While an industry task force in B.C. has introduced sweeping changes to that province’s appellation system — long overdue, by the way — there are some elements to the proposal that Ontario should pay close attention to.
The task group, made up of B.C. vintners, calls for the creation of four more emerging wine regions — Thompson Valley, Lillooet-Lytton, Shuswap and Kootenays — in addition to the five existing regions. View the report here.
This, of course, only makes sense. The changes are intended to enhance, refine and promote the notion of terroir, the influence of local geography, climate and soil that make the world’s best wines unique.
As task force chairman Ezra Cipes, left, of Summerhill Pyramid Winery, told the Vancouver Sun: “In the premium end of the market, wine is about an experience of place and we need to authenticate where our wines come from to protect our brand value.”
That’s a no-brainer for the rapidly expanding wine country in British Columbia, home to nearly 1,000 vineyards and 250 licensed wineries.
Ontario has been doing that as regions grow large enough to have their own regional identity. It’s understandable that there has to be some critical mass before a region is declared a region, otherwise every winery in every far-flung location could declare itself a region. There has to be vineyard identity attached an emerging region and not just trucked in grapes from Niagara.
More intriguing is the recommendation of adding 15 new geographical sub-appellations (or sub-regions as the task force prefers they are called) within the Okanagan Valley to better market the province’s most distinctive wines.
That’s five more than Niagara, which has carved the region into these sub-apps: Beamsville Bench, Creek Shores, Four Mile Creek, Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara Lakeshore, Niagara River, Short Hills Bench, St. David’s Bench, Twenty Mile Bench and Vinemount Ridge.
The B.C. task force did not name 15 new sub-apps but had this recommendation:
- the Task Group recommends only accepting a village or town name, or a place name that is historically associated with a region. A defining geographical feature may also be used in combination with a village or place name: i.e. Golden Mile (place name) Bench (defining geographical feature).
The group provided a map showing the geological differences in the proposed 15 sub-regions.
The Golden Mile is the first sub-appellation named in the Okanagan Valley, and it took years of hard work to earn the distinction. I assume that process now will take less time, unless stakeholders get bogged down in the naming process or the nuances of one sub-app over another.
One of the most interesting recommendations, from an Ontario perspective, was scrapping the taste panels that test the province’s VQA wines for faults.
“It’s always been a sore spot,” Cipes told the Sun.
Winemakers in B.C. argue that some of the flavours defined as faults — such as sour brettanomyces or volatile acidity — can in moderation make wines that are unique and even sought by connoisseurs.
“It was put in place to protect consumers, but some vintners believe it restricts innovation, interesting styles and new frontiers in winemaking,” he said. “We’d like to leave it to the marketplace.”
That is sweet music to the ears of many vintners in Ontario where their wines must pass muster from a VQA tasting panel that essentially consists of LCBO product consultants.
Time and time again we hear of Ontario wines that fail the VQA taste test based on typicity or minor faults that are winemaking decisions, be it low sulphur, oxidative processes, natural etc.
VQA, many argue, is there to ensure that the wine that is made, is made from 100% Ontario grapes from the appellation or sub-appellation that they want to put on the label. How it tastes is really of no value any longer. People just don’t care if it doesn’t fit into VQA’s view of typicity.
The wine already undergoes a lab test, which, presumably tests for severe faults. Eliminating the subjective taste panel (and, come on, LCBO product consultants conducting the tasting is an insult, really, and likely a conflict of interest considering they are also the only retail outlet for the wines) is long overdue.
Winemaking has taken a dramatic turn from traditionally made Cab Franc, Riesling and Chardonnay. Many winemakers want to build their own personality into their wines, be it with natural processes, less additives or whatever, and they should be left untethered to do just that. It should be up to the consumer if they want a touch of Brett or something new and different in their wine, not a tasting panel made up of LCBO staff.
Here is the VQA mandate as it presently stands:
• 100% fresh Ontario grown grapes, with no concentrates are permitted, and grapes used must meet a quality standard for each variety
• no water can be added in the winemaking process
• labels must be truthful and accurately represent the wine in the bottle
• wines except for sparkling wines must be vintage dated and meet vintage requirements
• must be packaged in glass bottles with cork, synthetic or approved screwcap closures
• finished wines are evaluated by an expert taste panel and a laboratory analysis and must meet minimum quality standards before release
• regulations establish standards for specific claims of origin and for each individual style and type of wine.
I would suggest all Ontario stakeholders have a thorough read the B.C. report, it’s in your best interest to do so.
On another somewhat related industry note, you may have heard that the Grape Growers of Ontario has ramped out its “100% Grown by Grape Growers of Ontario” symbol promotion, seeking to boost Ontario wine market share by 2020.
The GGO wants provincial wineries to voluntarily use their Grape Growers 100% symbol with a logo containing a trillium flower with a purple grape bunch — a sticker actually introduced in 2010 and intended to complement the Vintners’ Quality Alliance logo.
A 2014 study commissioned by the Grape Growers showed 67 per cent of Ontario wine drinkers feel a “strong local advantage” to buying Ontario wines. Those factors include supporting the economy and family farms, and generating a sense of community.
It also shows that 43 per cent of Ontario wine purchasers would likely choose a wine that bears the GGO symbol indicating the use of locally grown grapes.
“We just wanted somehow to get this identifier on the bottle to get people to understand what the grape-growing backstory is,” Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers, told the St. Catharines Standard.
Sounds silly to me. If the bottle already has the VQA logo on it, which means it is authentic Ontario wine, made from 100% Ontario grapes (and even more specific to the appellation and sub-appellation, in some cases) why in the world do we need another sticker on the bottle to tell us the wine is from grapes grown by Ontario grape growers?
Sounds like the GGO is only going to add confusion to an already confused consumer who has trouble telling the difference between a VQA wine and a “product of Ontario” wine made from blended foreign grapes and a sprinkling of Ontario grapes.
Seems to me that a bottle with a VQA logo on it should be enough and adding another one is at the very least redundant and at the very worst confusing.
My fear would be that this sticker gets attached willy-nilly because there are no rules or regulations to stop them. At least VQA has been given the authority to lend its stamp of approval on any given bottle of Ontario wine that it deems worthy.
Said Zimmerman to the Standard:
“There’s more than just wine in the bottle, it’s a story about what happens behind that bottle of Ontario wine. And we know there’s a lot of support for the Ontario growers … people want to know where their food comes from.”
Um, hate to break it to you, but if the bottle says VQA on it, we know where it comes from. Putting another sticker on it doesn’t give us any more information and is really just a piece of junk mail crowding out the vital information that consumers really need.
Like what’s in the bottle.