British Columbia Wine Industry Hit Hard by COVID-19

By: Briana Doyle

Canadian wine consumers are buying more wine than ever, yet a recent industry survey in Brit-ish Columbia indicates that the province’s winemakers are not seeing the benefits.

  Early in the pandemic, British Columbia liquor stores reported a 40% spike in sales. According to a Capital Daily report, in March and April, British Columbians spent an extra $90 million on alcohol, about $29 million of that spent on wine alone.

  However, according to a survey conducted by the British Columbia Wine Institute in collabora-tion with the British Columbia Grapegrowers’ Association and Leger Marketing, 83% of British Columbia wineries and grape growers have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

  The survey found one in 10 British Columbia wineries and grape growers at risk of closing due to COVID-19, with 58% seeing a revenue loss and 55% having reduced access to customers.

  “For growers, access to labor is always an issue, and with border closures and quarantine reg-ulations, this has been more challenging than ever,” said John Bayley, viticulturist at Blasted Church Vineyards and Board President of BCGA. “We have incurred greater expenses this year in maintaining the labor support we rely on from our colleagues from Mexico.”

  While 41% of British Columbia wineries reported an increase in winery direct sales, all distribu-tion channels have seen a decrease in sales due to the pandemic, particularly hospitality at 69%, followed by agency (43%) and liquor retail stores (41%).

  Financially, 66% of wineries believe it will take them one to four years to recover, with 35% ex-pecting their revenue to decline between 21% and 50% over the next six months.

  “I think it will take some time for the industry to see the full effects of COVID-19. Obviously for smaller wineries who depend on restaurant and wine shop sales – and many of them do – they’re going to feel the effects more immediately. But for others, it may take until the end of the season to fully understand the effects industry-wide,” said Kathy Malone, winemaker, Hillside Winery.

  As part of an effort to help the wine and hospitality industry recover from pandemic-related losses, industry organizations are pulling out all the stops to encourage British Columbians to play tourist in their own province.

  In October, the BCWI launched British Columbia Wine Harvest Month to draw attention to the industry’s importance to the province. The announcement was made in partnership with Desti-nation British Columbia, the British Columbia Hotel Association, British Columbia Restaurant and Food Association, British Columbia Dairy Association and British Columbia Seafood Alli-ance.

  “2020 has been like no other. Our industries were quick to respond and adapt during an un-predictable time, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” said Miles Prodan, President and CEO of BCWI. “This campaign brings local industry together to strengthen the collective and work col-laboratively to bolster local support and celebrate some of the finest this province has to offer.”

  Meanwhile, a new website and app, Wines of British Columbia Explorer (https://winebc.com/explorer/), aims to steer “staycationers” and road trippers to explore Brit-ish Columbia wine country this fall.

  The website and app include wine route itineraries and detailed information on more than 200 British Columbia wineries, including new hours and protocols to protect customers during the pandemic, whether there are picnic spots on-site, curated lists of specialty wines, organic vineyards, and if visitors are welcome to bring pets. It also includes a “taste test” tool to help customers find British Columbia wines that suit their palate.

  “This campaign really aims to bring our local wine, hospitality and tourism partners together to ensure a strong future for all of us,” said Kim Barnes, Marketing Director of BCWI. “We know many British Columbia industries are feeling the effects of 2020, and we want to keep the ‘support local’ message top of mind as we head into the winter season.”

  Throughout October, campaign promotional materials were distributed via local British Colum-bia wineries, hotels and restaurants, British Columbia liquor stores and all Wines of British Co-lumbia stores located in select Save-On-Foods. Digital and broadcast components include ra-dio spots, a YouTube series with cooking demos, ZOOM videos from the vineyard, blogs, har-vest wine pairings and curated wine routes, all aimed at promoting local wine, food and travel.

  Despite July sales reports showing overall growth in the wine category at 5.01% (up from 4.73% in June 2020), British Columbia VQA market share continues to trend lower than the All Imports market share – 18.81% compared to 19.13% last year.

  “As winery inventories begin to grow with, by all early indications, a great 2020 vintage starting to come in, this trend is worrisome for our industry,” said Prodan. “It highlights the need for the continued support of the British Columbia wine industry, not just from consumers, but in sound policies from all levels of government.”

  Only in Canada: Taco Bell launches Jalapeño wine; plus glamping in a wine barrel

  Now for a couple of quirky Canadian news items to leaven the doom & gloom: Taco Bell has launched its own brand of wine, which is only available in Canada, and an Ontario couple is getting media attention for their unique Airbnb listing: a converted wine barrel floating in a river.

  The well-known fast-food brand introduced its Jalapeño Noir in September, promoting it as the perfect complement to a new menu item: the Toasted Cheesy Chalupa, a type of taco made with fried bread instead of the typical soft or crunchy shell. According to Taco Bell Canada, the wine has notes of wild strawberry, cherry and beetroot.

  The Jalapeño Noir was sold only in Ontario via the Taco Bell website, and from selected loca-tions in Hamilton and Toronto via Uber Eats. The first two batches of the limited edition red wine, produced by Queenston Mile Vineyard in Ontario, quickly sold out. A third and final re-stock was released at the beginning of October.

  As for that wine barrel B&B, it’s located in Essex, Ontario, close to the Detroit border. The unu-sual one-bedroom houseboat is a converted red cedar wine barrel and is moored in the heart of wine country.

  The Airbnb listing notes the floating cabin is just minutes from several major wineries and fea-tures views of lush vineyards as well as an outdoor tiki bar-style kitchen, complete with a sink made from a whisky barrel. The barrel rents for $120 CDN per night. The next available book-ings are in spring 2021. 

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