Learn about Sub-GIs in BC’s Wine Regions

Do you know what a Geographical Indication (GI) means in the BC wine industry? According to a BC Ministry of Agriculture press release, a GI is “…a standard element of appellation systems used around the world that help people identify wines in the marketplace, provide assurance as to the origin and quality of the wine, and promote agri-tourism. British Columbia currently has six official geographical indications: British Columbia (provincial), Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, Fraser Valley, Similkameen Valley and the Okanagan Valley…”  BC now has 9 GIs.

We are already familiar with French AOC appellations, such as Beaujolais, Bordeaux, and Chablis.  We know these are defined regions with a particular terroir and grow particular grapes for wine.

BCs 9 GIs as of 2019 (Graphic courtesy of winebc.com)

BC’s 9 GIs as of 2019 (Graphic courtesy of winebc.com)

The GIs are a key element for BC’s VQA wine industry.  With GIs, the BC Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham in the same press release further stated “By helping B.C.’s wine regions identify and promote their own terroir, and making it easier for smaller wine producers to participate in the BC VQA program, B.C. wine drinkers will be able to make more informed choices as they select, enjoy and buy B.C. wines.”

Our 9 Geographical Indications are:

  • Vancouver Island
  • Gulf Islands
  • Fraser Valley
  • Similkameen Valley
  • Okanagan Valley
  • Kootenay
  • Shuswap
  • Thompson Valley
  • Lillooet

These GIs though can cover a large geographical area and can vary in climate and soil.  One could say that the Okanagan Valley GI which goes from Osoyoos in the south to a little north of Kelowna has a very large difference in temperature. In the hotter south, red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grow well, while around Kelowna, more aromatic white grapes like Riesling and Pinot Gris, or cooler climate reds like Pinot Noir are grown.  It is because of these differences within these larger GIs that groups of wineries in sub-regions of these larger GIs have been applying to the BC Wine Authority to have their unique sub-GIs recognized as defined areas.

As part of the BC VQA COLOUR Fall wine release, I attended a seminar about sub-GIs hosted by Rhys Pender MW. We learned that the first sub-GI application was submitted in January 2018 for the Naramata Bench, which is located north of Penticton on the east side of Okanagan Lake.  The applicants for this and other sub-GIs are the wineries within that unique area.  Following consideration of climate, topography and soil type, surficial geology, and the resulting viticultural properties, a sub-GI boundary is defined.  The sub-GIs are based on scientific properties of the region and not by marketing people.  For example in the Naramata Bench sub-GI, the elevation varies between 650-700m,  is on a west-facing slope, there is approximately 1400 GDD, the land is affected by the moderating effect of Okanagan Lake, and the soils composed of glaciolacustrine sediments from a glacial retreat. As a result of these unique elements, certain grapes are more widely grown in the Naramata Bench; Merlot (23%), Pinot Gris (17%), Chardonnay (13%) and lesser amounts of other grapes.

We currently have Naramata Bench, Skaha Bench, Okanagan Falls, and Golden Mile Bench sub-GIs approved.  Cowichan Valley and Golden Mile sub-GIs have been submitted for consideration.  There will likely be many more sub-GI applications in BC as the wineries and vineyard managers become more familiar with the differences in their GI region.

There are rules that the wineries in a sub-GI must adhere to in order to keep their sub-GI designation. Two are that at least 2/3 of the total wine processed must be from that sub-GI and that registered grape growers must grow at least 2/3 of their total volume of grapes in that area.  Also, the wineries in these areas, if they wish to put Naramata Bench on their wine label will now need to be part of the BC VQA program.  If they opt-out of the VQA program, they would have to put a more general, non-GI and non-sub-GI, label “British Columbia”.  The BC VQA program recognizes that being a part of the BC VQA association costs money, which can be prohibitive for smaller wineries, but we were told that they now offer a small winery VQA category option at a lower cost that allows them a few, 5 different wines, to be included in the program.  There is also a medium and a large winery processor category with different fees and numbers of wine bottle SKUs included in the fee.  You can read about these VQA regulations at this link. You can also read the sub-GI Technical Reports at this link.

My Tasting Notes from Sub-GIs

For my tasting notes I first show the name of the wine followed by the location of the vineyard, then my description of the wine.  The wines should show differences in character as you move from cooler to warmer regions within the Okanagan and across the other GIs.  For the three Chardonnay, Naramata is most northerly, Okanagan Falls is in the middle, and Checkmate is the furthest south sub-GI.

