B.C. Wine Subappellation Moves Ahead

Wine Authority asks agricultural minister to OK Golden Mile Bench

by Peter Mitham
golden mile bench C.C. Jentsch Cellars
A sign welcoming visitors to C.C. Jentsch Cellars, south of Oliver, B.C., announces its membership in the planned Golden Mile Bench DVA.
Penticton, B.C.—British Columbia’s first subappellation is in sight, paving the way for additional proposals for new geographical indications in one of Canada’s primary wine regions.

The three-member board of the B.C. Wine Authority (BCWA) last week asked the province’s agriculture minister to formally approve and establish the Golden Mile Bench Designated Viticultural Area (DVA), the first subappellation within the larger Okanagan Valley DVA.

Government is unlikely to act contrary to the recommendation of the authority, which oversees the province’s wine industry on its behalf.

Ten wineries submitted an application to the BCWA for the new designation in May (see “Wineries Bid for B.C.’s First Subappellation”). BCWA board members undertook a review of the application and consulted stakeholders through the summer.

Where is it?

The proposed subappellation includes approximately 1,580 acres south of Oliver, B.C., within the Okanagan Valley, one of six legally recognized appellations within British Columbia. Approximately half the area, or 790 acres, is planted to grapes, including properties home to well-known wineries such as Hester Creek Estate Winery, Inniskillin Okanagan, Road 13 Vineyards and Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

The new area occupies benchlands to the west of Highway 97 in an area long known as the Golden Mile. Running approximately 6.7 kilometers north to south at an elevation of between 1,066 feet and 1,673 feet above sea level, it is roughly bounded by Reid Creek and Testalinden Creek.

“The creeks are important because the creeks were how the alluvial fans were formed,” Mark Sheridan, general manager of Hester Creek Estate Winery at the southern end of the proposed appellation, told Wines & Vines earlier this year when news of the application was announced.

Alluvial fans, including the one formed when an earthen dam burst at the head of Testalinden Creek in June 2010, define the area encompassed by the proposed appellation.

“Meso-climatic conditions on landforms that are ‘raised’ above the valley floor are different enough to offer distinct, advantageous viticultural growing conditions,” wrote soil scientist Scott Smith of the federal Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland in the description of local geography accompanying the DVA application. “These landforms are sloped and shaded in ways that enhance temperature and radiation inputs to, and prevent the localized pooling of, cold air over these landform surfaces.”

The vetting process for the new designation included interviews with proponents of the DVA as well as the scientists who assisted with the development of the application. BCWA directors visited the area proposed for inclusion in the DVA area and conducted a ballot seeking a double majority of affected members to ensure the industry itself accepted the new subappellation (a double majority comprises at least two-thirds of wineries in a proposed DVA, producing at least two-thirds of all wine made from grapes grown in the area).

Ultimately, consultations with stakeholders inside and outside the proposed subappellation convinced the BCWA that the proposal had merit and should receive approval from the B.C. Minister of Agriculture.

“Following an extensive review of the application, the authority’s board has concluded that the application meets the requirements,” it stated, promising to release its full report regarding the DVA application in due course.

Golden Mile Bench is the first subappellation the BCWA has considered since its creation in 2008, and as such it was a test case of sorts. The speed with which the application was processed and forwarded to government for recognition pleased the B.C. Wine Institute, which advocates on behalf of and promotes wines made entirely from B.C. grapes and sold under the B.C. Vintners’ Quality Alliance (BC VQA) banner.

“The designation of the Golden Mile Bench sub-appellation is a reflection of the maturation and progress of B.C.’s premium wine industry,” Miles Prodan, president and CEO of the BCWI, said in a statement. “We would like to congratulate the successful applicants and thank the B.C. Wine Authority for its support of this decision. Having sub-DVA status for Golden Mile Bench wines is not only a marketing tool for the region but also for wines made using 100% B.C. grapes.”

Its success also opens the doors to proposals from other regions including the Black Sage Bench, which faces the Golden Mile Bench to the east of Oliver, and the Naramata Bench north of Penticton.

A number of emerging regions that have yet to receive a separate designation, such as the Fraser Benchlands west of Kamloops, B.C., the Shuswap Country and West Kootenays region, may also be galvanized to seek recognition now that ground has been broken by the Golden Mile Bench wineries.

Wineries along the Naramata Bench have long had their own association but opted against pursuing a subappellation when it was originally proposed in the mid 2000s, Cynthia Enns, co-owner of Laughing Stock Vineyards, told Wines & Vines.

“The general consensus at the time was, ‘No, we shouldn’t,’” Enns said. “Now that the Golden Mile Bench has jumped in and started that ball rolling, suddenly there’s now been a, ‘Wow! As the Naramata Bench we should take another look at this.’”

Enns believes new designations reflect a better grasp of what the industry wants itself to be 25 years after it reinvented itself in response to the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement signed in 1988, and a willingness to seek legal protection for that identity.

“It’s a maturation of the wine industry,” she said. “By registering these appellations, it does start to add some definition and some teeth to where that wine is grown, and where it comes from. You can’t put those words on your label if there isn’t some justification that those grapes came from the Golden Mile Bench or the Naramata Bench."

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