Observations On The Changing Okanagan Wine Industry.

In Wine Exploration by WebMasterLeave a Comment

Club member Franco Sartor recently received a very interesting commentary on the Okanagan wine industry from a wine enthusiast friend and we are pleased to share his observations with you. The Okanagan is a very important source for club grapes and changes, particularly in ownership, have affected our supply in the past. No doubt the future will see even more change. Our thanks to Franco and his friend for sharing this with us.

Bruce and Franco:
I will not bother sending you my further Okanagan study notes, but I would like to summarize a few points that are nagging me.

  1. There is a tremendous variance in grape varieties in the Okanagan and Similkameen. I am not sure what to make of it. In long established growing regions elsewhere in the world a particular region tends to figure out what grapes it can grow best and then the whole area focuses on that, with micro-climates lending their own special attributes. It was just 1995 that the first Syrah was planted in the south Okanagan, and it has now become an outstanding grape in the Osoyoos area and the Similkameen. But that does not change the habits of many small wineries that “do not want to make the same wine as everyone else” and, thus, go in sometimes startling other directions. There are red wine grapes from all over the world sitting in plots of various sizes throughout the region. My impression, subject to your thoughts, is that over time there has to be some more focus on a few of the best.
  2. Grape variety is particularly evident in white wine grapes and of course, since I am not a big white wine drinker, I really have a tough time appreciating the variation. I have been turned onto Viognier by this trip. The northern Rhone mixes this white (8%) with Syrah (92%) – the numbers can vary – and now that Syrah has come into its own in our south this northern Rhone blend has become a big thing. Wineries are offering Viognier on its own and exhibiting some pride in it. I noticed that at Vanessa. I have purchased three bottles of Viognier from the liquor store and am slowly sampling. I paid $19.50 for a Backyard Vineyards 2019 Viognier because it was the only VQA Viognier in the store. This winery is based in Langley so they must be shipping grapes from the interior and pressing them in Langley. It is delicious. I also have a $16.50 Spanish 2019 Viognier called Viento Aliseo, and an $18.40 Australian 2018 Viognier from Yalumba vineyards. Have not tasted either one yet.
  3. Ownership of vineyards is of particular interest to me. There are at least three types:
    1. The big corporations such as:
      1. The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan with their Arterra Wines Canada division which encompasses, in our area, Bodacious, Black Sage, Jackson Triggs, Inniskillin, Kim Crawford, Mouton Cadet, Naked Grape, Nk’mip Cellars, Ravenswood, Ruffiano, Sawmill Creek, See Ya Later Ranch, Sumac Ridge, and Woodbridge.
      2. The Andrews Peller Group of Companies which encompass Peller Estates, Sandhill, Trius, Wayne Gretzky, Red Rooster, Calona Vineyards Artist Series, Thirty Bench, Tinhorn Creek, Black Hills Estate Winery, Grey Monk, and maybe Raven Conspiracy, and Conviction.
      3. The Mark Anthony Group founded by Anthony von Mandl in 1972 and which, in the fine wine category, has set up “VMF Estates” which owns Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, Check Mate, Road 13, Martin’s Lane, and in March 2020 he bought Liquidity Wines for $12.5 Million. He owns over 1,000 acres of vineyards in BC.
    2. The monied entrepreneurs such as the owners of Vanessa. There are a lot of former investment advisors and real estate developers who have taken their money and moved into BC wineries. They tend to start their own and supply the business savvy and marketing. They are reliant on top-end talent in the vineyard and the winemaking, but those who make it a new career often take on these tasks eventually. The outlier in this category is Phantom Creek Estates where Richter Bai, who made his money in Chinese mining, has immigrated here and put $100 million into developing this winery. He is really more like a big corporation, but with just one brand at the moment. That will likely change.
    3. The small entrepreneur looking for a lifestyle. There are so many of these wineries. A lot of prairie people have opted for new lives in the Okanagan. They start small with 2 – 10 acres of vineyard and try to grow their way, little by little, to a business that will support at least two families, since multi-generational families are common in this group. If they have attained 20 acres of vineyards, and the 2nd generation has taken over, I really like this group because of the passion and commitment they bring to their brand.

I do not yet know what these variations in ownership mean to the quality of the wine. Even soulless pension plans carry some impressive quality on their books, although they also produce the cheap pap. And very small entrepreneurs do not have the capital equipment and knowledge to produce consistency.

I look forward to a time when we may talk in person about all things wine. There is so much to know.



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