A Step Inside the Wine Library



The Wine Library and Vinotheque at the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus in Vancouver, Canada are probably unlike any library you’ve ever ventured. There isn’t a stern librarian asking you to “shhh” while glaring over her glasses at you – although, there are few glasses on hand. This is a Wine Library, where row after row of bottles of wine sit, quietly aging, all in the name of advancing wine science. Unlike the other University libraries on campus, it is not open to the public, and you won’t be able to check-out or borrow anything from it, but if you have some fine wine you’d like to lend, you can certainly check it in, and they will even give you a tax receipt for your contribution.

The UBC Wine Library has the capacity to hold upward of 22,000 bottles of wine, and the Vinotheque section houses up to 8000 bottles of the worlds most excellent wines.  The Library currently contains approximately 5000 bottles in its collection and is operating under the careful guidance of Murray B. Isman, Ph.D. FESA FRES, Dean Emeritus and Interim Director of the Wine Research Centre.

The Wine Library was initially established in 2002 by Founding Director Hennie van Vuuren as a research initiative to determine which grape varietals will do best in which micro-climatic areas in British Columbia (BC) and determine how wines produced in the region age. Initially housed in an old storage room in the basement of the Nutritional Science Building, the library now hides behind a beautiful oak door with carefully controlled temperature and humidity, secured by an elaborate security system. The facility is part of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, Wine Research Centre (WRC) and is the second of its kind in Canada (the first at Brock University in Eastern Canada, also founded by van Vuuren). A donation from Mission Hill Family Vineyards, a Kelowna, BC winery, allowed for a tasting room to be built for the library. Perhaps more libraries should incorporate a wine tasting room.

Once the facility was built, the challenge became how to fill the library’s stacks. The early research collection included young wines produced in BC from 1998-2006 from 18 different BC wineries. Each winery donated 24 bottles of wines selected for the study. The wines were aged under precise temperature and humidity-controlled conditions. Time and chemical reactions can augment imperfections in wine, so the original research planned to open each bottle eventually, taste the wine, and chemically analyze it by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry over decades. The analysis was intended to help BC vintners and growers improve their growing techniques and better compete in the international marketplace by providing details related to quality and aging of wines from different microclimatic regions.

At the time the Library was established, little was known about BC wine’s ability to age, as the vines and the wine industry in the region were relatively young. Van Vuuren hoped that the knowledge gained from the aging study would deliver science-based principles to the growers to help them find the right sites to plant specific grape varietals and maximize the Okanagan Valley’s potential to produce outstanding cool climate wines. Things have changed significantly over the past 20 years. The Okanagan wine region now includes hundreds of renowned wineries, is now established on an international level, and receiving awards and accolades from around the world.

All wines have been donated by vintners or private collectors, including some very special bottles of wine. The local wine industry responded exceptionally well to the call to contribute their vintages and provide financial contributions to establish and set-up the wine library. Contributing wineries in the area included Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, Calona Vineyards, Gray Monk Estate Winery, and Tinhorn Creek Winery.

Donations from private collectors have been incredibly valuable and are always welcomed.  Donating can be attractive to collectors for a variety of reasons. Some collectors have accumulated many special vintages over decades and are looking to pare down or trade out bottles from the collection and keep a select few for extra special occasions. In Canada, an individual would have to report any funds from selling wine as revenue, or capital gains and pay 20 percent tax on that money. Additionally, the provincial liquor control board requires a 10 percent cut on any alcohol sold, leaving the seller with 70 percent of their original value. By donating the wine, the donor is given a tax credit for the full appraised value of the wine, as if they had made a cash donation to the University. The winery and private donors tend to be wine connoisseurs with a keen interest in advancing a deeper understanding of the characteristics and composition of excellent wines.

As the region became more established and the vines and knowledge of the winemakers matured and evolved, so has the vision and focus of the Wine Library. The donated wine is now less likely to undergo chemical analysis or be tasted as part of training for winemaking because the small amount needed for any research study would waste an entire bottle of an already established, magnificent wine. These fine wines are a unique asset to the Wine Research Centre and can be leveraged into funding of new and ongoing research projects. The collection includes French, Californian and other fine wines, including Bordeaux first growths dating back to 1945.  The UBC Wine Library is becoming less of a hidden secret in the basement of a campus building. The library and tasting room have hosted dignitaries and special guests in the beautiful space. The full-service kitchen on the floor above has allowed for very special dinners, accompanied by extra special wine, hosted in the intimate and beautiful tasting room. Well-known guests to the Wine Library include Nobel Laureates, Drs. Sydney Brenner and John Sulston as well as Philippe Bascaules, Princess Chulabhorn of Thailand, and Drs. Irving K. Barber and Stewart Blusson, both major donors to UBC.

To learn more about the ongoing research at the UBC Wine Research Centre, visit…http://wine.landfood.ubc.ca/about/wine-research-centre/

 The Wine Library invites potential donors to contribute great wines to this worthy cause, please contact the Wine Research Centre at…604-822-0005