what’s in a name: designated viticultural areas

a golden view from Road 13 Vineyards, one of the wineries included in the proposed Golden Mile sub-appellation.

By international wine growing region standards, the Okanagan is young. This can be both a challenge and an opportunity: it’s not easy to be taken seriously, but it allows for a more generous playing field on which to innovate and invent. Yet to name the Okanagan as one region is misleading, particularly when there are such marked differences in soil and climate from tip (north Kelowna) to tail (south Osoyoos).

Enter designated viticultural areas, or DVAs; areas designated by distinguishable geographic features. At present, the entire Okanagan Valley is one big DVA. There has been increased chatter among wine-types about whether lumping all smaller growing regions into one large DVA does good service to consumer education, the growth of our wine industry, and accurate labelling.

In the current Okanagan Valley DVA, all wineries fall under the one big umbrella. Smaller producers and those with a site-specific focus aren’t permitted to list a sub-region on the label; if you grow in Okanagan Falls, you can’t label your region as such on the bottle. To include these areas (sub-regions) on the label, one would need to designate sub-appellations within the designated viticultural area. Europe has them, and California and Washington do too.

For those wineries in the pro-sub-appellation camp, having one big DVA can be restrictive for marketing/labelling in a way that will truly reflect their brand. It can also be somewhat misleading to consumers drinking a bottle of wine from what we think is one area of the Okanagan Valley but which is, in actuality, made from grapes grown in another. For example, most hearty red wines are ripened further south in the Okanagan DVA. How it happens isn’t a mystery – it’s a combination of climate, degree days, and terroir.

The following press release was issued today by Hawksworth Communications, announcing the first proposed sub-appellation in the Okanagan Valley DVA: The Golden Mile Bench.

This is a substantial step forward in our young wine industry.

~ Jeannette

For Immediate Release

Golden Mile Bench Proposes to become Okanagan Valley’s First Sub-Appellation

Oliver, BC (May 21, 2014) – Wineries located on the Golden Mile Bench wine growing area near Oliver in British Columbia have submitted a proposal to become the first official sub-DVA “Designated Viticultural Area” of the Okanagan Valley DVA. An in-depth scientific analysis by scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre – Summerland (AAFC-PARC Summerland) has shown the area has a combination of landform, landscape position, mesoclimate, air drainage and soil materials that make it distinct within the Okanagan Valley, contributing to the production of unique wines.

A group of producers in the area have been exploring the concept of proposing a Golden Mile Bench DVA since 2009. After much discussion, debate and an in-depth study of the region’s terroir by Scott Smith, M.Sc. Soil Scientist with AAFC-PARC Summerland in conjunction with Dr. Pat Bowen, Ph.D. Research Scientist, Viticulture and Plant Physiology also at AAFC-PARC Summerland, the final boundaries were decided. Wine consultant, Rhys Pender MW of Wine Plus+ helped to compile the proposal.

With the Okanagan Valley DVA comprising around four-fifths of all British Columbia’s vineyard area, yet producing wines from many different mesoclimates and terroirs, it is a widely held belief that there is a need to break this large, single appellation into meaningful, scientifically unique sub-DVAs that produce distinctive wines. Golden Mile Bench is the first such application to the BC Wine Authority.

The proposal was submitted to the BC Wine Authority (BCWA) on May 20th. The BCWA will conduct consultations within the region and a vote by ballot amongst the relevant stakeholders within the proposed region’s boundaries. Once the due diligence has been completed and assuming the BCWA determines that all requirements have been met, it will then submit the proposal to the Minister of Agriculture for approval.

Any enquiries about the status of the proposal should be directed to the BC Wine Authority (http://www.bcvqa.ca).

A question and answer section with more details is included below.

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Questions & Answers:

When will the Golden Mile Bench DVA become official?
The proposal has been submitted to the BC Wine Authority who conduct the process as laid out in the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation. Assuming the Authority determines that the requirements of the Regulation are met, it will then submit the proposal to the Minister of Agriculture for approval. There is currently no existing time estimate.

Who conducted the scientific study to determine the proposed boundaries?
The boundaries were decided after in-depth analysis by Scott Smith, a soil scientist with the Pacific Agri – Food Research Centre (PARC) in Summerland in conjunction with Dr. Pat Bowen, a Viticulture Research Scientist also at PARC.

Will some vineyards or wineries be excluded from the new DVA?
As required under the Regulation, the area of the proposed DVA has been drawn up using a scientific basis. Some producers in the area have vineyards both in and out of the proposed DVA and some vineyards are even cut into two by the boundaries. Also, any winery who buys grapes from within the proposed DVA can use those grapes to make a Golden Mile Bench DVA designation.

Will there be more sub-DVAs created in the near future?
All those involved hope that this will be the start of creating a number of scientifically defined unique sub-DVAs that help tell the story of the unique regions of the Okanagan Valley.

