Allison Markin is the food and libations columnist for the Penticton Western News. Western News file photo

2017: Significant trends in the Okanagan wine industry

It’s been an interesting 2017 in B.C. wine and libations

It’s been an interesting 2017 in B.C. wine and libations, peppered with legal challenges, winery purchases and more access to wine in grocery stores.

And it’s been a year of contradictions.

Consumers in select grocery stores can now pick up dinner then visit the wine section to try a sample of B.C. wine to pair with their purchases or peruse through a decent and varied selection of bottles. Greater access to quality products but not without some irony.

Wine in grocery stores has now prompted two complaints to the World Trade Organization from the United States, stating that B.C.’s rules regarding wine sales are unfair, as local wines (for now), have an advantage. That ranks Okanagan wine alongside softwood lumber in terms of trade disputes, and changes to this policy may come.

Meanwhile, another challenge came to light because a guy brought beer across the border between Quebec and New Brunswick, incurring a $292.50 ticket. The Comeau Case went before the Supreme Court as the year came to a close, essentially challenging Section 121 of the Canadian Constitution, which states that “all articles of the growth, produce, or manufacture of any one of the provinces shall, from and after the union, be admitted free into each of the other provinces.”

So far, that does not apply to Canadian wine and several other products. Representatives from five Okanagan wineries — Painted Rock, Liquidity, 50th Parallel, Okanagan Crush Pad, and Noble Ridge — were named as intervenors in the case, and travelled to Ottawa to state their case.

“Obviously it will be a big potential year for DTC (direct to consumer) with the Comeau case results forthcoming,” said Lindsay Kelm, communications and marketing manager at Quails’ Gate. “It’s been a long time coming and, although there are many issues still to be ironed out, this presents great opportunities for our local wineries and creates more brand ambassadors across the country.”

On a local level, news came in the last quarter of the year of several winery sales to larger corporations, prompting much chatter.

“We are starting to see consolidations and are going to see more of this,” said Tony Holler, owner of Poplar Grove. “Long-term mature wineries and owners that do not have a succession plan (such as the next generation family interest), will be looking to sell. This is going to be a significant trend. And if the Comeau case passes, “it will drive a substantial amount of investment in the industry.”

But what about the wine? Quails’ Gate winemaker Nikki Callaway thinks that as consumer knowledge increases, more wine drinkers will be asking for info on “site specificity” — knowing where the grapes were grown, and really, where their wine comes from.

My predictions? More attention will be paid to Canadian wines abroad as marketing Canada as a culinary destination takes greater hold within the tourism, sector. And with New Year’s Eve upon us, I think 2018 will be a banner year for Okanagan bubbly.

Save the Date (click on links to read more)

New Years Eve: the list below features options for celebrating Dec. 31

The Penticton Lakeside: enjoy a buffet dinner, DJ, party favours and fireworks.

Cannery Brewing: Celebrate the end of 2017 with a free concert by Justin Koshman, performing from 6pm to 8pm. Grab some friends and enjoy a lovely evening of live, local music and toast the end of the year.

Craft Corner Kitchen: A five course meal, a glass of bubbly, and a glass of pinot noir from Forgotten Hill Wine Co. Limited tickets.

Mile Zero Wine Bar: ‘80s Hot Dog Ski New Year’s Eve Party. Dress up in your favourite retro ski gear.

Play Estate Winery: Join a Mad Men themed party at one of two seatings, 6 or 8:30 p.m., for a four-course menu and a glass of champagne. Call to reserve: 236-422-2675

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek: A four course gourmet meal, a glass of bubbles at midnight, plus a DJ starting at 9 p.m. for dancing.

The Dream Café: Rain Berry’s, the soul of Motown plays The Dream for NYE. Doors at 7 p.m., two intermissions to enjoy food and drinks.

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