Swirl Around BC 2023: Discussing the Future of the BC Wine Industry

DJ Kearney
DJ Kearney

I was invited to attend the Swirl Around BC 2023 seminar recently to hear from BC winemakers about the challenges and opportunities in the BC wine industry.  Our Moderator for this seminar was DJ Kearney, and our Panelists were: Alistair Veen, JoieFarm, Bailey Williamson, Blue Grouse Estate Winery; Charlie Baessler, Corcelettes Estate Winery; David Paterson, Tantalus Vineyards; Ross Wise, Black Hills Estate Winery; and Severine Pinte, LaStella Winery.

DJ started the seminar by noting that the only constant in wine is change.  We are experiencing change at an increasing pace and the changes can be known and also unexpected.  We have changes in climate, landscape, global pressures, etc. Being prepared for changes is important. But we need to understand the challenges, present, and imminent, so that we can adapt, change, respond and succeed together.  To do this we need to be informed and educated, in part by working together and also learning what others around the world have experienced and how they adapted. BC wineries are located at the edge of the wine-growing regions’ climate and are at risk of small changes in the environment.  DJ then asked our panelists individual questions about factors affecting BC wineries. 

Questions to Winemakers

BC winemaker panel at Swirl Around BC 2023 seminar
BC winemaker panel at Swirl Around BC 2023 seminar
Alistair Veen, JoieFarm: Gen Z are on the horizon. They are very informed, are into organics, and research the things that they will invest in.  How do BC wineries reach Gen Z? 
This falls into the broader discussion of consumer trends.  How are we finding more customers?  Gen X and Gen Y are also important.  Gen X is the most prolific drinking generation after the Boomer generation so we currently have a strong market to support the current market.  But, how do we expand our market? People currently get info from social media, with discussions about health, wellness, and restraint. We are confronted with a value proposition.  We need to make wines that are interesting and show value to younger generations. Those new drinkers are being inundated with products that are inexpensive, and show more variety in premiumization.  Now there are cocktails, ready-to-drink beverages, non-alcoholic beverages, and craft beers, for example, to compete with wine for new drinkers. The younger generations are interested in local products and sustainability and factor it into their purchasing.  We need to market that story to new people buying our wines. 
Severine Pinte, LaStella Winery: How is the sustainability program progressing in BC? 
Six wineries and twenty vineyards are currently certified BC sustainable.  Investigation into sustainability started in BC in 2008 with the first certification in November 2020.  BC’s sustainability program has created standards by researching what other countries have done for sustainability.  Besides sustainability, we are also investigating how can we support marginalized communities in our wine industry.  Severine thinks BC wineries are a bit unsure of how much effort is needed, e.g. paperwork and otherwise, to become BC sustainable certified.  But by showing the certification parameters, winery principals can see and check off those things that they are already doing, so the certification does not need to be such a big issue. 
The BC sustainability program talks about industry collaboration, working with restaurants and other outlets, and social media, to get the information out about our sustainability program.  They are putting together tools so that they can reach more people.  There is a lot going on in the background that the public may not see.  We also need to involve the BC government more to be part of our team.  Most major winemaking regions / countries of the world belong to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV),  an intergovernmental organization which deals with technical and scientific aspects of viticulture and winemaking.  The OIV has invited us to sit in their meetings which will give us the opportunity to learn from them.  We do not want to be the last wine region to be certified sustainable.  DJ Kearney mentioned that a study was done on wine consumers in the USA and that buyers were willing to pay a few extra dollars for wines that were certified sustainable.  
David Paterson, Tantalus Vineyards: Climate change.
David noted that Tantalus is the second BC winery to be certified sustainable. Climate change affected the Riesling that was poured today for us to taste.  Normally, Tantalus Vineyards produce 600 cases a year but this year they were only able to produce 210 cases of this wine. The harsh winter followed by a very hot summer in 2023 contributed to their low wine production. The last five winters have gone below -20 C with last winter being the harshest with the temperature reaching -27.5 C, which is brutal on vitis vinifera vines. Their old vines had some damage but are coming back.  Climate change is readily seen in BC as we are growing the vines at the edge of plant viability. Our grape-growing region is getting more extreme with summer heat domes and harsher, colder winters. The winery received less rainfall this summer and needs to upgrade its irrigation.  David noted that bud break seems to be starting later and then the vines grow at a more rapid pace.  He thinks that this rapid vine growth trend will continue.  The rapid vine growth also impacts labour as you will need more people to help in the vineyard to manage it. Also, David noted that 2023 had the most Growing Degree Days since this measurement was taken.  This necessitates that the grapes have to be picked sooner in order to retain acidity.  But overall, according to David, it appears that the vines are trying to adapt to the changes in the weather. 
Ross Wise, Black Hills Estate Winery: State of the art of concrete fermentation and ageing of wine.
Ross noted that the use of concrete tanks is helpful in managing climate change’s effects on grape ripening.  Concrete brings freshness and texture to wines.  Black Hills uses concrete tanks mainly for white and rose wines, but also for a few reds.  He mentioned that concrete better manages heating and cooling.  The tank does not get as hot as if you used a stainless steel tank. Concrete also naturally cools fermenting wine.  Concrete tanks last for 60-80 years, so the cost of shipping these heavy vessels should be mitigated.  One benefit of using the concrete tanks is that they are purchasing fewer expensive oak barrels.   To mitigate the heaviness of the concrete tanks, Ross noted that new, thinner concrete tanks are being made and sold from Portugal.  There are also some wineries making their own concrete tanks locally, such as Okanagan Crush Pad, which avoids shipping issues.
Bailey Williamson, Blue Grouse Estate Winery: What are you learning about climate change from other international wineries?  Jackson Family, who owns Blue Grouse Estate Winery, has a long history and resources to manage vineyard sustainability. They are committed to it and have made a decision to buy in the cool climate region of Vancouver Island.  With the past forest fires in California, the Jackson family personally lost several of their homes in Sonoma, so they are risk-averse to fires, which is why they may have chosen Vancouver Island.  Bailey mentioned that Jackson Family looks 25+ years to the future, being committed to sustainability which is why they may consider purchasing vineyards in cooler climates.  Jackson Family looks to the winery they purchased to determine how to proceed sustainably as that winery knows its climate and region.  So no cookie-cutter solution is imposed on their associated wineries.
Charlie Baessler, Corcelettes Estate Winery: Issues in the Similkameen Valley?
The last winter killed many vines in the Similkameen Valley. This has given Corcelettes the opportunity to re-evaluate the vineyard plots and to determine what varieties to plant in different, more optimal locations. 

