Friday, July 3, 2009

The Fraser Valley is home to more wineries than you think

Lively labels from The Fort Wine Company

Last Saturday's Fraser Valley Winery Association (FVWA) festival - its second annual festival at Langley's Highpoint Equestrian Community- gave consumers a chance to taste products from wineries not nearly as well known as they should be.

That would seem to be one of the reasons for the FVWA to exist: to spread the word about its members, just as the Naramata Bench Wineries Association has done so brilliantly.

However, the event also disappointed because almost half of the Fraser Valley wineries were not even there. The reason has a lot to do with the distressing politics in the British Columbia wine industry.

A 2007 brochure for this association lists 11 wineries, including Glenugie (which is scheduled to reopen in August under new owners and a new name) and Chilliwack's St. Urban Winery. The latter may or may not be open. It was absent from last year's tasting and, while there was a place card for the winery this year, it was again absent and no one could explain that.

Also missing was Mt. Lehman Winery, which opened in Abbotsford on the same weekend that the association was having its festival. Mt. Lehman decided to skip the festival in favour of its own opening weekend, an understandable decision but perhaps not the shrewdest one.

Other absentees from the festival were these Fraser Valley wineries:

* Township 7 Vineyards and Vista d'Oro Farms and Winery, both of which have left the Fraser Valley Association.

* Blackwood Lane Vineyards & Winery, just weeks away from opening its Langley area tasting room, has not joined FVWA.

* Blue Heron Fruit Winery and Kermode Wild Berry Wines, both producers on the north side of the Fraser River. Blue Heron was formerly a member of the association. I can only speculate that these producers believe they are too small to be in the association at this time.

* Lulu Island Winery, sister winery to Richmond's Blossom Winery, which is opening this weekend in Richmond.

* Isabella Winery, a low profile Richmond commercial winery right on the banks of the river.

* Constantin & Vasilica Wines, the fruit winery at the south end of Cultus Lake that formerly was known as Columbia Valley Classics. The current owners are in the wine business by accident, having bought the property for its farm, not for the winery.

* Campbell's Gold Honey Farm. This is the Fraser Valley's only meadery, based at a lovely Abbotsford farm. The producer seldom has enough mead to go into tasting events.

Township 7, under its previous owners, was an originating member of FVWA. It has dropped out as a consequence of a growing conflict between the valley's biggest winery, Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery, and the British Columbia Wine Institute (BCWI).

Domaine de Chaberton chose not to remain a member of BCWI after BCWI became a voluntary trade association but it continued to sell its VQA wines through VQA stores, among other channels.

(Domaine is not the only winery to make that decision. Blasted Church Vineyards no longer is a BCWI member as well and is subject to the extra levy.)

The VQA store licenses are controlled by BCWI. In February BCWI imposed a six percent surcharge on the sales of VQA wines by non-member wineries through the VQA stores. The logic is that the stores initially were intended to benefit BWCI members and to support the BCWI's promotion of all VQA wines. Wineries that decline to support the BCWI with membership fees should not have the same privileges as those that do.

However, wineries like Domaine de Chaberton regard the surcharge as discriminatory. Domaine is leading a group of wineries, VQA and otherwise, that are lobbying the provincial government to lean on BCWI. If that does not succeed, I would not be surprised to see litigation.

Township 7's current owner, Mike Raffan, sits on BCWI's board of directors. That put him in conflict with the Domaine de Chaberton group. He decided he could not participate in both BCWI and in FVWA at the same time because of this conflict.

It appears that both Vista d'Oro and Blackwood Lane are not in the FVWA because they choose to sit out the dispute as well.

These decisions, understandable as they are, certainly reduce the ability of the FVWA to promote effectively, if at all. Yet the wineries need this promotion. I would suggest that the majority of people in Metro Vancouver have no idea there are so many wineries in the valley. Indeed, it is ironic that FVWA should be weakened by argument among VQA wineries since most FVWA members are fruit wineries - and fruit wine is not even recognized by the VQA.

