On March 30, 2015, the BC Ministry of Agriculture announced the approval of BC’s first sub-appellation: the Golden Mile Bench. The 11 wineries who operate on the Bench were surely popping corks to celebrate the culmination of seven years’ work to scope the definition of the Bench, conduct the scientific studies, develop (and maintain) the collective will to speak with one voice throughout the application process, and finally – six months after the BC Wine Authority delivered its report – have it approved by the BC government. What does this mean for the BC wine industry going forward?
It is quite an achievement, and it points BC in the right direction to position itself through distinctive growing sub-regions that are emerging, particularly in the Okanagan Valley. At roughly 100 miles/160 km long, the “Okanagan Valley” designation is all but generic as an identifier on the label of the origin of the wine. Yes, BC is a young wine region even by New World standards, and is only becoming recognised in the wider world of wine. Winemakers (and their loyal clientele) are still learning what makes a particular area produce wines that are identifiable as from “that place”. Is it the soil and underlying geology? Is it the microclimate? Is it the “lake effect”? It may be that a combination of these factors, and other key indicators, are selected by groups of wineries to support their claim to a sub-appellation.
Here is where the devil lies in the details… How does the BC Wine Authority go about assessing the applications of other sub-regions, on open and broadly transparent criteria, when it is likely they will not use the same indicators as the Golden Mile Bench? What common principles should underpin the definition of all sub-appellations? How should labelling be updated to reflect the yet-to-be-blessed sub-appellations to HONESTLY convey the place and grape source to wine lovers? To this end, an industry-led Wine Appellation Task Group has been struck to grapple with these issues, and make recommendations on updating the Wines of Marked Quality Regulation to better reflect the state of the industry and position it for future growth.
As suggested in my post on the topic three years ago, the time has now arrived for some structure to be placed around the next phase of evolution of the industry. While I’m still of the view that a “light regulatory hand” is called for in developing the guidelines for new sub-appellations, it is now crystal clear that the framework has to rest on an impartial evaluation of the unique characteristics of the sub-region itself, and not be merely (or even principally) a marketing effort that cannot withstand closer scrutiny, or stand the test of time. We’ll certainly pick up this topic again after the Task Group has made its recommendations later this year.