B.C. Wine Culture

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For the B.C. wine industry, 2020 was supposed to be a year of celebration—it is, after all, the 30th anniversary of the Vintners Quality Alliance and the province’s birth as a serious wine region.

Instead “the messaging will focus less on celebration and more on resilience,” Kim Barnes, the marketing director of the BC Wine Institute, told about 170 stakeholders attending a March 24 webinar addressing COVID-19 concerns.

That’s because the global pandemic has affected B.C.’s wineries just as it has every other aspect of our lives.

“These are, not to be trite, extraordinary times,” said Miles Prodan, the BCWI’s president and CEO. “The good news is that so far the supply chain is up and running. We are aligned. We have a consistent message. Government is listening to us.”

That consistent message is all about the importance of buying local, supporting first and foremost the farmers who grow the grapes, as well as the winemakers who transform them into wine and the myriad businesses and their employees who earn their living from it.

“The good news is that we have an amazing community that is willing to support local,” said Laura Kittmer, the BCWI’s media relations manager.

The webinar updated stakeholders on a number of initiatives being undertaken by the BCWI. For instance, the organization is working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that wine is recognized as a farmed product, which will go a long way toward being seen as an essential service. In the case of a total lockdown—a scenario that seems more likely by the day, if not the hour—only essential services will be allowed to continue operating. For wine to be considered essential would aid vastly in the survival of B.C.’s 280 licensed grape wineries (370 total, including fruit wineries).

They are also seeking deferments on a number of taxes and fees, so wineries can access cash flow for the coming months. Most importantly the BCWI is working with the Wine Growers of Canada (aka the Canadian Vintners Association) and the Business Technical Advisory Panel, and in step with Destination BC, on a three-phase plan to address the crisis.

The first phase is response, followed by recovery, and then resilience.

“We are currently in the early phase of response,” Barnes said. “We’re here to keep our industry growing strong.”

Already, most wineries have pivoted to accommodate the new reality. All major events and tastings have been cancelled or postponed. Tasting rooms are closed or are operating under vastly different conditions. Restaurant sales are virtually nonexistent right now (although last weekend’s news that wine could be included with takeout and delivery came as a welcome surprise), so many wineries are offering free shipping and other direct-to-consumer deals. (Find a list of what’s on offer here.)

“This is a time of extreme measures,” Prodan said. “This is the response phase of this. We’re happy to date with the response we’re getting.”

The BCWI plans weekly updates during the crisis. Keep up to date on the latest news by visiting their website, signing up for their newsletter or following along on their social media channels.

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