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Welcome to BC Wine Country - Year in review Canada celebrated 150 years of independence in 2017, but in British Columbia wine country, the talk was all about the weather. It was in a word: extraordinary. Weather is rarely predictable. And most years, growers can count on some climate challenges. That’s just the reality when your livelihood is at the mercy of the elements. But last year Mother Nature served it up in epic proportions. It was frigid and fiery. It was snowy and sweltering. It was wet and windy. It was one for the record books. No corner of the province was unscathed. The year began with a significant cold snap that lingered for weeks throughout much of BC In the Thompson-Okanagan, it threatened the viability of some of the more delicate Vinifera varieties. Sections furthest north were subjected to bone-chilling temperatures as low as -27 C and wineries in that area did report some damage and plant loss as a result. Meanwhile, the weather stayed cool into the spring. In some parts of the province it stymied bud break on the vines until later in the growing season. It also delayed the melt of the substantial snowpack that had been established in the mountains. In most years the runoff can be managed over time, but the spring of 2017 was decidedly soggy, particularly in parts that don’t typically have a lot of precipitation. In the Central Okanagan, for example, May storms brought such a deluge of rain that waterways in various communities spilled their banks and flooded properties in several centres. States of emergencies were declared by the Regional District of the Central Okanagan, the City of Kelowna and the City of West Kelowna. Evacuation orders were issued for those homes and businesses hit hardest by the relentless flow of water. By the time they were rescinded, millions of dollars of damage had been done. And that was just the beginning. With the majority of the snowpack yet to melt, attention turned to setting up barricades to keep water at bay from the already swollen lakes, rivers and creeks. The province sent in members from the BC Wildfire Service to build barriers and bladders along public beaches and assist private property owners with sandbag walls. Okanagan Lake, a magnificent 134 km body of water that stretches from Vernon to Penticton, hit record levels. All its pristine sandy beaches ended under water. The high water levels coupled with unprecedented wind storms battered the foreshore and tore apart docks. Restrictions were placed on boaters. Many beaches were off limits. While wineries themselves didn’t necessarily have to worry about the flooding, all the moisture translated to excessive growth and a higher risk of mildew. By the time the water began to recede, one of the hottest summers in the province was already in full swing. Vancouver Island experienced 100 days of hot weather with temperatures topping out at 35 C and only a single day of rain. It was the driest summer ever recorded in the Lower Mainland, with just seven millimetres of precipitation noted over July and August, according to statistics from the Vancouver Airport. It dried things up quickly in the saturated vineyards and brought welcome heat and sunshine to much of the province. But it also led to the worse wild fire season ever in British Columbia. More than 65,000 people were displaced from 1,346 wildfires, which burned more than 1.2 million hectares since April. That represents 10 times the 10-year average for hectares lost in a single fire season. As a result, much of the province was under a blanket of smoke for the better part of the summer and into the early fall. For vintners, that meant the sun was often masked by haze. There was a concern that the smoke and ash would taint the grapes and affect the overall flavour of the wines. In the end, none of these issues became real concerns at harvest. The fires were far enough away from the vineyards that they did not have any negative impact. Plus growers today are more experienced and better equipped to deal with weather challenges than when the industry was in its infancy a mere quarter century ago. If anything, these adversities make BC producers stronger and the wines more interesting. Enthusiasts can expect wines with way more depth and character than what they might have found in earlier years, even when the weather was ideal. You know how the saying goes: what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. It applies to wine, too. And BC wines are stronger than ever.
industry impact British Columbia sends more than 17 million bottles of wine annually to its neighbours to the east. That amounts to about $70 million per year paid to BC wineries. And it’s not just Albertans who love the stuff. Another $400 million worth of British Columbia wine is sold in Canada every year. An additional $10 million gets shipped to other markets around the world. Volume sales of BC VQA wines has increased by almost 60 per cent in the last five years alone. And wine brings a lot of people to British Columbia – over a million people each year, which generate more than $245 million in revenue. In early February 2018, Alberta Premier Rachael Notley imposed a ban of all shipments of British Colombia wine to her province in February 2018. It was a startling move that stunned the local wine community, not to mention BC wine enthusiasts residing in its neighbouring province. The embargo came amidst an interprovincial spat over an oil pipeline. Notley stated that wine is an important industry to British Columbia, as is oil to Alberta. The boycott didn’t last long. The two provinces reached an understanding and wine began to flow back into Alberta a mere two weeks later. But the fact BC wine was a target at all, demonstrates just how popular BC wines have become.