B.C. Wine Culture

Andrew Jefford, wine writer, was the keynote speaker for 2020 VIWF. Supplied photo

The 2020 Vancouver International Wine Festival wrapped up on Sunday afternoon with a brunch-y bang at the Vintners Brunch, finally sending festival goers home to spend a rainy Sunday evening catching up on some much-deserved R&R. After more than a week of wine with France at the core, we can only imagine the dreams that unraveled that night—who else streaked through the vineyards of Château de Pitray with French subtitles reflected in the clouds?

It was a real pleasure to have France as the theme region this year, especially given the progress British Columbia has been making in our wine industry. We are still so young yet have accomplished so much, and to have so many principles from such celebrated French producers gave a rare opportunity to soundboard where we are at with our wine.

Supplied photo

This year’s keynote speaker, the renowned wine writer Andrew Jefford (Decanter, The World of Fine Wine, author of a dozen books and guides), opened the media lunch on February 25 with some remarks on what makes France so remarkable. Although the debate continues about nature vs nurture (land vs winemaker), he reinforced the importance of terroir, reminding everyone of how wildly unique France’s geography is. Straddling the 45th parallel, France hosts a multitude of distinctive regions, each with its own soil, climate and geographic influences. It is a strong reminder that place is so important. Look at what France has naturally: Burgundy with its clay, limestone and stone soils, nurtured by a semi-continental oceanic climate; Bordeaux limestone soils receiving natural irrigation from the Gironde estuary; the Vosges Mountains protecting the vineyards of Alsace; the Loire Valley having its own river to moderate itself, and yet still divvying up into several distinct subregions. The variety goes on and on.

So what does this mean for B.C. as a wine region?

One of our largest accomplishments these last few years is our legally backed delineation of GIs (geographical indicators), giving the many microclimates of British Columbia a chance to express and define their identities. As a new world region, we are not bound by the deafening rules that tightly grip French wine producers; yet our freedom to play can also come at a cost as we stumble on a path to wine maturity that is not exclusive to only those who care about quality—with much to gain in profits and almost no regulation to contain them, there are plenty of B.C. wines that are made without integrity or intention, and no labeling requirements to allow consumers a chance to make a conscious choice about what they drink. Having legally defined geographic regions is a really strong step forward in protecting the integrity of B.C. wines.

So our journey continues, and we dance the fine line between regulation and freedom, and we watch and learn and converse and interact with the world around us, who have made wine before us, and who continue to make wine with us, and we give ourselves a huge pat on the back, because in only 42 short years (the inaugural VIWF was in 1979), B.C. has found a place in the world of international wine, and our place matters.

As for next year: The 43rd annual Vancouver International Wine Festival, February 20 to 28, 2021, will feature South America as the theme region, the first time it’s ever been an entire continent. vanwinefest.ca

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