Beautiful British Columbia – What Makes our Wines Unique

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More times than I would like to admit, I have heard the following statement, “You make wine in Canada?” Yes.  We make wine.  Damn great wine, actually.

Last year, while I was living in the Champagne region of France, this sentence came up time and time again. ( But in French, of course).  A few people and producers knew that Canada crafts world-renowned ice wine but we are SOOOO much more than that.  British Columbia, for example, is alive and thriving with incredible wines, differing terroirs and a passion that actually vibrates. Some pretty incredible people in the wine world are catching on, “Your wines are sensational!” said the one and only Steven Spurrier.

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The British Columbia wine industry has rocketed in growth from 17 grape wineries in 1990 to over 280 today.  The British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance (BC VQA) turns 30 years old in 2020 and is the appellation system developed in 1990.  Vineyard land holdings equal just about 10,500 acres and are spread throughout nine geographical indications (GI). These are: Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Thompson Valley, Lillooet, Shuswap, and the Kootenays.  (A geographical indication is an indication that identifies wine as originating in a specific region and has a clearly defined boundary.)

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The three most planted white grapes are: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer.  The most planted red varieties are: Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Many people are surprised to learn that the Okanagan Valley is warmer and more arid than our friends in Napa Valley and receive two more hours of sunshine during the optimal growing months of July and August. The moderating effect of Okanagan Lake (large and deep measuring 135 KM long and 4 – 5 KM wide) is the key reason vineyards flourish in the Okanagan Valley where 84% of the vineyards call home.

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So, is British Columbia a cool climate region for grape growing?  Located higher than the 49º latitude, it would be easy to guess ‘yes’ as this is the same latitude as Champagne, France and Rheingau, Germany.  However, the Okanagan Valley and the Similkameen Valley, where approximately 90% of B.C.’s grapes are grown, is best understood as having a, “short, hot growing season with desert-like conditions.”  British Columbia’s grape growing climate is unlike any other wine region in the world. (www.winebc.com)

With nine recognized geographical indications, British Columbia’s vineyard region is so vast that there are also four approved sub-GIs: Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls, Golden Mile Bench and Skaha Bench.  Another two sub-GIs have been submitted for approval: Cowichan Valley (Vancouver Island) and Golden Mile.  And, there are considerations for additional sub-GIs in the near future.

What does this all mean?  Quite frankly, that British Columbia’s wine industry continues to expand and grow – admirers and connoisseurs alike are discovering and re-visiting the region to the tune of 1,000,000 people annually.   Our BC VQA winemakers and wineries focus on each regions’ unique difference and express the British Columbia terroir to the best of their abilities.  The results are delicious and impressive.

Do you have a favourite BC VQA winery? I have several and continue to add to my growing list.  I’d love to hear what yours are so please feel free to leave a comment.

Thank you.

Wines of British Columbia