will help our evolving wine identity. So far Golden Mile is the only legal sub-region that can be stated on a wine label, but imagine when Summerland, Cawston, Cowichan, Creston or Okanagan Falls are allowed! Place names will provide more intimate knowledge of grape source, which is a big step for young wine regions as they come of age. Four new large wine-making regions are also proposed: Thompson Valley, Shuswap, Lillooet-Lytton and Kootenays.
The Grape Debate on ageing
This annual event hosted by the Alumni Association of the University of British Columbia tackles important topics relevant to our growing industry. In January 2016, 6 feisty debaters, wrangled by me as moderator, discussed the proposition: Should wine be made to age or made to drink? This year the debate will be held January 26, and the theme is: What role does the vessel play? I am happy to once again try to keep the peace as this pithy issue of fermentation and maturation vessels is explored. Get event information and buy tickets here.
New District is taking off
And finally, a little shout out to ourselves, as we strive to bring more great B.C. wine to your doorstep. The three top-selling products on newdistrict.ca were all curated packs of British Columbia wines, including Naramata Superstars, our triple pack of rosé No, Seriously, and our Three-For-All trio. (We still have a few of each in stock!) The Wine Advent Calendar 2016 was another runaway success, selling out in mere days, so be sure to look for it next year. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop with product, articles, news, and sales for 2017.