If the Okanagan’s wine industry was once little more than a splash in the margins of a connoisseur’s journal, it’s now graduated to a full glass and reams of tasting notes.
Years of national successes among the Valley’s top vintners, has ensured the event has a faithful following and they, even in economically leaner times, come out to taste what Okanaganites have to pour.
“I’ve been to a lot of other tasting regions, but the wines here are great,” said Jeanie Lanine, who was at the Bacchanalia event last weekend. It marked the third year she’s ventured into the Okanagan’s Spring Wine Festival and she pointed out that she’d met others at the event who also said they were repeat attendees, coming from points across B.C., not just the Okanagan.
“It’s just a really fun way to spend a weekend,” she said. “And it gives me a better idea abut the wines I haven’t tried before.”
Kalala Organic Estate Winery’s Viticulturist Karnail Singh Sidhu, noted that the wine festival events are key to building his business.
“It helps us get people through the door,” he said. “We’re a bit off the track of other Okanagan wineries.”
It’s not something you’d think would matter, of course. Like many others in attendance, Kalala is an award winner.
In the Cellars Of the World competition his 2008 Merlot took a Bronze Medal and in 2010, his winery took home two gold medals from two competitions a world apart. The first came from the 17th annual Chardonnay du Monde wine competition in France, where his 2007 Chardonnay ice wine earned gold. Then the winery’s Riesling took gold at California’s New World International Wine competition.
Despite the fact initial figures out of the society that puts on the festival show attendance was down by around five per cent, many winery owners and vintners said they’ve actually seen growth in their business, but it’s hard to nail down why.
“We’ve just had more and more people coming through,” said winemaker Sara Harker, from Rustic Roots, pointing out that she along with many others are still new to the industry.
“We’re growing, but the Similkameen has been named one of the five undiscovered wine regions in the world.”
Of course, Harker’s regional pitch was also a feature of the event that showed a much more marketing-savvy group of vintners, and each region had a message to forward and lessons to offer.
Those in attendance of either Bacchanalia or the West Jet wine tasting, had a chance to learn the Shuswap has shed its cooler roots, and now offers six wineries. Or, that Summerland has decided to market its wineries in a tidy “Bottleneck Drive” package.
While newer and smaller wineries work to plant deeper roots, more established wineries in Kelowna and Naramata grow into more mature rolls in the industry.
The Spring Okanagan Wine Festival offered over 100 events throughout the valley, from light lunches to gourmet dinners served in spectacular settings.
It’s consistently grown since it started in 1995, and last year it attracted 55,000 visitors, who spent $1.5 million on wine and tickets.