Tightrope Winery Chardonnay 2017, Naramata Bench – Bright light lemon colour.  Medium intensity tropical fruit, vanilla and oak aromas.  Medium body, lighter round mouthfeel and some minerality.  Juicy tropical fruit, vanilla and a hint of pepperiness on the palate. 4 out of 5 stars4.5 out of 5 stars

Noble Ridge Winery Reserve Chardonnay 2017, Okanagan Falls – Medium-plus intensity bright lemon colour.  Light toasty, tropical fruit nose.  Thicker, fuller-bodied with lower acidity and a plush mouthfeel.  Tropical fruit, vanilla and oak flavours with some pepper toward the finish.  Long lingering flavours. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Checkmate Artisinal Winery Queen Taken Chardonnay 2015, Golden Mile Bench – Light pale lemon colour.  Light intensity white flowers, vanilla, tropical and stone fruit aromas.  Medium-plus body, off-dry with a thicker, round mouthfeel.  Low acidity.  Starts with oranges on the palate then adds roasted apples, vanilla, tropical fruit, sweet spices, and light pepperiness on the finish. Elegant. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tightrope Winery Chardonnay 2017, Noble Ridge Winery Reserve Chardonnay 2017, and Checkmate Artisinal Winery Queen Taken Chardonnay 2015

Tightrope Winery Chardonnay 2017, Noble Ridge Winery Reserve Chardonnay 2017, and Checkmate Artisinal Winery Queen Taken Chardonnay 2015

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017, Cowichan Valley – Medium translucent to the core, garnet colour.  Very flowery together with red fruit and a touch of herbaceousness on the nose. Medium-plus body and acidity.  The wine is dry with fine tannins. Smooth and round.  Lots of red fruits, candied red cherries, floral, and sweet spices on the palate.  Peppery on the finish. 4.5 out of 5 stars

CedarCreek Estate Winery Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2017, South Kelowna – Medium-plus translucent garnet in colour. Light intensity red cherry aroma with a touch of meatiness and pepper.  The wine has a medium-plus body, is round and soft with lower acidity and soft tannins.  Light intensity red fruit flavours and some candied red fruit.  Pepperiness mid-palate.  Vanilla, pepper and red fruit on the finish. 4 out of 5 stars4.5 out of 5 stars

JoieFarm En Famille Pinot Noir 2017, Naramata Bench – Medium-plus intensity darker garnet colour in the glass.  Ripe red apples and a touch of floral, smokiness and red fruit aromas.  The wine is dry with a fuller mouthfeel.  Round with medium acidity and fine tannins.  Light lifted juicy red fruit flavours along with some bramble and raspberries.  The wine has vanilla, sweet spices and pepperiness toward the finish. 4 out of 5 stars4.5 out of 5 stars

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017, CedarCreek Estate Winery Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2017, and JoieFarm En Famille Pinot Noir 2017

Unsworth Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017, CedarCreek Estate Winery Platinum Block 4 Pinot Noir 2017, and JoieFarm En Famille Pinot Noir 2017

Stag’s Hollow Winery and Vineyard Shuttleworth Creek Pinot Noir 2017, Okanagan Falls – This wine has a medium intensity translucent dark core of garnet colour and a ruby tint.  It has a light lifted red apple, red fruit, red cherries and a hint of floral on the nose.  Medium-bodied, smooth with lower acidity.  Candied red fruit, red cherries and sweet spices on the palate.  Silky mouthfeel.  Tart red fruit and sweet spices on the finish. 4 out of 5 stars4.5 out of 5 stars

Painted Rock Estate Winery Red Icon 2016, Skaha Bench – Deep, almost opaque garnet from rim to core.  Jalapeno pepper, tea leaves and black fruit aromas.  A very interesting nose!  The wine is dry with a medium-plus body; soft with lower acidity.  Ripe black fruit, black pepper, vanilla and other sweet spices and black cherry flavours. Aa dry, firmer tannic finish with black fruit and peppery flavours. Nice. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Stag's Hollow Winery and Vineyard Shuttleworth Creek Pinot Noir 2017 and Painted Rock Estate Winery Red Icon 2016

Stag’s Hollow Winery and Vineyard Shuttleworth Creek Pinot Noir 2017 and Painted Rock Estate Winery Red Icon 2016

Hester Creek Estate Winery The Judge 2016, Golden Mile Bench – Almost opaque, black garnet coloured.  Dark fruit and meatiness on the nose.  The wine is full-bodied, dryish with a round mouthfeel.  Nutmeg, floral, black fruit and sweet spices on the palate.  Silky mouthfeel with fine tannins.  This is a big dark-fruited wine. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Maverick Estate Winery Renegade 2017, Golden Mile – Deep black-garnet colour in the glass; slightly opaque.  It has lifted ripe red fruit aromas along with ganja and nutmeg. Full body, silky, slightly off-dry with fine tannins and medium acidity.  A mix of red ad black fruit flavours, along with a touch of nutmeg and black pepper.  The wine finishes with a combination of drying tannins and some puckering acidity.  A quality wine. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Hester Creek Estate Winery The Judge 2016 and Maverick Estate Winery Renegade 2017

Hester Creek Estate Winery The Judge 2016 and Maverick Estate Winery Renegade 2017

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Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings and restaurant reviews. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.

2 comments for “Learn about Sub-GIs in BC’s Wine Regions

  1. Allan Helton
    October 1, 2019 at 8:43 am

    Ah, I re-read and the map refers to GIs, not sub-GIs. Sorry for jumping the gun!

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