By Ron Kapon
Canada has been making wine since the 1800’s and today there are over 400 wineries throughout our northern neighbor. The region is small with most of the wineries classified as “boutique”. Several American & Australian wineries produce more wine than the entire BC region. The areas I visited are at the northernmost tip of wine making and vine growing (Germany is in the same latitude) where the vines struggle to grow ripe fruit with a shorter growing season. The summers are hot and most grapes are harvested in a long, cool and sunny autumn; sometimes even in winter. Here we find the grapes left to freeze on the vine in order to produce Ice wine, the tip of the iceberg.
The wines of British Columbia are mainly crisp, fruity white wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling) and late harvest dessert wines, including the ubiquitous Ice wine. More red wines are being grown in the southern end of the Okanagan Valley where the hot, dessert climate and long growing season are suitable to the production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir. From Vernon in the north through Kelowna to Osoyoos in the south is about 125 miles.
British Columbia, the most westerly province in Canada, has five designated Viticultural Areas (DVA). There were 110 wineries and 5,400 acres of wine grapes located in two wine-growing regions. The Okanagan (70 wineries & 95 percent of the province’s wine) and Similkameen Valleys (four wineries) have hot, dry summers, chilly nights (the only classified desert area in Canada with less than six inches of rain a year; west of the Coastal Mountain Range in Vancouver it rains a lot), low humidity, long hours of sunshine, with the water from Lake Okanagan used for irrigation. Those valleys, dating back to the mid 1800’s, are located in the central southern part of the province along the border of Washington State (part of the Okanagan Valley is located in Washington State) .
The British Columbia Wine Institute (BCWI) was established in 1990 to create an internationally competitive wine industry. The strategy included the removal of labrusca (Concord) and hybrid grape varieties (Seyval Blanc) and replanting with vinifera varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon). They have adopted the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) seal of approval to wines that pass a taste test and chemical analysis. Wines must be 100 percent vinifera and all the grapes must be from BC. 95 percent of the grapes on a label must be from that variety. If a DVA is named then 95 percent of the grapes must be from that DVA. There are provincial designations (British Columbia) and geographic designations (Okanagan Valley). If an individual vineyard is named it must be within a DVA and 100 percent of the grapes must be from that vineyard.
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