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The past 12 months have been truly devastating for British Columbia’s wine industry.
Last December, the province’s interior was hit by an uncharacteristic freezing event, with temperatures plummeting to minus 30 C in some areas.
Vines in the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys were killed or severely damaged by the cold. Production levels this year are expected to be less than half of a normal vintage, according to Wine Growers British Columbia. About 45 per cent of the vines in the regions suffered long-term damage and 29 per cent of the industry’s 12,681 acres of vineyards will have to be replaced. As well, another 30 per cent of vineyards are suffering from various diseases, with replanting recommended.
Wine Growers B.C. estimates the cost to replace anywhere from 3,814 to 7,492 acres of vines will be between $162 million and $317 million.
As if that wasn’t enough, wildfires over the summer and landslides on Highway 97 near Summerland limited visits by tourists, cutting off a key revenue generator. Wine industry revenues are expected to fall by $133 million this year.
“The challenges facing grape growers and winemakers today are unlike anything we have experienced in the past,” said B.C. Wine Grape Council chair Ross Wise, the winemaker at Black Hills Estate Winery, in a news release on Nov. 15. “Climate change disasters along with increased incidence of virus and disease pressure are threatening the economic viability of our industry and we need funding to combat these major issues.”
These wineries need help. They are seeking millions of dollars in government funding to help finance replanting efforts. But we can help, too. With the holiday season approaching, consider choosing B.C. wines for entertaining, holiday meals or gifts.
Here’s a selection of terrific B.C. wines I’ve tasted in the past few months that are available in Calgary.
Red Rooster 2021 Sur Lie Chardonnay (About $27): Flinty and dry, look for flavours of lemon cream, mandarin orange and green apple in this bright, mineral-tinged chardonnay. The Sur Lie part of the name refers to the six months the wine is aged with its dead yeast cells, known as lees. Unfortunately, severe vine damage and a shortage of fruit led to the closure of this Naramata Bench winery, owned by Andrew Peller. Winemaking operations have been moved to Peller’s Sandhill/Calona winery in Kelowna for the time being.
Meyer Family 2022 Okanagan Valley Chardonnay ($27): Former Calgarian Jak Meyer’s Okanagan Falls winery has built a reputation for fabulous single-vineyard pinot noirs and chardonnays. But the winery’s Okanagan Valley chardonnay and pinot noir shouldn’t be overlooked. Offering outstanding value, this chardonnay over-delivers, with terrific mouthfeel, lively acid and tarragon, lemon, flint and lime flavours.
Moraine 2021 Cliffhanger Red ($27): This red blend from the Naramata Bench winery owned by former Albertans Oleg and Svetlana Aristarkhov is meant to be a crowd pleaser. A mix of merlot, syrah and malbec, it offers pepper, vanilla, black cherry and blackcurrant flavours on a medium-bodied frame.
Noble Ridge Vineyards and Winery 2020 Noble Meritage ($33): A plush red blend of 81 per cent merlot, with 15 per cent cabernet sauvignon and splashes of cabernet franc and malbec, the Noble Meritage offers robust dark fruit flavours and ripe tannins. This Okanagan Falls winery is owned by former Calgarians Jim and Leslie D’Andrea.
Solvero 2022 Pinot Gris ($33): Another winery with a Calgary connection, Solvero is tucked away on Wildhorse Road, in an isolated, narrow valley northwest of Summerland. Winemaker and general manager Alison Moyes and president and vineyard manager Matt Sartor, who grew up in Calgary, have been doing it all at the small boutique winery. This is a beautifully refreshing pinot gris that exudes orange blossom, pear, apple and vanilla spice.
JoieFarm 2022 A Noble Blend ($34): This is a true Okanagan white blend from the Naramata winery. The grapes for this pretty and fresh medium-bodied blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc come from vineyards in Naramata, Oliver, Summerland and the Skaha Bluffs south of Penticton. It is a lovely, slightly off-dry example where no one grape dominates.
Poplar Grove 2019 CSM ($37): Here’s another bold blend made of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot. Each grape is fermented separately before blending, creating a rich and spicy red with blackcurrant, and black cherry flavours, plus some vanilla and leather notes. The voluptuous 2019 cabernet franc is also worth grabbing if you see it.
Clos du Soleil 2020 Winemaker’s Series Syrah ($45): Located in the Similkameen Valley, Clos do Soleil makes wines to last. Winemaker Michael Clark has done a fabulous job with the high-quality 2020 vintage. The powerful and brooding Syrah delivers plum, blackberry, leather, sage, blueberry and white pepper to please the palate. The winery’s 2020 Signature red blend is also a cracker with a long life ahead of it.
Tantalus 2020 Old Vines Riesling ($55): Winemaker and general manager David Paterson produces one of the most age-worthy wines in B.C. with this riesling made from vines planted in 1978. Intense acidity carries the flavours of lime, wet slate, tangerine, petrol and green apple through a long, mouth-watering finish. Fortunately, the old vines weathered the deep freeze all right.
Blue Mountain Vineyards and Cellars R.D. 2013 Reserve Brut ($65): Made in the same method as Champagne, this blend of 55 per cent chardonnay and 45 per cent pinot noir from 2013 was bottled in 2014 after a second yeast inoculation. It then aged on its lees for six and half years, creating a compelling bottle with rich, creamy, bready and nutty notes on a lemon- and iron-tinged finish. The family-run Okanagan Falls winery showed its dedication to quality when it chose not to produce any wines from the 2021 vintage because of smoke taint.
Contact Darren Oleksyn at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram or X, the app previously known as Twitter. Looking for a specific wine? Because wine inventories are always in flux, it’s a good idea to call a store to confirm they have it. A search on Liquorconnect.com can give you an idea of stores that have carried the wines.