B.C. Wine Collects Educated Aficionados

February 26, 2009

By Ed Dugas

For years a spotty, small-scale industry, BC wine has become an internationally-recognized phenomenon.  Now that great wine is so close to home and here to stay, people in B.C. are buying it up in droves.  After a few holiday trips to Okanagan wineries – where 92% of all provincial wine is produced – casual indulgers are rapidly becoming serious collectors, and relish living the wine life.  B.C, the newly crowned “Napa of the North,” is home to a number of prolific wineries which have gifted the world with their worthy creations, winning numerous awards when pitted against some of the finest and most established global winemakers.

Of course, this hasn’t always been the case.

“I’ll never forget one of my restaurant sales calls in downtown Vancouver in the early 90’s,” says Ramona Lehnert of Custom Cellars, a Richmond-based provider of custom wine cellars and accessories.  “I was working as a sales representative for a BC estate winery.  The restaurateur told me: ‘Honey, nobody drinks BC wines.’  And he was someone really entrenched in the restaurant industry.  Can you imagine someone saying that today?”

According to Wine BC, there were only 13 provincial wineries in operation as recently as 1984, and quality and interest were in steady decline.  That all changed in 1988 with the enacting of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada and the United States.  The NAFTA treaty compelled winemakers to improve the quality of their wines for fear of being undercut by open market competition.  This aggressive campaign resulted in a $28 million replanting program and $8100 an acre being allocated to growers for removing undesirable grape varieties.  After 2,400 acres were eradicated, 1,000 premium acres remained and, naturally, overall quality began to improve.  Various other wine regulations were put into place by the BC government, thus this local cottage industry was born.

The success of Canadian wine has benefited directly from a global shift in cultural preferences.  European lifestyle traditions have become staples of North American, Asian and Australian cultures, and the climate of wine enjoyment has evolved to reflect this transition.  Drinking wine is now a desired sensory experience which people wish to enjoy at a slow and deliberate pace.  The period of excess and over-consumption that defined the 1980s and 1990s has been replaced by a new culture that recognizes the importance of sustainability, high-context living and moderation.

Wine collecting has also become a highly diversified practice, and is enjoyed by everyone from young lawyers and doctors to dot-comers and rock musicians.  Drinking wine is more socially acceptable than ever as historical ostentations surrounding wine have largely dissipated.  To add even more momentum behind this perfect storm, it is estimated that by 2025, wine will become the best selling alcoholic product in North America, outperforming both beer and liquor in worldwide sales.

“I have seen the arrival of California Cult Classics,  Canada’s first and only ultra premium private winery and Everything Wine in North Vancouver, a 12000 square foot wine superstore with daily tastings,” says Rollin Fox of Sleeping Grape Wine Cellars. “Wine has become a much greater part of our mental landscape.”

21st century wine aficionados are veracious enthusiasts, often building their portfolios to the point where they cannot manage or even drink all the wine themselves.  This is an important development because it means people are becoming more educated about proper wine care and it has created the need for wine industry-related services such as wine fridges, wine cellars and commercial storage centres.

That’s where our burgeoning new wine industry comes in.

A serious wine collection can be an enjoyable investment and add a personal touch to a home, but it can sour your financial grapes when it’s not properly cared for.  That’s why it’s important to consult wine care professionals on which wine-specific products are best for maintaining a valuable collection.

“We are all so busy these days in our careers and family lives.  Wine is a vast subject that some have devoted their lives to,” says Ramona Lehnert.  “Why not take advantage of the knowledge and delight they want to share?

Wine cellars and accessories provide optimum shelter and protection for wine from potentially harmful external factors, allowing wine to be stored in darkness and at a constant temperature. Wine is an organic, “living” item that, like all organic products, is subject to decomposition.  If not protected from heat, light, vibration or fluctuations in temperature and humidity, all types of wine, including red, white, and sparkling, can spoil.  When properly stored, wines preserve their quality and actually improve in complexity of aromas and flavours as they mature.

“Wine needs to be stored at between 12-14 degrees Celsius with 60-70% humidity and should only be exposed to products low in volatile organic compounds,” explains Billy Carpenter, sommelier and owner of Vin de Garde Cellar Systems in Vancouver.

According to Ramona, it is also important to choose a wine care accessory that is not intended for just any product storage.  “I won’t bring on a cabinet because it looks nice or is the best price,” she says.  “Some of the most beautiful, expensive cabinets on the market are nothing more than a refrigerator with some neat buttons and trim.  When our customers purchase from us, we want to assure they can lay their favorite wines down for their desired length of time, and when they open them, we want to feel confident they will taste a beautifully aged wine.”

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