Building is the heart of wine country

On Nov. 15, wine lovers will have a chance to raise a glass to toast an industry that has put the Okanagan on the vintner world stage.

Manager Laura Kowalchuk of the BC VQA Wine Information Centre works on one of the displays at the Penticton location this week. The centre

Manager Laura Kowalchuk of the BC VQA Wine Information Centre works on one of the displays at the Penticton location this week. The centre

On Nov. 15, wine lovers will have a chance to raise a glass to toast an industry that has put the Okanagan on the vintner world stage.

The celebration is the 18th anniversary of the Penticton location of the B.C. VQA Information Centre, which will include the annual open house at 552 Vees Drive (Channel Parkway and Eckhardt Avenue West). The free to the public event begins at 11:30 a.m. and runs until 5:30 p.m.

What we’re really doing here is showcasing the very best we have to offer and this is the perfect place being where we are, right here in the heart of wine country,” said centre manager Laura Kowalchuk who began holding the open houses five years ago as a way of getting locals to pay a visit. “It just seemed that people were thinking, ‘oh yeah I live here so I can’t shop here,’ which is just sort of odd but all that has changed and it (open house) has just become awesome.”

She added the event is perfectly timed because it gives people an opportunity to discover some “fantastic” local wines they were not aware of and pick up some unique Christmas gifts that highlight the flavours of the region.

Penticton was actually the birthplace of the VQA store concept in B.C., which appropriately stands for Vintners Quality Alliance, a certification of the high quality standards met by the wineries and its products.

It’s also a guarantee the wine is 100 per cent B.C. The centre was started in 1990.

BC VQA is an “appellation of origin” system that guarantees authenticity of origin and stipulates minimum quality standards.

Kowalchuk noted the B.C. concept was similar to one in California and was spearheaded by Valley winery pioneer Harry McWatters, who at one time owned the Summerland Sumac Ridge Estate Winery. There are currently 21 of the stores in the rest of the province.

The novel concept of the local VQA outlet is the fact it is paired up with the Wine Country Visitors Information Centre.

Even though we are totally separate businesses we complement each other here,” said Kowalchuk. “It can be intimidating for people visiting because there’s so many wineries, they can’t get to them all and they don’t know where to start and we can help them.”

The centre’s staff can also assist with everything from tour advice, maps and an introduction to tasting. There are also over 700 VQA wines in stock. Operated by the BC Wine Information Society, profits go back into the local community supporting the wine industry.

A recent donation was made to the Okanagan College Centre of Excellence in the amount of $300,000. In addition, two scholarships of $3,000 are given annually to viticulture students.

During the open house, visitors can talk to winery owners and winemakers (the 2014 grape harvest has reportedly been one of the best) and try samples. Food treats from the Taste of Okanagan will be available as well as a chance to speak with author James Nevison who will be signing his book, Had a Glass 2015. Live music will be provided by the John Rousseau Duo.