What does a sub-DVA mean and how will it appear on labels?
When a sub-DVA is created, it applies to all of the vineyards within the defined boundaries. Any winery (not just those located in the sub-DVA) making wine from grapes grown within the sub-DVA could use the name “Golden Mile Bench” as an appellation of origin on the label of that particular wine.

Winery Contacts 
CC Jentsch Cellars – Chris Jentsch / jentsch@eastlink.ca
CheckMate Artisanal Winery – David Wilson / dwilson@markanthony.com
Culmina Family Estate Winery – Donald Triggs / donald.triggs@culmina.ca
Fairview Cellars – Bill Eggert / beggert@img.net
Gehringer Brothers – Walter Gehringer / w.gehringer@telus.net
Hester Creek – Mark Sheridan / mark@hestercreek.com
Inniskillin Okanagan – Josie Tyabji / josie.tyabji@cbrands.com
Golden Mile Cellars Inc. (Road 13 Vineyards) – Pam Luckhurst / pam@road13vineyards.com
Rustico Farm and Cellars Ltd. – Bruce Fuller / bfuller@rusticowinery.com
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards – Sandra Oldfield / sandra@tinhorn.com

all that glitters: a note on wine awards

One of the most rewarding things for a producer of goods/services can be receiving recognition and/or acknowledgement in their field. It can come from an independent reviewer, a widely accredited organization, or your great aunt Margaret – wherever the praise comes from, it’s good to hear.

When those accolades are paraded before the consuming public with little explanation or context, I get slightly uncomfortable; it doesn’t negate the award’s value, but clarity in how it was achieved would be nice. Enter wine awards.

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starting the day with 25 rosés has pros and cons – trust me

for consumers: the architecture of awards & judging

Most in the wine/spirits industry are familiar with the architecture of judging, but many consumers aren’t. Format and judging criteria can vary but competitions are, for the most part, a pay-to-play program: a winery chooses to enter wine and pay a fee, which is common. Not everyone chooses to enter. Fees range in price; they cover administrative costs and sometimes help to ensure qualified judges by offering an honorarium – depending on the size of the competition, evaluation process can take several days.

Canada has nationwide awards and regional competitions; some of our Canadian wineries also choose to compete on an international stage in the US and Europe. Professional competitions mandate wines be judged blind, and judges are distributed into small panels or groups to evaluate groups (flights) of wine within pre-determined categories.

Scoring varies by competition. Some allocate number scores, and the cumulative score for each wine represents its place on the podium. Others allocate a group of letter-grade equivalents similar to our school systems. Multiple wines can “win” a gold because that category represents the number value of what in scholastic terms would be a letter grade of “A”.

Confused yet? I’ve participated in regional wine judging and it can be a challenge even from the inside. A good evaluation system is clear and should have measures in place to help judges overcome style biases. We shouldn’t assume a professional evaluator can always overlook her/his style bias – human nature is flawed, and that’s okay. Having more than one panel evaluate a flight (if possible) or submitting finalists to another panel for judging can be time consuming, but these measures can help keep things somewhat objective but this duplication isn’t always possible.

making changes: doing the best with what you have

The Okanagan Wine Festivals Society has recently concluded the 20th annual Spring Okanagan Wine Festival Best of Varietal Awards. I was asked to participate as a panel judge, making this my second judging experience for the Festivals. Recently, the Festivals have changed their format for evaluation and who is invited to judge. What was previously a peer-evaluation with winemakers has become an industry panel of sommeliers and restaurateurs, including a couple of us writer types who apparently drink enough to qualify. (although I’ve done that WSET thing)

The “best of” model used here is a somewhat subjective sensory evaluation of wines in categories based (mostly) on varietal (read: grape/type). The best is that which best portrays the characteristics of the varietal or type. A number (20%) of the remainder are awarded the title of finalist, in no particular order. Panelists were asked to come to a consensus for each of our categories, and other panels would be responsible for their allocated categories. While it would have been nice to send our finalists on to another panel, that would have meant us tasting more wines too – and with around 100 samples on our day’s agenda this could become a multi-day experience. That could increase the cost to administer and subsequently the fee to submit wine.

Disclosure: I agreed to judge for no compensation other than a surprise swag bag that included a bottle of the delightful Sumac Ridge 2008 Stellar’s Jay. by the way, thank you for the swag OK Wine Fests!

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smaller flights meant fewer finalists, and tougher decisions

what it all means

This year’s Best of Varietal winners is a motley group of consumer-friendly sips and wine-geeky love affairs, which is very Canadian. It means we’re struggling to be politely firm about what we should be encouraging our growers to focus on, maybe because we know they need regular sellers to keep their business afloat so they can explore what makes us British Columbia. Stylistically this group is all over the map. So is our BC wine style – we don’t have one yet.

It’s wise to remember that this doesn’t represent the best of everything BC has to offer, because not every BC winery entered each of their wines in the competition. Some hadn’t bottled their latest vintage by the time the deadline rolled around, so they missed out. By not having everyone enter these competitions it allows for people like me to find undiscovered gems and share them with the consuming public. There’s value in that.

