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BC wine: a short history

But wine in BC is a relatively recent phenomenon. While European settlers started fermenting grapes here one hundred fifty years ago, it wasn’t until the ‘70s and ‘80s that BC began producing the kinds of wine you wouldn’t feel embarrassed bringing to a dinner party.

This two-part series will look at the history of BC wine: Where is started, and how it got where it is today.

The Mission

The first wines produced in BC served a sacred purpose. French priest Father Pandosy arrived in the Southern Interior in the 1860s. There he established the Okanagan Mission, a hub for Catholic settlers and a home for the small group of oblates Pandosy had brought from the Old Country. At the Mission, he began producing Communion wine, most likely from cultivated native grape varieties, making the Okanagan the entry point for viticulture into BC.

In the years that followed, wine production in BC remained an informal, small-scale affair. Beer, cider and hard liquor were more popular. If you drank wine at all, you would do so in a restaurant, and most likely be enjoying a European product. Smaller batches might be produced by farmers for personal use, and be rounded out with berries or whatever fermentable fruit was on hand.

But during the early 20th century, producers of all alcohol - whether at home or on a professional scale - faced a serious obstacle: Prohibition.

Since the 19th century, it had been possible for Canadian provinces to vote in favour of Prohibition, banning all alcohol consumption and sales. Given alcohol’s widespread popularity, none had moved to do so.

But in 1917, the temperance movement was growing strong. That’s the year BC elected to ban the consumption and sale of alcohol. Every other province did the same thing at around the same time, so BC wasn’t unique. Prohibition was a failed experiment, though, and in 1921, BC was one of the first provinces to re-legalize booze.

With the reintroduction of legal alcohol to the Province at large, there was a growing demand for wine. Find out how BC’s wine revolution really got kicked off in our second instalment.

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