It looks like more wine is being made in British Columbia than we
That is a conclusion that can be drawn from
the report of the 2011 grape crop compiled by BDO Canada LLP and released by
the British Columbia Wine Institute.
The 2011 crop totalled 22,722 short tons
and that was 28% higher than the 2010 crop of 17,732 tons. That jump reflects
both the production from newly planted vineyards and the somewhat better
growing conditions in 2011.
A crop that size should have produced at
least 12 million litres of wine and perhaps as much as 14 million litres,
depending on one’s assumptions on how many litres can be pressed from a ton of
According to the Wine Institute’s annual
report, sales of VQA wine totalled 8,359,124 litres in the 12 months ended
March 31, 2011. While appreciable volumes of wine from British Columbia grapes are sold without the
VQA designation, it would hardly be enough to bridge the gap between VQA sales
and the likely production from the 2011 crop.
Hence, the inference that some wineries at
least might be dealing with a surplus.
There is every reason to expect that the
gap between sales and production will be larger this vintage. Additional
recently planted vineyards are coming into production. One estimate within the
industry is that the 2012 crop could be as high as 29,000 tons with good
A grape surplus should mean lots of
moderately priced wines for the foreseeable future. But don’t expect to see a British Columbia version
Two Buck Chuck. The wineries can be pretty creative in soaking up the surplus.
Remember that perhaps 10 large producers
own the majority of the vineyard acreage in the Okanagan. The major owners of
vineyards include Mission Hill, Vincor, the Andrew Peller group and Mount
Boucherie Estate Winery. These wineries, and those in the next size tier, all
have lots of marketing clout to move their VQA wines. They also have outlets
for wines that are surplus to their VQA brands.
The major wineries very likely are blending
excess British Columbia
wine with the bulk wine imported for the cellar-in-Canada wines. If your
favourite CIC wine is tasting a little better, that may be the reason.
There is another sign that the market for British Columbia wine
had become more competitive: some producers have sharpened their marketing.
* More producers are making private labels
for restaurants. Orofino Vineyards in the Similkameen is producing two wines
for Vancouver restaurateur
David Hawksworth while Okanagan Crush Pad has just launched two wines for the
Cactus Club with chef Rob Feeney’s name on the label.
* A growing number of British Columbia wineries are signing up to
supply restaurant wines in kegs through Vancouver Urban Winery.
* There is a growing push to release more wines
in bag in box, both for the restaurants and for consumers looking for
affordable everyday wines at home.
This latter effort has generated controversy
because VQA wines can be sold only in glass and not in the boxed format.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery was prevented last year from putting VQA on a box
even though the wine the box was the same as the wine in the VQA bottle.
More recently, at a Wine Institute tasting,
Okanagan Crush Pad was ordered to take down a display of empty three-litre
boxes for its Haywire brand of wines. The Wine Institute associates itself only
with VQA wine.
Haywire wines are also sold in bottle and
have passed VQA, with flying colours. This is exactly the same wine that
Haywire puts in boxes or in kegs, in a sensible effort to broaden its market
while passing on packaging savings.
Christine Coletta, one of the owners of
Haywire, made the argument in a blog – apparently the first one she has written
“Consumers are looking for value, and one way to give them that with 100%
BC-grown wine is with affordable and environmentally-friendly alternative
packaging, such as kegs (reusable, like beer kegs) and bag-in-box (1/3 the
weight of a case of bottled wine),” she wrote. “Both of these alternative
packaging options have been gaining lots of traction and many of the Okanagan’s
best wineries are getting into the game; however, we can’t label these wines as
‘VQA’, as boxes and
kegs are not BC VQA-approved packages.”
The rule that prevents VQA wines from being sold in the box format was put
in place at the beginning of VQA two decades ago. At that time, bag in box
wines generally contained imported bulk wine and the wine industry did not want
to confuse the VQA image.
It is time to update those rules and rely on the British Columbia Wine
Authority’s audit powers to make sure no one is cheating. But that probably won’t
happen because the rule amending formula demands agreement from too high a
percentage of the wineries.
How ironic is that that some good British
Columbia wine is likely being blended into some of
those cellared-in-Canada box wines!