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Planning your BC Wine Tour
There is renewed hope and anticipation in British Columbia Wine Country for 2021. After a year when COVID 19 turned BC’s wine venues into desolate places, the provincial officer of health was cautiously optimist that BC could entering in a “post pandemic world” by summer. Dr. Bonnie Henry said if BC’s vaccination program goes according to plan, British Columbians should be able to begin rebuilding their personal connections with one another earlier than expected. This means the wine regions’ vineyards and tasting rooms could soon become the vibrant, lively spaces they’re reputed to be. What a “post pandemic world” actually looks like remains to be seen. It’s likely that globetrotting won’t be encouraged for some time to come. But regional travel could very well be embraced once again for residents in the province and its immediate neighbour. The 2021 season may be no better time to be a tourist in your own backyard. And there are certainly far less desirable locations to have to stay put. Visitors to BC’s wine country may still have to socially distance for months to come, but wineries and related hospitality operators have adapted to provide clean, spacious environments designed to keep guests safe. The industry is used to having curve balls flung its way, as it is often subjected to Mother Nature’s fickle whims. Resilience might as well be its middle name. When the Coronovirus first struck and BC declared a state of emergency in March 2020, most non-essential services were shuttered for several months. Many wine producers pivoted by offering free shipping on their wines, often without setting minimum bottle limits. Several of those with on-site restaurants provided fine-dining take out and make-at-home dinner kits. Value-added services were provided such as virtual tastings. Some of these were scheduled events, while others allowed the consumer to choose from a curated selection of wines and book a tasting with a winery ambassador. Other producers went as far as offering online culinary experiences where at-home cooks would receive all the ingredients to prepare a gourmet meal following the virtual instructions of a winery chef, complete with wine pairings. These proved popular on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day. Several wineries also offered complete family-style Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas take-out dinners with all the fixings – plus wine, of course. When BC’s restart plan was announced in May 2020, and wineries found themselves well positioned to provide on-site visits, tasting and dining experiences in a safe manner by the very nature of fact that the industry is largely focused on the outdoors. Many had the space to spread out guests, making social distancing less problematic than other venues in the hospitality industry. The use of heated domes and individual fire pits expanded these experiences into the cooler months. Wineries were one of the few places where you could still catch the occasional outdoor musical performance. In doing all of the above, British Columbia’s wine producers may very well have created a new set of enthusiasts – those who live and work here but had yet to embrace, explore and appreciate the magic that is BC Wine Country. And as people continue to stick close to home, this fan base is sure to grow. Welcome to BC Wine Country Year in review The past year was a challenging time for tourism across the globe and it was no different for British Columbia Wine Country. During the 2020 growing season, when visits to wineries and related hospitality venues are typically at their peak, the tasting rooms, restaurants and accommodations stood largely empty. The industry had to adapt to a significantly reduced number of visits as social distancing was an order and all non-essential travel was discouraged due to the global pandemic. An industry-wide survey conducted by the BC Wine Institute (BCWI) in collaboration with the BC Grapegrowers’ Association and Leger Marketing, found 83 per cent of BC wineries and grape growers had been negatively impacted by COVID-19. One in 10 BC wineries and grape growers reported they were at risk of closing due to COVID-19, with 58 per cent seeing a loss in revenue and 55 per cent having reduced access to customers. The industry demonstrated tremendous resilience in the face of the pandemic. It provided new and innovative ways to reach customers, such as free delivery of wines, restaurant take out options and virtual tastings that especially appealed to locals. Nonetheless, border closures and social distancing orders not only reduced the number of onsite visitors, it impacted the access to labour, which is always an issue. While the global pandemic was the single biggest news story of 2020, there was a lot more that went on in BC Wine Country in the past year. Here’s a look back: Harvest 2020 The 2020 growing season got mixed reviews. While some wineries reported their best year yet, others lamented that the winter was too cold, spring was too wet and summer too short. Fall started out strong but snow and cold temperatures came early. In the end, grape yields trended lower to make up for the challenges, but the quality of the remaining fruit was high. Less Icewine was made in 2020, partly due to the fact that the winter was milder overall. But fewer wineries also registered to produce Icewine, since the pandemic reduced the number of international travelers, who tend to favour this sweet style. Wine Regions Applications have been submitted to the BC Wine Authority for the recognition of three wine growing areas to be recognized as sub-geographical indications, or appellations, of the Okanagan Valley. The three are East Kelowna Slopes, Lake Country and South Kelowna Slopes. If successful, they will join Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Falls, Naramata Bench and Skaha Bench as Sub-GIs of the Okanagan. The Cowichan Valley is also recognized as a Sub-GI of Vancouver Island. Wine Auction a Canadian First Canada’s first national fine wine auction was held at the end of March in Alberta. A selection of 380 wine lots featuring high-end vintages from France, United States, South Africa, Spain, Australia, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Germany and Chile from private collections were sold off online by Iron Gate Auctions. Until now, the secondary sale of any wine has been forbidden by Canada’s liquor monopolies, such as the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Board and the Liquor Board of Ontario, who are the sole purveyors of alcohol in Canada. No Canadian wines were included. BCWI Rebranding The British Columbia Wine Institute announced it was changing its name to Wine Growers British Columbia. In a statement released in February, the WGBC said: “The objective for the new name was to focus the provincial association image from simply representing the beverage alcohol sector to being identified as a socially responsible, value-add agricultural contributor, representing and supporting grape growers and wineries as part of a family farm network.”