Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Naramata Bench Wineries and Siblings



The allure of Naramata Bench vineyards

Five years ago, 10 wineries came together to create the Naramata Bench Wineries Association. That has triggered an important trend.

The association, with 16 member wineries today, has so effective at marketing the region that Naramata Bench is more powerful more on wine labels than VQA (although most of the wineries produce VQA wines). When sub-appellations begin being carved out of the Okanagan appellation, Naramata Bench will be the first.

In the eyes of most consumers, Naramata Bench means good to outstanding wines from one of the most beautiful vineyard regions in the Okanagan. Many of the wines command a premium in the market. The Naramata wineries have just held their fifth highly successful annual Vancouver tasting.

The success of Naramata (http://www.naramatabench.com/) has inspired wineries in several other regions to form similar groups.

The South Okanagan Wineries Association was formed in 2007 to raise the visibility of the Oliver-Osoyoos producers with marketing strategies comparable to Naramata, including annual tastings in the Vancouver and Victoria markets. Currently, SOWA is trying to come up with a catchier name for its region. Information is on its blog, at http://oliverosoyooswineries.blogspot.com/. Their next Vancouver tasting is their second “kitchen party” on May 26 at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.

Last year, the 10 wineries around Summerland, along with a vinegar producer, formed the Bottleneck Drive Association. Bottleneck Drive is an apt description for the country roads around Summerland that lead to the wineries. So far, its marketing efforts are limited to attracting wine tourists to Summerland. The website is http://www.bottleneckdrive.com/.

Late last year, eight of the 11 wineries in the Similkameen Valley formed the Similkameen Wineries Association (http://www.similkameenwine.com/). They have scheduled a tasting event at Cawston in the valley on May 9; and they have a coordinator, wine educator Rhys Pender, who recently developed a vineyard in the Similkameen.

The reinvigorated Fraser Valley Wineries Association (http://www.fvwa.ca/) now has 12 member wineries. They did an industry tasting last year and have scheduled the next one for 2 pm June 27, once again at the Highpoint Equestrian Estate Community.

On Vancouver Island, the Wine Islands Vintners Association (http://www.wineislands.ca/) is the association for about 33 wineries on the island and on the Gulf Islands. Their most recent event was an April 13 tasting in Victoria. The association maintains an excellent website that includes even a brochure to be downloaded.

WIVA so far has limited its activities to Vancouver Island, perhaps because of the wineries on the islands are small enough that they sell most of what they produce on the islands.

Going forward, I expect all of these associations to become more active in marketing their sub-regions of wine country. Today, many wineries compete for sales in a marketplace where the demand for British Columbia wine appears to be levelling off. The wines are better than ever but the competition is better than ever as well.

The question is: where does this leave the British Columbia Wine Institute?

Now that running the VQA program has been moved from BCWI to the British Columbia Wine Authority, the BCWI is meant to be focussed on government relations and on marketing. BCWI also governs access by wineries to the 20 VQA stores, a valuable sales channel.

BCWI’s marketing efforts are supposed to encompass the entire industry. For example, BCWI organizes major Vancouver and Victoria tastings twice a year. The next one, Bloom, is late May at the new Vancouver convention centre.

BCWI also organized the participation of 56 British Columbia wineries at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival in March. Most participating wineries thought the event was a roaring success for them.

Because membership in the BCWI is voluntary, and not exactly cheap, a number of wineries have opted just for their own associations. A few years ago, almost all of the Vancouver Island wineries cancelled their BCWI memberships, partly because they believed the Okanagan-focussed BCWI was doing precious little for the island wineries. (Several later rejoined BCWI.) Currently, the largest winery in the Fraser Valley, Domaine de Chaberton, is not a BCWI member.

Smaller wineries are more comfortable in their local organizations which are locally controlled. The perception is that BCWI is controlled by the large wineries – a contention that BCWI would challenge.

The reality is that both the industry’s politics and now the increased competition are driving the formation of regional wine promotion groups.
BCWI acting executive director Lisa Cameron says that the BCWI has no reservations about the development of these regional promotional groupings because consumer promotion is not BCWI primary focus. BCWI is more concerned with providing business resources to its members and with lobbying governments. It is more appropriate for the regional bodies to do consumer promotion.

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