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B.C. Wine Authority Up and Running

Industry members will advise independent directors on administering new standards

by Peter Mitham
British Columbia Wine
Averill Creek Vineyards, on B.C.'s scenic Vancouver Island.
Vancouver, B.C. -- An independent authority is now in place to oversee British Columbia wine producers. The five-member board elected in September to advise the directors of the B.C. Wine Authority held its first meeting via teleconference on Oct. 9. The advisory board is the final step in establishing the authority, which was originally announced in 2004.

The advisory board brings together members of industry to advise the authority's three directors--who are independent of the industry-- regarding the administration and enforcement of new standards adopted in 2007 governing wine production in the province.

The advisors represent a cross-section of the province's wineries and winemaking regions, and include Andy Johnston of Averill Creek Vineyard, representing wineries on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands; Eugene Kwan of Domaine de Chaberton, representing wineries in the Fraser Valley; Jeff Martin of La Frenz Winery, representing wineries in the Okanagan; winemaker Derek Kontkanen of Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate, representing large wineries; and Tyler Galts, operations manager at Quails' Gate Estate Winery, representing mid-size wineries.

British Columbia Wine
Andy Johnston, owner of Averill Creek Vineyard, represents wineries on Vancouver Island and B.C.'s Gulf Islands on the advisory board.
"Without our guidance they don't have a lot to go on, do they? Because they're not wine people," Andy Johnston told Wines & Vines, while taking a break from his Pinot Noir harvest. "It's obviously going to take some fine tuning, and that's what we're going to be involved with."

A second, face-to-face meeting is scheduled within six weeks.

The new regulations governing the production and marketing of B.C. wines became law through a provincial order-in-council on July 18, 2007. The regulations set a minimum standard for B.C. wines, state which grape varieties are acceptable for B.C. wines (labrusca varieties are prohibited, for example), and establish minimum Brix levels required for grapes, among other criteria.

The regulations also set forth labeling standards with a view to ensuring that consumers have a clear understanding about what they're buying. The onus is on wineries to ensure what they're selling is what they claim it to be, however, though the authority will audit wineries once every three years on a random basis. All wines labeled as B.C. wines meet the provincial standard as administered by the new authority, and wineries must be paid-up members of the authority.

While the Vintners' Quality Alliance program (previously the benchmark for premium wine in both B.C. and Ontario) was the basis of the new regulations, the VQA standard is not grandfathered into the new regulations. Henceforth, wines bearing the B.C. VQA designation must be in compliance with the new regulations.

Some wineries will have to address inconsistencies in labeling. Cabernet Merlot, a designation allowed under the former VQA standard, isn't allowed under the provincial rules. Instead, the dominant grape variety must be clearly stated on a wine's label, with other varieties listed in order of presence. That means wine with, say, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot must list each grape variety individually, according to its proportion in the wine.

Johnston believes the authority will be an effective arbiter of wine quality in the province. The B.C. Wine Institute previously administered quality standards for B.C. wines under the VQA program, as well as marketing and lobbying initiatives. But the institute's various roles led to concerns in some quarters that it might be in conflict with itself as both administrator of the Vintners' Quality Alliance standard and the marketer of the same wines. In addition, many wineries in the province opted not to join the institute rather than submit to its production standards. Since an effective enforcement regime didn't exist, wineries didn't face penalties for not joining the institute.

The new regulations were put to an industry vote in 2006 to assure buy-in. Producers rejected an initial draft, prompting revisions that resulted in the regulations adopted last year.

BCWI officially transferred responsibility for administering production standards to the new wine authority at the end of August 2008. The transition allows the institute to focus on promoting and marketing B.C. wines as well as representing the industry in its relations with government.

B.C. Wine Authority directors include Hugh Gordon, Layne Marshal and Jeffrey Thomas. The general manager of the authority is John Nixon, a consultant based in Richmond, B.C.
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