BC Wine Country

In early 2013, a report called Canada's Wine Economy - Ripe, Robust, Remarkable touted that the nation's wine industry is a $6.8 billion enterprise.

It was the biggest study ever commissioned on the subject and what it discovered is that wine is an enormous economic driver, responsible for 31,370 full-time jobs.

It also found that wine is a huge attraction for travellers. About three million people take advantage of wine-related tourism every year. The 800,000 people who visit B.C. wine country alone annually is more than the province drew for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Now that's nothing to sniff at.    

It's a bit of a Cinderella story, because no one but a handful of visionaries saw any real potential for winemaking in B.C. That's shocking really, considering that the conditions here are ideal for growing grapes. The province is home to an abundance of microclimates and soils that nurture grapes. As an added bonus, there are few issues with pests and diseases that seem to plague many other regions.   

Mother Nature can be a tricky customer. In 2010 and 2011, she pushed vintners to their limits by delivering weather challenges they had not seen for decades. But the 2012 growing season was about as ideal as it gets and after a reasonably mild winter, the 2013 season is getting a positive boost.

B.C. wines are impressing consumers and critics where it counts the most - in the glass. The hardware from international competitions is piling up and it's rare when wines from the province get shutout. Local wines have captured the imagination of Hollywood stars and royalty.

A Decade of Wine

The Official Wine Tour Handbook to British Columbia is marking 10 years with this edition and a decade has made a world of difference. In that abbreviated time frame, the advancement in the industry has been nothing short of sensational. The numbers don't lie:

But it's not just the statistics that speak volumes. Over the past 10 years, wine enthusiasts have sat up and taken notice of B.C. wines. And there has been significant progress and development in the making, packaging, marketing and distribution of the wines.

In the world of wine, a decade is barely a drop in the bucket. Indeed, the global industry has thrived for millenniums, with grape cultivation and wine consumption dating back to 4000 B.C.

The major wine regions in Europe were already well established by the end of the 1700s and some estates there today are steeped in centuries old tradition.

But British Columbia wine country is a toddler by comparison. While wine grapes have been growing here since the 1800s, it has only been in the last 25 years that wine production has been taken seriously in this province. Before that, not much stock was put into the potential here.

In fact, back in 1986, a wine writer named Albert Givton reviewed 11 Canadian red wines for his newsletter, The Wine Consumer, and did not have any kind words to say.
"We do not have the micro-climates to produce decent red table wines," he wrote. "Our governing bodies should either allow the wineries to produce red table wines from imported grapes (North Western U.S. and California) or get the grape growers to plant apple and peach trees where red grape vines are planted now."

Thank goodness no one heeded his advice.

It all began to change for the better 25 years ago when Free Trade was introduced in 1988. B.C. wineries at the time were faced with an influx of better-quality imports and were forced to make dramatic improvements in order to compete. Grape growers were offered aid from the federal and provincial governments to pull out less desirable hybrid varieties and replant the preferred vinifera grapes.

Two-thirds of B.C.'s vineyard acreage disappeared in that time frame - from 3,400 acres to about 1,000.  Two years later, the Vintner's Quality Alliance was introduced to further elevate the quality of B.C. wines and set a standard for consumers.

At a press conference announcing the program, a reporter asked one of B.C. wine's pioneers Harry McWatters to predict when the industry look like in 15 years. At the time there were 14 wineries in the province. McWatters boldly forecasted that the number might reach as much as 50.  By 2000 there were 60. Today British Columbia wineries total 214 and counting.