Awards like these are helpful to consumers while they navigate an ever-expanding selection of BC wine. When you find a “best of” label, it means a group of wine-type people evaluated that particular wine against at least a few others of its style and proclaimed it to be one of the better expressions of its kind. There’s value in that, too. As a wine enthusiast and one who lives in the heart of BC wine country, I also get overwhelmed by selection and new faces. This experience of blind tasting was invaluable; after the competition, judges keep their notes and have access to the answer key. Something that might not have been as high on my radar before this can be bumped up a slot.

When it comes to selecting something to fall in love with, only you will be best judge of who wins what in your house, backyard, or sitting around the campfire this summer. When you’re in a shop and see a note saying “winner” next to a bottle of wine, take closer look. Not all that glitters is really gold – and not all that sits quietly on the shelf isn’t worthy of sharing that spotlight.

~ Jeannette

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sparkling water with crackers and bread help a palate stay fresh – and lots of spitting (photo taken by Nikos of Theo’s Restaurant)

the wine world is here – well, temporarily

I love a good wine festival. When the feature country is France and the theme is bubbles, it would take a small army to prevent me from attending – so, one damaged shoulder is nothing.

Since 1979 the Vancouver International Wine Festival (#VIWF) has invited a world of wine to the west coast’s front door, if only for a short while. The Festival initially showcased one winery (Robert Mondavi) and attracted 1,000 people over two days. This year, an estimated 20,000+ people tasted wines from 178 countries – no small feat for a province limited by legislation and regulations prohibiting easy movement of alcohol / spirits.

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The busiest man at the festival: Harry Hertscheg, Executive Director of the VIWF. He attends every seminar, tasting, and event – or tries to.

With the opportunity to taste wines otherwise unavailable to us (and bubbles!), I jumped into the Festival with both feet – plus that damaged shoulder and a new notebook. As “media” I was treated to an itinerary designed by the Festival’s public relations firm, Heth PR. It was full-on, with seminars and tastings and lunches from 9am to well into the evening. The folks at Heth took quite good care of me. thanks, Kristine!

The Festival offers consumers a chance to learn about wine; however, its value rests with participating wineries who get products in front of buyers, sommeliers, and decision makers – who influence consumer buying. There are few channels for wines to get on BC store shelves (private or government) and the wines here aren’t all regularly represented at government stores. These are referred to as one time buy* wines, and once they’ve sold out they’re gone.

VIWF France
The theme region France, in what is supposed to be a quieter hour for “trade” tasting. Still smokin’ busy, and 3-deep at each table.

The tasting room floor is enormous, with one-quarter of the room dedicated to the feature country. I spent the first two tasting sessions in France and elbowed my way through Champagne (tables for the feature country are regional). Hundreds of wines that we might not otherwise see in our province are brought in specifically for the Festival – if you want to pour a wine on the tasting room floor, you must have it for sale on site.

All sorts of politics are at play when it comes to obtaining a listing with the provincial liquor stores. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand how it has come to exist: it’s like an hourglass, with a schwack of wines trying to get through one narrow passage. Fortunately, we also have importers and private liquor stores like Marquis Wine Cellars to help de-homogenize the offerings. How this happens is another story – a long, well-researched one. Stay tuned.

For a few days each year, VIWF offers us an opportunity to be hopeful: of more diversity of product, of increased wine exposure to the pubic beyond the large international labels who dominate our market, and that our newborn-esque BC wine industry can benchmark itself against the world while gaining new fans.

Canada holds its own on the international stage
Canadian wineries hold their own on the international stage. When I thought it was too busy in France, I moved to Canada – where it was hopping.

It’s not inexpensive for wineries to participate, and attendee ticket prices can range from in-lieu-of-lunch to slip-on-a-ball-gown-and-don’t-ask-the-price. Hundreds of volunteers donate time and expertise. Principals and winemakers of international notoriety are available to approach in small group sessions. It’s awesome, and for wine folks it’s worth every nickel. I was (twice) in a room with Michel Chapoutier, met nice people from Louis Latour, and chatted with sommelier Mark Davidson during an Aussie luncheon. Cool beans.

Value in seminars: tasting with M Chapoutier
Good consumer value: time with people like Michel Chapoutier, and the opportunity to taste exquisite wines we might not have (easy) access to.

The value of something like the VIWF varies depending on your perspective. I’ve a piece coming up with EAT Magazine that takes a look at participating from the Okanagan winery angle. Watch for it.

And even when I one day depart from the world of wine-related writing, I know I’ll find value in the Festival ticket – ball gown or otherwise. Because until we change how they get to our shelves, many of those wines will only be available at places like the festival, and fleetingly, if at all.

~ Jeannette

* correction: “one time buy” wines, as pointed out by Paul Rickett, are brought in for the VIWF – “spec” wines are not available at BC liquor stores but are often brought in to private liquor stores