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Federal funding key to advancements in local wine industry

Mike Watson, the chairperson of the BC Wine Grape Council, toasts a $2 million dedication of funds from the federal government at Grey Monk Estate Winery with a glass of pinot gris; the owner of Grey Monk was the first to grow the varietal in Canada.  - Jennifer Smith/Kelowna Capital News
Mike Watson, the chairperson of the BC Wine Grape Council, toasts a $2 million dedication of funds from the federal government at Grey Monk Estate Winery with a glass of pinot gris; the owner of Grey Monk was the first to grow the varietal in Canada.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith/Kelowna Capital News

Mike Watson, chair of the B.C. Wine Grape Council has trouble listing the changes their investment in research and development has brought to the province’s industry since the group was formed in 2006.

“There’s been quite a few. It has been effective,” said Watson listing off research into managing pest-like cutworm through planting cover crops, and better methods to irrigate wine crops.

The council is going to be able to continue that work, thanks to a $2 million investment announced on Earth Day by the federal government through the five-year Growing Forward 2 initiative, fostering innovation in agriculture.

Watson said the government is matching the council’s investment, drawn from a  $10 per ton levy on grapes mandated by the B.C.  government.

“On this program we are putting in just over $800,000 and that is matched by the federal government at a pretty good ratio of $2 million,” said Watson, who is based in Oliver as the national viticulturist for Constellation Brands, which operates, along with other wineries in the valley, See Ya Later Ranch near Okanagan Falls.

The money will be used to support ongoing efforts to control disease, lift harvest yields, minimize water use and improve the overall environmental footprint of the industry, according to Watson.

“We’ve created a certification program where we have parameters so wineries can go out and self-assess themselves on sustainability measures,” Watson said.

The certification system focuses on developing social, economic and environmentally responsible practices for wineries and vineyards.

The research work the council invests in is also driven by practical needs, with the goal of creating solutions that can transfer directly to the vineyard.

“It is directed research and it is driven by the industry,” said Watson, explaining that the council has a research and development committee that identifies current vineyard and winery issues.

The funding will support several activities, including six research projects in collaboration with the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland along with work being done at UBC and UBC Okanagan.

That  includes work like a ground-cover vegetation study looking at beneficial crops to use in the vineyard to promote healthy vines and reduce pests, like cutworm; supporting world-renowned leafroll virus researcher José Ramón Urbez-Torres’s studies on the disease, advances in irrigation management and classical breeding of yeast to produce lower volatile acidity and hydrogen sulphate to produce better quality wine.

The wine industry contributes $2 billion to B.C.’s economy and generates $8 million in exports nationally — four times what it did six years ago — and Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan congratulated the researchers and industry insiders gathered on a job well done as he announced the funding.

“Your industry captures value and keeps it right here where it belongs, in the Okanagan, and B.C.,” said Cannon.

“That’s why our government continues to work with the BC Wine and Grape Council to help you complete your growth and grow your markets here in Canada and around the world.”

With files from Jennifer Smith/Kelowna Capital News

 

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