B.C. Considers New Winegrape Varieties

If approved, Albariño and Verdejo would be eligible for Canadian VQA designation

by Peter Mitham
fandango albarino terravista vineyards
Terravista Vineyards of Penticton, B.C., blended Albariño to make its 2011 Fandango.
Vancouver, B.C., Canada—As wineries from around the world gather this week for the 35th annual Vancouver International Wine Festival, local wineries are awaiting formal approval of some international flair to the province’s roster of approved grape varieties.

A referendum in December saw a double majority of B.C. Wine Authority members approve the addition of the Iberian varieties Albariño and Verdejo to the list of grapes allowed under the B.C. Wines of Marked Quality Regulation.

(A double majority is achieved through a minimum 65% approval from members as well as approval of members representing at least 50% of the province’s grape tonnage.)

While the acreage of Albariño and Verdejo currently planted in B.C. is a fraction of the more than 9,200 acres of grapes planted in the province, approval of the varieties will qualify wines made with the grapes for participation in the B.C. Vintners Quality Alliance program. The B.C. VQA designation is reserved for wines that are made entirely from B.C. grapes and meet various criteria regarding quality and packaging.

Access to VQA stores
It’s also important for distribution. “It eliminates one of the potentially negative connotations, or limitations,” said Larry Gerelus of Stag’s Hollow Winery & Vineyard in Okanagan Falls, which will plant 3,500 vines of Albariño this spring.

Without the VQA designation, Stag’s Hollow would be more dependent on distributors and independent retailers to sell its wines; with the VQA designation, the wines are eligible for sale through the network of 20 stores selling exclusively VQA wines (the licenses are held by the B.C. Wine Institute, which is charged with marketing VQA wines) and will have an easier time entering the province’s 195 government-run liquor stores.

Gerelus’s greater concern, however, is getting recognition for the wines. While the winery is an established operation with an annual production of approximately 8,000 cases, Gerelus says consumers are often cautious when new varieties debut.

“Quite frankly, it takes a while for people to realize that there are new varieties out there, and the majority of the wine-buying public appears to be stuck on varieties that they’re familiar with, generally, and that they can pronounce,” he said.

Gerelus said he hopes “professionals in the industry—the sommeliers, the restaurants and the wine buyers at retail outlets—will recommend (Albariño) to their customers, because I think that’s going to be key.”

Terravista Vineyards is first

Canada’s first winery to use the varieties, Terravista Vineyards of Penticton, B.C., blended wine made from the grapes in its 2011 Fandango. The wine attracted positive reviews, but production was limited.

December’s referendum also saw BCWA members approve changing the B.C. Gulf Islands geographical indication to simply “Gulf Islands.” The referendum also approved simplification of labeling requirements.

BCWA general manager Steve Berney said the results of the referendum were forwarded in January to the province’s Ministry of Agriculture, which has the final say in implementing the changes.

B.C. Ministry of Agriculture staff were unable to confirm a timeline for changes to wine regulations. An election is scheduled for the province May 14, however, meaning that regulations would change a month prior to the vote, or be deferred until a new government is sworn in.

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