Back to the FVWA festival, here are some of the wines that stood out for me:

Sanduz Estate Winery Merlot 2005. This Richmond winery has a long list of both fruit and grape wines, including a black currant wine so concentrated that it is almost overpowering. This Merlot, however, is a delicious middle-of-the-road red.

River's Bend Flaxen 2008. I am not sure where the name came from but this is a crisp, lean white blended from Pinot Gris, Kerner and Gewurztraminer grapes grown on this winery's Surrey vineyard.

River's Bend Black Horse 2006. This is an appealing and unusual blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Domaine de Chaberton Bacchus 2008. This spicy, aromatic white, a refreshing summer wine, is one of the flagship varietals here.

Domaine de Chaberton Canoe Cove North Bluff Pink 2008. This is a juicy rose, full of the flavours of strawberry and rhubarb; another fine summer quaffer.

Wellbrook Winery Blueberry. This is a full-bodied wine with tons of fruit flavour and with a nice dry finish. Wellbrook is in Delta, just off the highway to the U.S., and easy to visit.

The Fort Winery Keremeos Pear Apple 2007. Crisp and refreshing, this is a tangy cider-style beverage with a good dry finish. Ted Bowman, the winery's community relations coordinator, has a good argument for drinking fruit wines as well as grape wines. "Drinking fruit wine is like having a colour TV," he says. "Why settle for just black and white?"

Pacific Breeze Winery Vin de Garagiste 2006. This fine boutique winery operates from an industrial strip in New Westminister. The winery really does look like a garage - but all the wines, made with premium Washington and California grapes, are first rate.

I ran out of time before I had a chance to taste the wines from Lotusland, an Abbotsford winery, and from Westham Island Winery, the producer of delightful fruit wines that is based on a farm on Westham Island. Next time ...

I hope FVWA thrives and continues to do more such events.


At July 10, 2009 at 9:12 AM , Blogger Jennifer said...

Dear John,

Thank you for your blog "The Fraser Valley is home to more wineries than you think." and your continuing support of the wine industry in British Columbia in general and the Fraser Valley in particular.

With respect to your blog, there are a number of matters that I feel should be amplified upon:

1. The majority of the members of the FVWA are not fruit wineries. Of our 12 members, 8 produce solely grape wines, 1 produces both grape and fruit wines and 3 produce fruit. Speaking personally, I am disappointed that Township 7 and Vista D'oro have chosen to withdraw from the FVWA. It is their position that the FVWA should not be engaged in lobbying despite the fact that it is an objective that is spelled out in our constitution. I hope that once the 6% issue is resolved, they will rejoin the FVWA. Their withdrawl has been softened by the addition to our Association of Lulu Island Winery, Mt. Lehman Winery and Real Estate Vineyard & Winery.

2. When the licenses were granted to BCWI, its membership included an overwhelming number of the grape wineries in British Columbia. At present BCWI represent less than half the grape wineries in British Columbia. Its claim to legitimacy is based on the fact of the VQA wine produced in British Columbia, an overwhelming amount is produced by its members. This is true, but when you eliminate the VQA wines produced by the three large commercial wineries from the equation, this claim no longer holds water or wine, as the case may be.

3. It's incorrect to say that Domaine de Chaberton is "leading a group of wineries,...". Although Domaine de Chaberton has written a letter to the Hon. Rich Coleman regarding the imposition of the 6% surcharge, the 6% surcharge is being opposed by the Association of British Columbia Winegrowers, the Wine Islands Vintners Association and the Fraser Valley Wineries Association. The membership of these three associations is larger than that of BCWI and include such award winning wineries as Averill Creek Vineyards, Blasted Church Vineyards, Blue Grouse Vineyard, Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellar, Fairview Cellars, Garry Oaks Winery,Kettle Valley Winery,Nichol Vineyard & Farm Winery, River's Bend Winery and Stag's Hollow to name but a few. I should also add that our opposition is supported by many of the owners of the VQA stores.

Eugene Kwan


Fraser Valley Wineries Association

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