Anthony Gismondi: Wine industry votes on changes

Byline: Anthony Gismondi, Vancouver Sun

There’s only one wine that matters in the premium wine business and that is a wine of place. After a spring and summer of study, a B.C. wine industry task force wound up its investigations by proposing sweeping changes to British Columbia’s wine map, a map desperately in need of more place names.

You can only live so long on natural beauty and spectacular photos and while it’s OK to be the new kid on the block for a while at some point B.C. wine needs to grow up and start telling the world where its comes from.

Thankfully the committee came to that decision in an intelligent way. A seven-month comprehensive consultation on the future of British Columbia’s system of appellations has resulted in 13 recommendations that should (if accepted) have a very positive impact on the future of British Columbia wine.

To be clear, nothing has changed yet. The task group has submitted its recommendations to the British Columbia Wine Authority, the regulatory authority responsible for enforcing the Wines of Marked Quality regulations that currently govern authentic B.C. wine production. As a result of the task force the BCWA will conduct an industry plebiscite in the coming weeks to gain approval for all the recommendations.

Some are no-brainers, including creating four new appellations or designated wine regions to accommodate the Thompson Valley, Lillooet-Lytton, Shuswap and Kootenays. They should join the original five — Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, and Gulf Islands, unchanged since 1990.

The heavy lifting will likely form around the recommendations to create a framework for 15 sub-appellations within the Okanagan Valley from Vernon in the north to the U.S. border.

Using a mix of science and common sense we could see the establishment of easy-to-understand geographically meaningful place names that would better suit the modern-day Okanagan. To that end it has been suggested that all sub-appellations, no matter what the name, would have to be used in conjunction with its overseeing regional appellation.

For example, Golden Mile Bench — B.C.’s only current sub-appellation — will only appear on a wine label in conjunction with the regional Okanagan Valley moniker. It’s a sensible rule and crucial to any commitment to place.

Also on the docket is harmonizing the audit process between multiple government agencies to enhance quality standards and reduce regulatory red tape. It should be much more cost effective, as will ending the use of taste panels to confer VQA status on wines. Machines can measure and detect any egregious faults in wine so let’s leave the direction of style to the winemakers.

Not everyone is on board. Some winery owners don’t want to be regulated by government and they don’t want government regulating place names like Oliver, Naramata or Summerland. Still others are objecting to mandatory auditing for all winery license owners.

Frankly the rules in place, including the new proposed regulation, are little more than a bare minimum and none of the proposed changes should cause any hardship to anyone already producing expensive, B.C. wine.

Although he wouldn’t concur, most of the credit for getting so much done in such a short period of time has to go to Ezra Cipes, chairman of the B.C. Wine Appellation Task Force and head of Summerhill Pyramid Winery.

The quiet, soft-spoken, thoughtful, organic farmer says: “The recommendations we have put forward will make our appellation system more streamlined, elegant and friendly for the wineries of British Columbia. These changes will result in all wineries in B.C. playing by the same set of rules and will give us the authenticity to create a strong identity as a quality wine region on the world stage of wine.”

It’s very hard to argue against that kind of reasoning but, hey, it is B.C., where everything to do with wine bears little resemblance to what goes on in the rest of the world. Stay tuned for the vote.