My Wine Tasting Notes

We also had an opportunity to taste some BC wines from recent vintages.

  1. JoieFarm Plein de Vie Sparkling Rosé 2022, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley – Chardonnay (53%) and Pinot Noir (47%) blend done in the Charmat method. This is their first sparkling rosé wine.  This wine has a medium intensity, bright clear rose petal colour. Medium-minus sweet strawberry and red cherry nose.  Medium body, dry with medium-plus acidity.  Tiny creamy bubbles.  Tart, crisp red fruit flavours with some pepperiness on the finish. Tasty. 4.5 stars
  2. La Stella Winery Vivace 2022, Oliver, Okanagan Valley – Pinot Gris picked to make this wine as it is the most widely planted white variety.  There are many ways to use this grape variety.  It can still be lively and crisp if it is managed well, and picked early.  Medium intensity bright lemon colour.  A light toast and stone fruit nose.  Light body with a  lean to lightly round mouthfeel.  Mineral, citrus, peach and other stone fruit flavours.  Tart fruit flavours.  Medium-plus acidity.  4 stars
  3. Tantalus Vineyards Old Vines Riesling 2020, Kelowna, Okanagan Valley – 2020 was a great growing season, made small bunches of grapes with great fruit flavour concentration. This wine is made to live for decades according to David Paterson.  It has a bright, medium-intensity lemon colour.  Medium-intensity aromas of petrol and lemon.  Dry, lighter body, with a light, lean mouthfeel. Citrus followed by peach and petrol flavours.  Stony minerality.  This wine can age for many years.  Quality. 4.5 stars5 stars
    JoieFarm Plein de Vie Sparkling Rosé 2022, La Stella Winery Vivace 2022, and Tantalus Vineyards Old Vines Riesling 2020 wines
    JoieFarm Plein de Vie Sparkling Rosé 2022, La Stella Winery Vivace 2022, and Tantalus Vineyards Old Vines Riesling 2020 wines
  4. Black Hills Vineyards Viognier 2022, Black Sage Bench – This grape does well with our heat.  2022 was a cooler year.  This wine was fermented in a combination of concrete, neutral oak puncheons and stainless steel, then spent 6 months on fine lees before bottling.  The grapes come from three different vineyards.  This wine has a lighter, clear, bright lemon colour with green tint.  Expressive aromas of roses, apple, honey and some grape stem.  Dry, light body, soft with a lightly round mouthfeel. Medium-plus acidity.  Peach and grape stem on the palate with citrus and light pepperiness on the finish. 4 stars
  5. Blue Grouse Vineyards Chardonnay 2022, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island –  a new wine for them to make.  Chardonnay vines have started to be planted on the Island for a few years.  This is Bailey’s first attempt at making a Chardonnay with Vancouver Island grapes.  A light, bright lemon colour.  Light buttery, apple, and sweet spice nose.  Medium body, soft with a lightly round, mouthfeel.  Buttery, apple, and sweet spices (butterscotch) on the palate.  Medium acidity.  Medium-plus length. 4 stars4.5 stars
  6. Blue Grouse Vineyards Pinot Noir 2021, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island – They have about 8 different clones planted and will see which will be the best for them.  This one was made in amphora using partial whole cluster fermentation to help manage the tannins then barrel aged for 16 months. The wine has a light, clear garnet colour.  Light-intensity aromas of tart cherries and red fruits plus some earthiness. Medium body, soft and smooth on the palate.  Sweet spices, nutmeg, red fruits, plus a touch of forest floor flavours.  Light tannins.  An acid-driven wine.  4 stars4.5 stars
    Black Hills Vineyards Viognier 2022, Blue Grouse Vineyards Chardonnay 2022, and Blue Grouse Vineyards Pinot Noir 2021 wines
    Black Hills Vineyards Viognier 2022, Blue Grouse Vineyards Chardonnay 2022, and Blue Grouse Vineyards Pinot Noir 2021 wines
