Thursday, August 28, 2008

British Columbia Vineyard Acreage Explodes

Photo: New vines at Blue Mountain Vineyards

The area under vineyard in British Columbia has more than doubled in a decade, reaching 9,066 acres (3,626 hectares) this year.

Even though the pace of expansion is slowing due to a lack of suitable vineyard land, forecasts suggest that another 1,500 acres (607 hectares) will be planted during the next two years.

This data comes from the latest vineyard census compiled for the British Columbia Wine Institute by Oliver consultants Lynn and John Bremmer, principals of Mount Kobau Wine Services.

The numbers suggest a very dynamic wine industry but also one with marketing issues in the future. By 2012, when these plantings are mature, the industry will be able to produce about 23 million litres of wine, double the production of 2004.

Until recently, most British Columbia wineries sold everything they made with ease, primarily within the province. In the future, it may not be so easy to sell all that wine at home.

There are now 144 licensed wineries in British Columbia and 20 more grape wineries with pending licenses. That is up from 90 licensed wineries in 2004.

In fact, the number of wineries and potential producers is higher. The census has omitted several fruit wineries recently opened or under development. It has not counted the three meaderies or the two rice wine producers and it has omitted several winery projects that will not open before 2010. A ballpark figure of wineries open or solidly under development is about 175.

Here is the rising vineyard acreage

2008: 9,066 acres/3,626 ha
2006: 6,632 acres/2,653 ha
2004: 5,462.47 acres/2,185 ha
1999: 4,184 acres/1,693 ha

Some 84.3% of that acreage is in the Okanagan Valley, with 6.4% in the Similkameen Valley, 7.3% on the coast or Vancouver Island. The remaining two percent are in what the census calls “other” areas, including the Kootenays, Kamloops and the Fraser Canyon.

At least 100 acres have been planted in these other areas, as new or would-be vintners in British Columbia have begun to push the envelope. With global warming reducing winter’s severity and with hardier grape varieties, the prospect of wineries in locales such as Kamloops is becoming real.

The census also tracks the grape varieties being planted. Red varieties account for 51% of the plantings.

These are the five most widely planted reds

Merlot 1,585.46 acres or 17.49% of total plantings

Pinot Noir 793.41 acres or 8.75% of total plantings

Cabernet Sauvignon 680.87 acres or 7.51% of total plantings

Syrah 516.27 acres or 5.70% of total plantings

Cabernet Franc 391.18 acres or 4.31% of total plantings

These are the five most widely planted whites

Pinot Gris 928.29 acres or 10.24% of total plantings

Chardonnay 866.26 acres or 9.56% of total plantings

Gew├╝rztraminer 643.77 acres or 7.10% of total plantings

Sauvignon Blanc 438.76 acres or 4.84% of total plantings

Pinot Blanc 369.14 acres or 4.07% of total plantings

The most significant changes in those planting areas are:

* Syrah plantings have more than doubled since 2004, to jump ahead of Cabernet Franc.

* Pinot Gris has jumped ahead of Chardonnay for the first time since these vineyard censuses were begun.

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