Local wine drinkers often don’t realize how good B.C. wines are on the global stage, comments wine writer and critic John Schreiner, who has just published the fourth, expanded edition of his Okanagan Wine Tour Guide.
“B.C. doesn’t compete at the low end of the scale. But, it shines with wines in the $15 to $50 range. They go up favourably against wines from anywhere in the world,” he comments proudly.
He feels too that the industry contributes far more to local economies in B.C. than most people realize.
“It would be interesting to do a value-added look at the industry. The wine industry has done very well,” he comments.
And Schreiner has documented its growth and its evolution.
He’s been touring this wine region for the past four decades, when only a few wineries were open, and he says there’s little resemblance to the impressive wines available today.
He remembers just a dozen years ago there were only about 40 wineries in B.C.
Today, there are in the order of 230, and the number grows every day.
“The industry has grown despite everything. It’s a major industry in B.C. now,” he says.
Over the years, he’s seen not only the vines mature, but also the vineyard culture and the winemakers.
Good wine begins in the vineyard, he notes, and the bulk of the Okanagan’s vineyards were planted since the 1990’s when the federal government’s grape pullout program resulted in a move to vinifera from labrusca grapes and to creation of a premium wine industry.
Those vines are just beginning to mature and produce fruit with distinctive, complex flavours as their roots have grown deep into the earth.
A new level of viticultural expertise has also come into the valley in the past decade, which Schreiner says has resulted in a noticeable difference in the quality of wines produced here.
Even Okanagan College is providing better training for those in the wine industry, he adds.
Schreiner is unabashedly a champion of B.C. wines, but not without the experience and credentials to back it up, including tours of the world’s wine-producing regions and wine judging gigs across Canada and abroad.
He is a graduate of the German Wine Academy and former chair of the selection committee of the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival.
And, he says, we’ve come a long way.
In his wine tour guides, Schreiner profiles the people behind the wines and the wineries, providing a picture of something other than technical details about each, but including his recommendations and best bets.
He remembers in the early 1980s attending one of the first Okangan Wine Festivals, to judge the wines.
“They tended to be Germanic in style. The whites were pretty good, but the reds, frankly, were not very good. They’d come from over-cropped hybrids, so they were made from acidic grapes which had to be manipulated in the winery. The resulting wine was thin and tart. It was disappointing,” he recalls.
However, he says, today, he comes to the valley from his home in the Lower Mainland and returns with cases of wine, all of which are “first-rate.”
Festivals, he says, are important to bring people to the Okanagan to try the wines. In order for that to work, you have to put on some wine dinners and do some schmoozing with the winemakers, he adds.
“There’s a high volume of wine sold during the festivals,” he notes.
Visiting wineries is very personal. It’s an important part of the experience of tasting wines, he says.
The18th annual Spring Okanagan Wine Festival begins Thursday, May 3 and continues through to May 13, with hundreds of events planned throughout the Okanagan.
For details, go to: www.thewinefestivals.com or pick up a copy of the brochure at tourism offices or wherever local wines are sold.
Schreiner’s book is also available at most wineries and wherever books are sold.