As cherry blossoms bloom around the city and an increasing number of cruise ships appear in our harbour, another sure sign of spring is plenty of action in the British Columbian wine industry as we splash into vintage 2018.
Some good news came at the beginning of the season. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has deemed wines produced from a mix of international and domestic grapes can no longer be labelled with the “Cellared in Canada” designation. Those three words have duped many a consumer into thinking they were purchasing a 100-percent-local wine over the years.
Really, most shoppers couldn’t be blamed, as they were often stocked right next to British Columbian product, sometimes under the labels of local producers like Jackson-Triggs. These cheap industrial bottlings gave a bad name to quality B.C. producers whose wines were often perceived as being under the same umbrella.
Although inexpensive blends like these are made all over the world—and there’s nothing wrong with that, in theory—it’s awfully rare that they come with such misguiding labels and merchandising. Everyone from local producers and trade to acclaimed journalists like U.K.–based Jancis Robinson has been shouting about this issue for years; it’s nice to see we’ve finally made progress. As of April 1, if these blends are international-wine-dominant, they’ll be labelled as “International blend from imported and domestic wines”, where if domestic juice is the main content, they’ll be designated “International blend from domestic and imported wines”.
In another step toward provenance authenticity, it’s looking like Okanagan Falls might become the Okanagan Valley’s second subgeographical indication after Oliver’s Golden Mile Bench was approved by B.C.’s minister of agriculture in 2015. The boundaries of the appellation, on the east side of the valley, were determined by qualities making it geologically distinct (various hollows harbouring glacial till) along with a unique microclimate. The Okanagan Falls Winery Association and the regulatory B.C. Wine Authority have done the majority of the legwork here. A few more strands of red tape have to be untangled, and then it’s up to the provincial government for final approval, hopefully by the end of the year.
Perhaps the next appellation to go down this road will be the popular Naramata Bench, just north of Penticton on the east side of Okanagan Lake. Those folks are taking their show on the road, heading into Vancouver for Wine for Waves (April 13, Four Seasons Hotel, $110, online), a grand tasting of fresh releases in support of the Vancouver Aquarium and its Ocean Wise sustainable-seafood initiative. Naramata veterans like Kettle Valley Winery and Lake Breeze Vineyards will be on hand, along with newer, must-sip favourites like Roche Wines and Bella Wines.
Those wanting to zoom out on their B.C. wine-imbibing should also check out Chef Meets B.C. Grape (April 26, JW Marriott Parq Vancouver, $90, online), where more than 50 wineries from around the province will be pouring their best and brightest alongside small bites from local chefs, including Forage’s Chris Whittaker, Torafuku’s Clement Chan, Pidgin’s Wesley Young, and many more. Proceeds from the event go to the B.C. Hospitality Foundation, which offers financial assistance to those in the industry facing a major medical crisis. (Full disclosure: I’m on the board of the foundation.)
Eventwise, we’re just getting started this season, and I’ll be sharing more next week. In the meantime, you’re probably getting a little thirsty.
I recently sat down with winemaker Grant Biggs of Kitsch Wines in Kelowna to taste through some of his releases. I first met him when he was working under Tantalus Vineyards winemaker David Paterson, but after toiling away in local vineyards, and a stint in New Zealand, he’s been at the helm of Kitsch since its inception in 2015.
It’s a small winery owned by locals Ria and Trent Kitsch, and Biggs does a little bit of everything there, from overseeing the vineyards to making the wine—and it’s not uncommon for him to be the guy pouring wine in the tasting room. His wines see rather minimal intervention, all of them pristine and fresh as a daisy. You can find them locally at places like Legacy Liquor Store and New District for just a couple bucks more than winery-direct pricing, but ordering them online is always an option as well.
Here are my three favourites:
Kitsch Wines Dry Riesling 2016
Wild-fermented and aged in a wee bit of neutral oak to add a little bit of structure (not flavour); fresh lime, orange marmalade, and a touch of earthiness fill the palate well.
Kitsch Wines Riesling 2016
Slightly off-dry, but wonderfully balanced with tropical fruit like mango and guava, with a good bite of Granny Smith apple bringing extra freshness.
Kitsch Wines Pinot Noir Rosé 2017
Oh, man! This pink wine is so juicy and enjoyable, akin to sipping fresh pink lemonade while squinting in the sun. Stock up on this one; it could very well be your wine of the summer.