Monday, May 11, 2009

Just released: Wineries of British Columbia, third edition

Young vineyard near Okanagan Falls

We know that the British Columbia wine industry has grown but the scope of that growth is astounding.

In 1994, I began to develop my family of books on British Columbia wine with the first edition of The Wineries of British Columbia. That book was 220 pages long and included 40 profiles (two of which never became wineries).

A decade later, the second edition was released. This volume had something like 130 profiles in its 376 pages.

Whitecap Books, my publisher, has just released the third edition of The Wineries of British Columbia. This book, which should show up about mid-May, is a hefty 496 pages (and only $30). The 160,000 words profile about 200 wineries, several of which are either just opening or still under development.

This is the longest book I have ever written. It took me two years of interviewing and writing. So much has changed in just five years that little of the 2004 text could be copied into the new book without substantial revision.

This book is the latest word on the British Columbia wineries. Even so, it is a snapshot of a moving landscape. Shortly after the manuscript was locked down, I came across Cerelia Vineyards, a new winery just opening near Cawston in the Similkameen Valley. And I just interviewed Judy Kingston, a former technology lawyer, whose Serendipity Estate Winery opens a year from now near Naramata.

I guess I should start working on the fourth edition!

In fact, I anticipate that the pace of change will slow, at least until the economy settles down. This may not be the best of economic climates in which to start a winery and it certainly is not a good time to try selling. During the time I was writing the book, several wineries and vineyards were on the market. I can think of four at least where the deals fell apart over the lack of financing.

Having said that, there are still acres and acres of new vineyards up and down both the Okanagan and the Simikameen. Those skinny vines now protected against wind and rodents by milk cartons will be producing grapes for new wines and new wineries in a few years.

The biggest surprise in researching this book was the surge in the number of wineries over the past five years.

For wine lovers, this is great news. The selection of wines is much larger than it was and the business is more competitive. That is one reason why B.C. wine prices, after rising steadily for a decade, have levelled off or, in many examples, have declined this year. The average price of a bottle of VQA wine was $18 last year. I am guessing that this year’s average will be between $15 and $16, the first time that the VQA average has dropped since 1992.

Even as prices level off or decline, the quality of British Columbia wine continues to rise. That is because the new plantings from early this decade now are hitting their productive prime. It is also because there have been big investments made recently in modern winemaking equipment and well-trained winemakers.

The 2008 white wines just coming to market are some of the best I have ever tasted from the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.

For wine tourists, this industry growth is a boon. If you have not taken a vacation in wine country for a few years, you will not even recognize some of the new wineries. In fact, you consider a trip this year. There are fewer tourists in wine country this year and wineries have more time for those that come.

Even if your previous wine tour was just last fall, there are discoveries out there this year. Midway between Oliver and Osoyoos, Adrian Capeneata has just opened his rather grand Cassini Cellars right beside the highway. You can't miss it.

Three new wineries are opening in East Kelowna sometime this year: Camelot Vineyards, The View Winery and Sperling Vineyards. Camelot expects to open its tasting room this spring.

This summer, Hester Creek will complete a vast new winery partly buried into the hillside, with a tasting room whose windows command a fabulous view over the valley.

In the Similkameen, an enthusiastic couple from Saskatchewan are just opening a winery near Cawston which they call EauVivre.

If you travel to Creston where the excellent Skimmerhorn Winery opened two years ago, at least one new winery should open this year.

Saltspring Island’s third winery, Mistaken Identity Vineyards, will open this spring. Later this summer, a new winery, 22 Oaks, will open near Duncan.

I have to say it: you need a program to stay in the game. I hope that’s my new book.


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