Okanagan Wineries Seek Subappellation
Set back by a landslide, interest and progress continue in a British Columbia wine district
British Columbia currently has five approved appellations, formally known as “geographical indicators” (GIs), but several wineries south of Oliver hope to establish a subappellation within the existing Okanagan designation.
Spearheaded by veteran winemaker Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards and others, the application is being supported by research from staff at the federal Pacific Agri-food Research Station in Summerland. The hope was that supporting documentation for the subappellation would be complete this summer, and a formal request for the new GI submitted to the British Columbia Wine Authority by September.
The slide on June 13 created a new fan off Testalinden Creek, something soil scientist Scott Smith at the Pacific Agri-food Research Centre said was unknown in recorded history. However, the deposit wasn’t significant enough to alter the documentation he provided to those considering the new GI bid. “I don’t really see that the event of June changes anything,” Smith told Wines & Vines.
Oldfield considers the slide a “momentary” setback that will delay the application process a couple of months. The slide focused local attention on assisting those affected by the disaster rather than establishing the new geographic area. She expects the process to be back on track later this year, with a submission possible by the end of December.
The working name for the new appellation is the Golden Mile, a name long applied to the stretch of country south of Oliver targeted for the subappellation. Road 13 Vineyards, formerly known as Golden Mile Cellars, even returned the name to the local industry in September 2008 with much fanfare -- a move that helped set the stage for the current initiative.
Road 13 winemaker Michael Bartier said the bid to create the new subappellation is being made cautiously, as it will be the first subappellation in the province. Proponents want the scientific basis for the subappellation to be solid.
Soils, air drainage and other factors that define the unique growing conditions are being taken into account, following the lead of subappellation applications in Ontario as well as submissions regarding new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in the U.S.
“We don’t want to hijack the name,” Bartier said. “We’re defining what it is that’s meaningful to the GI, what makes it a meaningful GI.”
Steve Berney, the newly appointed general manager of the B.C. Wine Authority, told growers attending the B.C. Wine Grape Council conference in Penticton last week that the process for establishing a new GI could take a year, including a plebiscite of local wineries.
Proponents must first define the area as geographically distinct, with clear boundaries. Wines made from grapes grown in the area must consistently demonstrate characteristics that reflect the unique characteristics of the local soil, topography and climate. While the initiative is led by industry, the supporting documentation is generated by scientists such as Smith and others.
An appropriate consultation must take place with local wineries and vineyards, to determine that there exist “No credible objections to the claim that this geographical area or subdivision is distinct,” Berney said.
BCWA guidelines require that two-thirds of certificate holders producing two-thirds of the wine made from grapes grown within the area designated for the new GI must approve the proposal. All wineries making wine from grapes grown within a proposed appellation or subappellation that meet the conditions set forth by the BCWA may vote on its creation, regardless of their location.
Questions from growers at last week’s meeting focused on who is able to seek new appellations, voting criteria and the authority’s enforcement of new GIs. Berney emphasized that the initiatives are industry-led, with the BCWA serving as a facilitator.
“It’s going to be up to the wineries in the area who have a double-vote majority to talk about what the name is going to be,” he said. “It’s not going to be up to the authority. The authority is just a vehicle to present that to the minister to change the act and put that geographic indicator in the regulations.”
All approved GIs become the intellectual property of the government, Berney said. “They become intellectual property of the province, which will license the authority, who will then relicense the ability of the different wineries to reproduce it on their labels.”
Some who attended Berney’s presentation asked what guarantees industry would have that scammers wouldn’t try to pass off wines from outside a subappellation as the product of grapes grown in that subappellation.
“You should have a paper trail,” said Berney, a former staff sergeant with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police force. “When you buy grapes from a grower, they have to date it and sign it and (state) where the grapes are grown.”
Wineries that are found in contravention of the regulations coul d be denied a certificate of practice, he said, while civil cases may also ensue if the misuse of GIs is found to have resulted in loss or damage to the industry or its members.