Vancouver Somm’s share BC Wine Secrets + Insights.

The best way to stay current about British Columbian wine is to hear from the people who taste it, purchase it and sell the most of it — the sommeliers.
Here are the secrets and insights that sommeliers from award-winning restaurants in Vancouver want you to know about the BC wine industry.

The most exciting varietals in BC right now.

British Columbia boasts an incredibly vast spectrum of styles and varietals, but a few in particular consistently spark the most flattering reviews from reputable tasters and sommeliers. “I am the most excited about Pinot Noir. We have the most suitable climate and terroir for it.” notes Mike Wong, Sommelier at Chambar Restaurant. It is true; beautiful and elegant Pinot Noir is grown throughout several wine growing areas in the province. These include the Okanagan Valley, Vancouver Island, the Thompson Valley and Fraser Valley. The latter is known better as primarily using the grape for sparkling wine.
Wong notes “Generally, our Pinot Noir has fresh acidity, primary red fruit and spicy flavours, unlike the jammier versions you may see in other new world wine regions.” This is definitely an exciting varietal to keep a pulse on. It’s success in multiple DVA’s throughout the province, promise its evolution as a varietal of distinction for now and the future.
Chris Rielly, head sommelier at Nightingale Restaurant agrees, and adds Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah to the list. “To me, these grapes articulate their regional locations well… They can define a vintage better than some other varietals grown in BC, and can make very good wines even in challenging vintages.”
The best way to understand BC Wine
Reading and tasting is great, but estate visits are better.
The best way to gain a well-rounded understanding of BC wines is to get out there and visit wine country. Face-to-face conversations with winemakers and on-site experience of the soil, aspect, and regional culture is much more informative than solely tasting a line-up of wines. Rielly says “To get the real story you need to have conversations with those who have their boots on the ground and who can speak passionately about their corner of the BC wine world”. It’s true, each subregion has a different story, and each story is best understood more deeply with a site visit.

The Benefit of Being the New Region on the Block.

Freedom to explore and innovate.

British Columbia is a young region compared to many others around the world. It is because of its youth that BC has the freedom to experiment with new techniques and plantings that many other winemaking regions — who are brigaded by tradition and strict regulations — cannot. Mike Wong says “It is the wild, wild, west in BC right now, meaning that the varietals grown run the gamut from a classic Cabernet to the more obscure, Kerner… I love that we are able to plant eccentric ideas into the soil, just to see what might happen.”  Wong also mentions a few examples of wineries that are making wine from grapes that are rarely planted out of their native Italian regions of origin: “Wineries like Stag’s Hollow who curate Dolcetto and Teroldego, and LaStella, who are dedicated to their Italian Maremma-styled wines using Sangiovese.”
BC remains creative and exploratory with the freedom to plant what the vintners want where they want. Because of this, they are able to offer a greater spectrum of wine styles and captivating anomalies to the domestic market.
A lust for local wine. 
Local wine is a must-have on a restaurant’s wine list.

Guests are seeking local ingredients in their dining experience more than ever, and this farm-to-table approach is also reflected in their wine choices.
Tourists thirst for BC wine in hopes to be able to quench curiosities and explore new regions. Meanwhile, BC residents also want their fair splash to enjoy and support the local bounty of their own backyard. “Guests locally and internationally have interest in trying them” Rielly confirms. Having BC wine on the restaurant wine list is an absolute necessity. Guests are requesting it, and expect it, “We have an entire page dedicated to it, and we like to support local.” explains Wong.

Notable advancements in BC wine.

BC wineries have shifted their focus toward quality and terroir-driven wines and away from maximizing production and sku’s. Rielly says “producers are starting to realize their need to focus on terroir and [discover] which vines work best with their land”. He adds, “It’s not all about just making the best Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or whatever the market wants, it’s about making the right wine from your environment.”
More wineries than ever before are prioritizing sustainable practices, organic or bio-dynamic farming and low intervention winemaking techniques to ensure the fruit speaks to its specific site of origin.
More acknowledgement is being given to areas with distinct terroir, and in turn, is maturing our appellation system. “I would like to give a shout out to the Province of British Columbia, having just awarded four new G.I.s (Geographical Indication) to the Shuswap, Lillooet, Thompson Valley and the Kootenays!” says Wong. “Yes, they have been making wine this whole time, but it is great to see our industry and culture shifting in maturity and recognizing regions that have their own unique expression of terroir… it’s a sure step closer to enhancing the quality of wines because now consumers can expect a certain style and quality from each region.”

BC wine 5 years from now.

Bright future
The wine industry of British Columbia has developed at exponential rates in the past few decades. This is even more profound to think about if you compare how fast this growth has occurred in comparison to the centurion pace of some European wine regions. At this rate, it’s easy to agree with Chris Rielly’s forecast, “the future is very bright for BC wine”.
Increased regional awareness and the development of more regional identities are sure to occur as the BC wine industry matures. “Five years from now I expect more regional-focused wines, with more Sub-GIs being awarded (I’m looking at you Naramata)” predicts Mike Wong. More recognition of specific GI’s and their unique characteristics will likely also create a new and mature market niche for cult bottle and iconic vineyard recognition.

Alex Anderson is a wine writer, graphic designer, and holds a WSET Advanced certificate with distinction. She is also a CMS certified sommelier and Wine Align apprentice judge at the NWAC (National Wine Awards of Canada). Alex is a Vancouverite with a passion for wine, communication and design. A sommelier by night, and an international freelance graphic artist and writer by day. You can connect and follow her vibrant and insightful wine endeavours on Instagram @wine.with.alexx

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