  7. JoieFarm PTG 2022, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Valley – This is their “bistro” wine.  A value, refreshing, but still a complex wine.  A Gamay (79%), Pinot Noir (21%) blend. It is a bright clear, medium-intensity blend of garnet and ruby colours.  Very light aromas of candied red cherries.  Dry, medium-plus body, with a thicker, round mouthfeel.  A mix of candied cherries and tart red fruit flavours.  Light pepperiness.  Lightly drying tannins.  Medium-plus length. 4 stars
  8. Tantalus Vineyards Further Afield Syrah 2021, Kelowna, Okanagan Valley – The grapes come from their Blind Creek vineyard, Similkameen Valley. A medium-plus intensity clear ruby colour.  Lighter smoky, toasty, red fruit and sausage nose.  Dry, medium-plus body with a round thicker mouthfeel.  Smoke, cherries, dark fruit and oak flavours.  Medium acidity and tannins.  Medium length with light pepperiness on the finish. 4 stars
  9. Corcelettes Estate Winery Syrah Viognier 2021, Similkameen Valley – Viognier skins were co-fermented to fatten the Syrah’s mid-palate and to add freshness to the wine. This wine spent  18 months in 90% French oak and 10% American oak (25% new) to age and then bottled unfined and unfiltered.  The Syrah vines used for this wine were killed by the cold winter this past year. They are replanting 40% of their vineyards in the Similkameen and looking for better locations for different grape varieties to plant. Partially aged (~ 20%) in concrete. this wine has a dull, opaque ruby colour.  Medium-intensity aromas of floral, cedar and red fruits.  Medium-plus body, with a thicker mouthfeel.  Cedar, ripe red fruit, and some herbaceousness.  Medium tannins and acidity.  Medium length finishing with tart red fruit and cedar flavours.  4 stars4.5 stars
    JoieFarm PTG 2022, Tantalus Vineyards Further Afield Syrah 2021, and Corcelettes Estate Winery Syrah Viognier 2021 wines
    JoieFarm PTG 2022, Tantalus Vineyards Further Afield Syrah 2021, and Corcelettes Estate Winery Syrah Viognier 2021 wines
  10. La Stella Winery Fortissimo 2021, Oliver, Okanagan Valley – a blend made with 54% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18%
    Cabernet Franc, and 4% Sangiovese
    grapes.  Severine noted that there was some forest fire smoke in the valley and you can taste a touch of smoke in this wine.  I noted a leather aroma, which may be from the smoke. A lighter, clear garnet colour.  Light aromas of leather and red fruits.  More leather and red fruits on the palate, along with red berries, and touches of chocolate, capsicum, and iodine.  Medium length.  Medium-intensity drying tannins. 4 stars4.5 stars
  11. Corcelettes Estate Winery Merlot 2020, Similkameen Valley – From 20-25-year-old Merlot vines.   Aged 18 months in 72% French oak, 28% American oak barrels.  Unfined and unfiltered at bottling. This wine has a deep, dull mix of ruby and garnet colours. Lighter aromas of cedar and red fruits.  Dry, with a smooth light, round mouthfeel.  Capsicum and cedar, red fruits, vanilla and some bitterness.  Medium acidity and tannins.  Medium length with firmer drying tannins on the finish. 4 stars4.5 stars
  12. Black Hills Estate Winery Tempranillo 2020, Black Sage Bench, Okanagan Valley – this wine has been made since 2015. 2020 is a warmer vintage but could be viewed as a cooler vintage when we move out years into the future. This wine has a medium-intensity clear garnet colour.  Medium-minus intensity, inviting aromas, of red fruit and sausage.  Dryish, medium body, with a soft smooth, buttery mouthfeel.  Red fruit flavours plus a touch of pepperiness.  Medium acidity and light tannins.  Medium length with a dry finish.  4 stars4.5 stars
    La Stella Winery Fortissimo 2021, Corcelettes Estate Winery Merlot 2020, and Black Hills Estate Winery Tempranillo 2020 wines
    La Stella Winery Fortissimo 2021, Corcelettes Estate Winery Merlot 2020, and Black Hills Estate Winery Tempranillo 2020 wines

Thank you to Wine Growers of British Columbia for inviting me to attend this seminar and to spread the word about BC wine.

Author: mywinepal
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, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. 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.

Don't make me whine. Please leave a comment!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.