BC Wine ’s Debutante Ball

The Vancouver International Playhouse Wine Festival, which ended Sunday, proved to be a big coming out party for the BC wine industry. For the first time ever, our humble region was treated with the respect it has earned, deservedly, after two decades of development. When the festival began 31 years ago, no BC wines were poured and it took many years of lobbying for wineries like Sumac Ridge to be admitted. Last week, 56 BC wineries strutted their stuff for wine geeks and they seemed to get a whole ‘lotta love from the crowds. To rip off an old cigarette ad, you’ve come a long way, BC.

Self-accolades raged through almost every seminar. “Vancouverites are the most sophisticated drinkers on the planet, things grow differently here, we’ve got varietal diversity and real terroir, and how about that Pan Asian cuisine,” became mantras that rolled off the lips of seminar moderators like wine drool. Hearing it while tasting the goods is enough to give even the most cynical bloggers reason to believe: BC wine has indeed arrived.

Not only that, some BC producers have reached the point where they have excess wine to sell and are ready to ship it south. That fact was confirmed to me by several winemakers as well as Janet Doronzynski of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, who said the Export Initiative announced on February 26 is moving forward, starting in Chicago. Not because of Obama, but because Chicago is more amenable and less competitive than cities like New York and Los Angeles. But, to put the export issue into perspective, BC makes 1.5 million cases of wine, and that is roughly equal to Yellow Tail’s production of Pinot Grigio. So, don’t expect a flood, America.

Among the wines that stood out for me were from Peller Estates, probably the most dramatically improved winery in the Okanagan. The Private Reserve Riesling Icewine was sublime with thick, juicy dollops of apricot jam, hazelnut, and butterscotch. But ok, that’s icewine. Easy to love. Especially when tasting it blind like this panel did. What really got me was the Peller 2008 Family Series Pinot Blanc. It’s aromatic, with sweet apple and citrus notes and lively acidity, an astounding value at $13. Winemaker Stephanie Leinemann (blindfolded here) is doing such an remarkable job, I will never diss another Peller wine again.

The Herder Josephine tasted so amazing with its Bordeaux-like complexity and rich mouthfeel, it makes you realize how the Similkameen Valley has risen in quality and is now nipping the toes of the Okanagan.

Syrah is not exactly an Okanagan specialty, but Road 13’s Syrah has that big body, smooth mouthfeel and rich plums and berries you expect from a good Rhone red, and are made from grapes winemaker Mike Bartier admitted were grown in a nuclear hot area under freakish circumstances. Freakish or not, it works.

Paul and Julie from Pentage were not pouring their Cab Franc, which I love, but their Pentage Blend was tasting might fine with it’s smooth delivery of black cherry and berries, ringed by notes of coffee and caramel. They told me their new winery – built in a hollowed boulder – will be up and running by the Fall harvest, in time for assistant winemaker Adam Pearce to take charge of his second vintage. That should give Paul more time to build something else.

So many great wines, so little time to write about them: There was the vibrant lemon, lime Rieslings from 8th Generation and Tantalus, the fresh, clean Blue Mountain Brut, the lush and spicy See Ya Later Ranch Gewürztraminer, Stoneboat’s peachy Pinot Gris, Road 13’s unreleased Sparking Chenin Blanc, and the intensely aromatic Noble Blend from Joiefarm are proof that the Okanagan’s cool climate produces Alsatian wines as piquant and minerally as, well, Alsace.

The Okanagan’s red wines should take the prize for most improved styles. Among the affordable ones I tried, Sandhill’s One, Laughing Stock’s Portfolio, the Quail’s Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir, the Burrowing Owl Merlot, and the Fairview Cab Franc all tasted rich and chewy with the forward fruit you get from California wines.

But that’s enough about my response. I would love to know what you think about BC wines. Are they indeed world class? Can they compete against counterparts in Germany, France, California and Chile? Or are they still stuck on the up ramp of a long learning curve? Tell me.

After all this wine, I’m ready for a beer.

Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.