We have a long history of growing grapes in British Columbia, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s and early 1980s when winemaking began in earnest. By the 1990s, wine labels boasted recognizable words like merlot and chardonnay and we began achieving acclaim. Our province now has more than 300 licensed wineries, growing grapes in a number of regions.
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.
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.
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.
CC Jentsch Cellars – Chris Jentsch / email@example.com
CheckMate Artisanal Winery – David Wilson / firstname.lastname@example.org
Culmina Family Estate Winery – Donald Triggs / email@example.com
Fairview Cellars – Bill Eggert / firstname.lastname@example.org
Gehringer Brothers – Walter Gehringer / email@example.com
Hester Creek – Mark Sheridan / firstname.lastname@example.org
Inniskillin Okanagan – Josie Tyabji / email@example.com
Golden Mile Cellars Inc. (Road 13 Vineyards) – Pam Luckhurst / firstname.lastname@example.org
Rustico Farm and Cellars Ltd. – Bruce Fuller / email@example.com
Tinhorn Creek Vineyards – Sandra Oldfield / firstname.lastname@example.org
People and place are what lend time context. We can measure it, but we can’t make it – and maybe that helps gives time a value.
Someone who has given one place (the Okanagan) a great deal of his time is Harry McWatters. 2013 marks his 46th vintage in winemaking – a remarkable amount of time in any industry.
The McWatters timeline includes planting what was in its day the largest vineyard in Canada, purchasing fallow land others shook their heads at in disbelief, and starting unproven Bordeaux reds in the Okanagan desert. Add to that the founding of a quality assurance program (today’s VQA brand), growing one of the most successful wineries in British Columbia (Sumac Ridge, later sold to larger commercial interests), and retiring a few years ago only to restart a second (or third? fourth?) career – still in the wine industry. Bringing the word “meritage” to Canada? Harry did that, too.
If people and place lend time its context, then Harry was meant to launch TIME Estate Winery in the Okanagan.
The winery license was obtained in 2011, and TIME began its first vintage of Chardonnay and Meritage (red and white). The people behind the brand are Harry, partner Bob Wareham, and Dick Cleave, viticulturist. Current vintages have been made under the watch of Township7 winemaker Bradley Cooper, acting as Harry’s hands in the process.
Time, it could be said, is on their side.
2011 TIME Chardonnay $27.99: looks like pale liquid gold; smells like hazelnuts and butter; tastes… like it looks and smells.
2012 TIME Meritage (white) $25: looks like sun-bleached straw; smells like honeysuckle, pear, peach, cantaloupe, pineapple…; tastes bright and beautiful, like a summer day after a sun shower.
2011 TIME Meritage (red) $29.99: looks like garnets drowned in ink; smells like memories of boot leather, cherries and cocoa, sage; tastes like the okanagan.
Wine country isn’t just a place anymore. It’s an attitude.
~ Harry McWatters