Photo: Mission Hill Oculus: best in the room at Wine Festival preview
For at least 60 British Columbia wineries, their presence at
the Vancouver International Wine Festival in February takes on added importance
in light of the new U.S. administration’s protectionist attitudes.
Having a high profile at one of North America’s best wine
festivals gives the wineries a further chance to connect with consumers.
British Columbia wineries already enjoy considerable consumer loyalty. They
have a 17% market share, according to the B.C. Wine Institute.
I am actually surprised it is not higher. The Festival
recently hosted a tasting for wine trade and media and poured a representative
selection from the 1,700 wines that will be poured during the week-long event.
Festival staff may well have cherry-picked 29 wines to
ensure that the BC wines stood out. Nevertheless, I thought that the best wine
in the room at this mini-tasting was Mission Hill Oculus 2012. Overall, the BC
wines stood up very well against the American and other international wines.
And one of the most mediocre wines in the room was a Sauvignon Blanc from
The BC wineries at the Festival need to hope that consumers
at the event continued to be impressed with BC wines. Even before Donald Trump
had his tiny hands on the nuclear codes, the United States had launched a trade
action against the BC wine industry. The Americans argue that allowing
exclusive grocery store access for BC wine is an unfair trade practice.
Canada has been the single largest export market for American
wines, predominantly California wines, since 2008. California wine sales to
Canada in 2015 totalled $461 million. While BC has been a good market for
California wines, their market share here is about a third of the market share
of BC wines. Hence, the argument that setting up an exclusive sales channel for
VQA wines is discriminatory.
The Overwaitea Food Group began selling VQA wines in
selected grocery stores in April 2015. Seven Overwaitea/Save-on-Food stores now
have wine sections. The company controls other VQA licenses not yet activated. As
well, Loblaw’s and other grocery chains have, or are acquiring, grandfathered
wine store licenses for the sale of just BC wine.
In theory, they could sell imported wine, but only in a
separate section of the store. That would lack the appeal and the convenience
of the VQA wine section.
The Americans have been complaining for some time that this
discriminates against them. And they have allies. In November, 2016, the Wine
Institute in California said this in a statement:
“Wine Institute appreciates the continued efforts of, and
strongly supports, the governments of the US, Australia, Argentina, Chile, the
European Union, Mexico and New Zealand which on April 29, 2016, filed a formal
objection with the BC premier challenging the province’s grocery store
regulations. [These give] less favourable treatment to imported wine than they
do to BC Wines. As such, [they are] violating Canada’s commitments as a member
of the World Trade Organization. … For this reason, BC’s discriminatory program
must be modified to allow equal access for imported wines.”
The trade action was finally launched just a few days before
the Trump inauguration by Michael Froman, President Obama’s trade
representative, and is being continued by Trump’s trade representative.
Froman said in a statement: “The discriminatory regulations implemented
by British Columbia intentionally undermine free and fair competition. Canada
and all Canadian provinces, including BC, must play by the rules.”
the president of the Wine Institute, chimed in last week to observe that: “BC
consumers are among the most knowledgeable and sophisticated purchasers of
wine. Any expansion of retail distribution channels should ensure that
consumers have convenient access to their preferred wines from around the world.”
Never mind that their preferred wines
currently are BC wines, by a big margin. Never mind that imported wines are
sold in 600 private stores and 200 BC liquor stores.
admit to a great deal of sympathy for the American position, given the pride I
take in the remarkable accomplishments of the BC wineries. If the US is adopting an American First policy, surely it is not
discriminatory if we have a BC First policy regarding our wines!
the trade action will take some years to resolve, at the end of the day the
Americans are likely to prevail and grocery stores will be opened to all wines,
not just VQA wines.
deprive VQA wines of an important marketing advantage, but that will not be the
end of the world. The quality of BC wines now easily matches the quality of
imported wines and BC’s “sophisticated” consumers obviously know that.
BC wine industry needs to keep up its efforts to convince consumers this is so.
Taking part in the Vancouver International Wine Festival is an important
Here are some
of the stellar BC wines you will find at the Festival, both at tasting events
and in the on-site liquor store, based on wines the Festival has previewed.
Black Hills Nota Bene 2014 ($60). The
wine has sage and herbal notes on the aroma and the finish. The fruit flavours
include black cherry, plum, coffee and chocolate. The texture is rich and ripe,
with long tannins. The winery says this was “more masculine” than previous
vintages – even after dialling back the Cabernet Sauvignon, which speaks well
of the quality of the Merlot. 92-94.
Burrowing Owl Syrah 2014 ($40) The wine begins with aromas of ripe, dark fruit
– plum and black cherry – with floral notes, perhaps reflecting the four
percent co-fermented Viognier in the blend. It is rich and juicy on the palate,
with a smoky hint on the finish. 92.
Vineyard Pinot Gris 2015
($25). Here is a Pinot Gris with good weight on
the palate. It has aromas and flavours of pear, apple and citrus. 88.
Okanagan Estate SunRock Shiraz 2014
($27). This full-bodied red begins with
aromas of fig, plum and leather. The flavours are bold and intense: black
cherry and fig with black cherry on the finish. 92.
Mission Hill Oculus
($125). This wine is juicy in texture with aromas of cassis, black
cherry and red liquorice, leading for flavours of red and black fruits. It has
a svelte, polished finish with long ripe tannins that promise 10 to 15 years of
improvement in the cellar. 94.
Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam
Qwmt Pinot Noir 2015
($27). Here is a rich, bold Pinot Noir, dark in
colour, beginning with aromas of spiced cherry. On the palate, there are
luscious flavours of cherry and strawberry. The seductive texture is all
Sandhill Small Lots
($25). This wine has aromas and flavours of peach, apricot
and apple, with a rich texture and with bright acidity to create a refreshing