Tuesday, December 16, 2008

B.C. In the Grand Scheme of All Things Wine

By Julianna Hayes
Have you ever sipped a wine from the Finger Lakes, Nebraska, Idaho, Texas or Mexico?

Most people I know haven’t. These are not wine-growing regions with which most British Columbia. consumers are familiar. Indeed, anything from North America that ends up in our glass is either locally produced or hails from California’s Napa or Sonoma regions, or maybe Oregon and Washington states.

In fact, I’d venture a guess that a majority of people would consider those aforementioned regions as insignificant in the grand scheme of all things wine. Thus it would surprise them that the B.C. industry, despite its staggering growth, is considered slightly more or less trifling to most in the world of wine.

Acclaimed critic Jancis Robinson certainly made this apparent as her point of view in an article in the London Financial Times a couple years ago and lambasted us for our Canadian pride.

“In my experience no nation is more defensive about their own wines than the Canadians, perhaps because they have so little vineyard, less than, say, Slovenia or Japan. Every time I go there to launch a book, usually a reference book about the wines of the world, I am berated for not having devoted more space to the land of maple syrup. I suspect this is partly because Canadians tend to be fed stories which rather overstate Canadian wine’s place in the world of wine.”

Just to put Robinson’s comments into perspective, let’s consider some stats: There are currently 154 grape wineries in British Columbia and the total vineyard planted is 9,100 acres. We produce just over 13 million litres annually.

By comparison, Nebraska is about where B.C. was about 15 years ago with 23 wineries and under 1,000 acres under grapes, while Idaho has 32 wineries and 1,200 acres – about what B.C. had in 1995. Mexico’s Baja California region is home to about 50 producers and is experiencing unprecedented growth

The Texas industry closer in size with 163 wineries, but smaller in overall scale than B.C., having less than half the vineyard with 3,700 acres.

The Finger Lakes region of New York State has about the same number of wineries and vineyards as we do, yet somehow produces more than double the amount of wine as B.C. Still, little of what it makes seems to trickle our way and thus the region still seems obscure.

Now let’s take a look at some world’s largest producers:

California has more than 1,200 wineries and about 480,000 acres under vine – more than 50 times what is grown in B.C. Meanwhile, Argentina is the largest producer in South America and the fifth largest in the world, making some 1.5 billion litres of wine annual of its 520,000 acres of vineyard.

France and Italy are two largest producers of wine in the world. Both have more than two million acres of grapes in the ground and each produce more than five billion litres annually.

We make fine wines in B.C., but we’re a drop in the barrel…no, not even half a drop. Does this make us unworthy? No, but it makes it difficult to achieve worldwide recognition and appreciation mainly because we’re just “not out there.” There isn’t enough wine made here to find its way into the glasses of thirsty wine consumers worldwide.

Recently, a considerable milestone was reached by a winery on this side of the border. For the first time ever, a Canadian wine made it into Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the year. Albeit, the wine was from Niagara, Ontario, not B.C., and was 100th on the 2008 list released earlier this month – but it was a significant achievement on the list.

So much so that it created quite a buzz on Wine Spectator’s online forum. A poster from Toronto started the thread and it lead to some discussion about the lack of recognition for Canadian wines. One individual from Edmonton expressed disappointment that the successful Canuck product – Konzalmann’s 2006 Vidal Icewine – was a dessert wine.

“I just wish that WS would rate more dry white and red wines from Canada. I'm not sure if that is the magazine's choice or that not enough Canadian producers send samples to New York.”

That prompted a reply by Wine Spectator Senior Editor James Molesworth, who pointed out the supply problem concerning Canadian wines.

“We don't really 'choose' to review wines. What we review is a reflection of what is submitted, and to a greater extent, what is available in the marketplace. We make every effort to review everything that we can, and that we think our readers would be interested in knowing about...Many Canadian wines are simply not available here.”

Wine Spectator did review some 80 Canadian wines within the pages of the magazine throughout 2008, but that’s a puny amount when you consider the sheer volume of wines it writes about.

Still Molesworth comments must be reassuring for local producers that the lack of recognition for their products doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality and value, but rather an issue of scale.

Wine Notes

Van Westen 2007 Vivacious
Aromas: Floral, mineral, green apple skin, lime, spice, vanilla, lees
Flavours: Apple, mineral, citrus, spice, lees
Body and Finish: Crisp entry, bright flavours and medium-light weight, racy finish
Overall Impression: A bright, fresh wine that goes down easy but would make a lovely food wine (think roast pork loin) – Made with Pinot Blanc and a hint of Pinot Gris
Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It: Yes, price is right
Points: 89
Price: $18.90
Availability: Winery, Private Retailers, VQA Shops

Burrowing Owl 2006 Syrah
Aromas: Black berry jam, smoke, pepper, earthy, coffee bean, dark vanilla, spice
Flavours: Black fruits, pepper, tobacco, herbal, vanilla, earthy
Body and Finish: Very weighty on the palate, ripe fruit with some drying tannins and a hot, elongated finish
Overall Impression: This is a bit of a monster and rather alcoholic tasting, but shows some finesse
Cellaring Potential: Hang on to it for a couple more years
Would I Buy It: Occasionally
Points: 89
Price: $38
Availability: Winery, Private Retailers

No comments: