The Okanagan Valley:

Where Business Meets Pleasure

Agribusiness and technology are key drivers of Canada’s economy, often overlapping while each injecting robust earnings to the national GDP.

  Agribusiness generates over $112 billion annually – or 5.8 percent of total GDP – and regularly attracts local and global events related to agricultural production, innovation, and technology.

  Agriculture and Agri-food Canada Research Centres manages 20 research centres across the country, aiming to find better agricultural practices and market opportunities through research and innovation while FoodTech Canada is a network of leading innovation and commercialization centres committed to turning research and development into innovated products for the food and bioproducts industry.

  The technology sector contributes $89.4 billion to the national economy, accounting for 4.8 percent of total GDP. More than 41,500 technology companies make their home in Canada, spanning sub-sectors like artificial intelligence, digital media and interactive entertainment, and cybersecurity.

  The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia holds the unique distinction as a major player in both industries, with agribusiness and technology not only existing harmoniously, but often integrating and inspiring the other.

  Over the past few years, the Okanagan has become a magnet for entrepreneurs and start-ups ready to scale,  as well as a world class destination for agribusiness and technology business events, welcoming conferences seeking direct access to industry expertise and influencers.  A notable example is the invitation only Metabridge Retreat, a high-level networking experience that facilitates connections between Canadian tech CEOs and North American business influencers. The event has been hosted for the past several years in Kelowna, where technology is the fastest-growing economy thanks to an influx of gaming development, animation, medical technology, agricultural technology, and software as a service (SAAS) studios and companies. Indeed, the city has seen year-over-year growth of 15 percent over the past eight years.

  Situated in the heart of wine region, Kelowna is key to the Okanagan’s technology and agribusiness success. Home to thousands of tech, animation and digital media professionals who gravitate to the city’s stunning mountain, lake and vineyard surroundings, the city made waves with the opening of the $35-million Innovation Centre, which unites startups, innovation firms and technology providers with an eye towards building Canada’s most entrepreneurial technology community. Kelowna is likewise an agricultural oasis, housing 794 agri-food businesses, 185 licensed wineries and a cluster of agriculturally focused research facilities like the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus, Summerland Research Centre and the newly opened BC Technical Access Centre for fermented beverages. These institutions, working with industry associations like the BC Tree Fruits, BC Cherry Growers and Certified Organic Associations of BC, have positioned the region as a leader in areas as diverse as tree fruit and wine research, pest management, and precision technologies tracking crop growth and nutraceuticals.

  “While many visitors are aware of the dynamic culinary scene, sweeping landscapes and world-class wineries in the Central Okanagan, they may not be aware of the region’s entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are changing the face of agribusiness and technology,” says   Krista Mallory, manager of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission. “From winemakers leading the charge in regenerative viticulture to cutting-edge research through the University of British Columbia that improves sustainability in agriculture, the region is driving innovation across the country and the continent.”

  While agribusiness and technology are major pillars of the Okanagan Valley, viticulture is particularly prevalent. Sprawled over 155 miles (250 kilometres), the acclaimed wine region – which boasts 84 percent of BC’s vineyard acreage – stretches across a multitude of ecosystems, each with distinct soil and climate conditions suited to growing varietals ranging from sun-ripened reds to crisp whites (indeed, the Okanagan Valley is warmer and more arid than Napa Valley, soaked with nearly two hours more sunlight per day during peak growing season).

  The Okanagan is home to over 182 licensed wineries, as well as 72 beverage companies manufacturing kombucha, mead, spirits and cider, which collectively contribute $2.8 billion to the provincial economy. The majority of these businesses embrace sustainable, biodynamic and innovative winemaking, with spectacular settings adding to the area’s allure for business and leisure travellers alike.

  One example is Tinhorn Creek in Oliver, Canada’s first carbon-neutral winery and one of the first Salmon-Safe certified vineyards in BC. Part of its carbon-neutral efforts includes running winery trucks and tractors on biodiesel, and using organic leftovers from the winemaking process and onsite restaurant Miradoro to fertilize the vines. 

  Another is Frind Estate Winery in West Kelowna, owned by Plenty of Fish founder Markus Frind. Eager to combine his passions of technology and agriculture – and with 500   years of family farming history – Frind leverages cutting-edge technology to craft truly distinctive wines. The first beachfront winery in the world, Fritz Estate Winery regularly stages showstopping events, including festive brunches or high teas in translucent domes that overlook Lake Okanagan.

  Alongside production, wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular, with many wineries offering exceptional dining opportunities, farm tours and tasting adventures for groups of all sizes.

  One of these is Indigenous World Winery, the brainchild of Robert and Bernice Louie, descendants of the Syilx First Nations. Located near Okanagan Lake, the winery is an ideal spot for meetings and events with 2.5 scenic acres showcasing fruit from the land that has supported the Syilx people for 10,000 years.

  Prior to opening the vineyard in 2011, Robert and Bernice joined forces with notable winemaker Jason Parkes to craft wines that could compete at a world level. “The goal was a big award winner,” says Ryan Widdup, sales manager of Indigenous World Winery. “They wanted to open the doors with showpiece red wines.”

  And so they did: in 2015, Indigenous World Winery’s small-batch Simo red won two medals and the first Double Gold Medal. Since then, the awards have kept coming: the 2014 Simo received Double Gold in the 2019 All Canadian Wine Championship, beating out 1,378 entries, and the winery’s elixirs regularly earn gold at international competitions in the US and Europe. In 2020, Robert and Bernie launched an Indigenous Spirits craft alcohol line that incorporates locally sourced botanicals and ingredients with a medicinal history in the Syilx culture.

  Close by, Summerhill Pyramid Winery is a leader in organic wine, incorporating practices such as biodynamic agriculture, permaculture and organic viticulture that have inspired fellow agribusinesses across the region. Owner Ezra Cipes is part of the winery’s second generation; his father arrived to the Okanagan in 1986, where he found the perfect conditions to produce intensely flavoured small grapes – the ideal base for sparkling wine. After entering the organic certification program in 1988, Cipes Senior produced his first vintage in 1991, and the winery received Demeter Biodynamic certification in 2012.

  “My parents helped build the modern wine industry in BC, and were founding members of the BC Vintners Quality Alliance and the BC Wine institute,” said Ezra. “Today, we’re a mid-sized winery, though we have a large team, mostly because of the extensive hospitality we offer.  Event organizers love us, because we have a beautiful restaurant and banquet room, both overlooking the vineyard, lake, and mountains.”

  Summerhill’s event offerings extend beyond farm-to-table catering and tantalizing wine pairings to fully equipped meeting venues, helicopter access and a professional team with extensive experience running large-scale events.

  Whether winery, hotel or dedicated conference venue, Kelowna boasts 110,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as 4,500 total guest rooms. After long days in he boardroom, delegates benefit from a myriad of after-hours pleasure, including five distinct wine trails, three ski resorts and the longest golf season in Canada. The region is ideally suited to meetings with a focus in viticulture, agriculture, technology or manufacturing. Planners also benefit from alluring team building opportunities, robust options for pre- and post-meeting activities, and venues and natural surroundings certain to boost attendance.

  “When organizations choose to meet in the Okanagan, they get to experience more than our dynamic culinary and wine scene and area attractions. They also gain access to local industry thought-leaders and innovators shaping what we eat, and where and how it’s grown,” says Mallory. “There’s a real buzz to the region. We’re looking to the future, and we know that no one wants to miss out on what’s happening in the Okanagan.”

  In Canada, agribusiness leaders will find support from federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as academia and innovation investors. Further simplifying the business process is the pool of destination and sector experts provided by Destination Canada’s Business Events team.

  The team’s specific knowledge of this vast land makes Destination Canada Business Events team an organizer’s first stop for tailoring the right package for their event, whatever the size.

To learn more please visit…businesseventscanada.ca

Lake Erie Northshore:

Ontario’s Lesser-Known VQA Appellation

By: Alyssa Andres

While Ontario wine from the Niagara region continues to grow in popularity on the international market, a lesser-known appellation in the province with an equally rich history of winemaking is going virtually unnoticed. Lake Erie Northshore is a VQA appellation in the southern-most part of Ontario that boasts a unique microclimate, diverse terroir and some of Canada’s oldest vines. Winemakers here produce bold and expressive wines that sell for an incredibly reasonable price point compared to their Niagara counterparts. The appellation is even the home of Canada’s first commercial winery, yet the region is relatively unknown.

  Lake Erie Northshore is quite a small operation compared to the booming wine industry in the Niagara Peninsula. There are currently only 16 wineries in this burgeoning wine region, with an annual production of 19,218/9L cases, according to VQA Ontario. These wineries are producing both red and white wine, as well as sparkling offerings. Riesling is known to thrive here and is made in both sweet and dry styles. With approximately 1,500 acres of vineyard in the appellation, most wineries use estate-grown grapes. Small batch, family-run businesses are common, and there is a lot of experimentation with different grape varietals. Many wineries have a longstanding history in the region, despite being relatively unknown.

  Although currently inconspicuous, early winemakers did not have trouble pinning the Lake Erie Northshore region as an opportune location to produce wine. The first winemakers to travel north and make wine in Canada settled off Lake Erie’s coast in the early 1860s, on an island known today as Pelee Island. The 10,000-acre island, with sprawling forest and a diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna, was an idyllic location to start a winery. The three Kentucky farmers planted 25 acres of vineyards in 1866, establishing “Vin Villa” as the country’s first commercial winery. The original building still stands for tourists to visit today, but the island has evolved dramatically.

  Today, Pelee Island is home to Lake Erie Northshore’s only sub-appellation, South Islands VQA. It features the most extensive planting of European vinifera in the country – all owned and operated by a single winery. Pelee Island Winery established themselves in 1979, and, in 1980, over 100 years after the original vines were planted, they replanted the vineyards with premium Vitis vinifera. The terroir on the island is well developed and fertile, with highly calcareous soils and intense biological activity. Today, the winery has over 700 acres of vineyard growing an array of white and black varietals, including unexpected, late-ripening grapes such as Tempranillo and Chambourcin. The winery also grows Zweigelt, Lemberger and Tocai Friulano (Sauvignon Vert), to name just a few of the 18+ varietals on the island. Their expansive vineyards make Pelee Island Winery Canada’s largest private estate winery, with an annual production of 8,278/9L cases.

  Pelee’s Island’s best vineyards sit at its center, where the soil is deepest. President and Head winemaker, Walter Schmoranz, practices sustainable winemaking using 100% island grown natural fertilizer made from sorghum grass. He is known as one of the Canadian wine industry’s pioneers, hailing from Ruedesheim, one of Germany’s finest winemaking regions, and joining Pelee Island Winery in 1986. Since taking on the head winemaker role, Pelee Island Winery has won hundreds of national and international awards for their wine, including the Citadelle de France Gold Medal for their 2002 Cabernet Franc Icewine. Their award-winning Vinedresser series is a spectacular example of great value wine at only $19.95 a bottle.

  Pelee Island is located 32 kilometers south of the mainland and is the most southerly point in Canada, similar in latitude to Madrid and the French Riviera (N41°45’). The island has the longest growing season of any other viticultural region in the country. For this reason, it is the best location in Canada for late-ripening varietals. The island is extremely flat, with the highest elevation only 12 meters above the lake, allowing for even ripening of all the grapes. Lake Erie, the shallowest of all the Great Lakes, warms the vineyards early in the spring and throughout harvest, extending the growing season by more than 30 days in certain vintages compared to vineyards on the shoreline. The soil is sandy loam and clay over limestone bedrock, similar to the mainland.

  The mainland of Lake Erie Northshore appellation is a bow-shaped peninsula, surrounded by Lake Erie, the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair. Glacial lakes that used to reside in the area caused large amounts of stone matter to deposit along the shoreline. While water levels retreated in most areas of the Great Lakes, levels in Lake Erie remained high, and the continuous washing of waves over the rocks created large amounts of sediment that now make up the terroir along the shores. This means the soil here is quite complex, with sandy loam, gravel and small stony ridges that overlay shale limestone bedrock. A large ridge, known as Colchester Ridge, formed along the peninsula as the ice age passed through the region.

  Many of the region’s best wineries have set up their businesses along the ridge of the peninsula where higher than average winds reduce the risk of disease, and the soil is well-drained.  Elevations here vary from 172 to 196 meters above sea level, with a maritime climate that sees lots of sun. Lake Erie Northshore has the highest number of heat units of all Ontario VQA regions due to its southerly location and the lake’s insulating effect. Harvest can start as early as August in some vintages, and late harvest varietals are usually at their peak by the end of October. Limited frost and lake-effect snow help protect the vines through the winter months.

  In 1980, Colio Estate Wines became one of the original wineries to establish themselves on the north shore and take advantage of these prime growing conditions. Late winemaker, Carlo Negri, was a leader in the region from the start and extremely confident of its potential. Today, the 200-acre winery is known internationally, with over 400 awards for its wines. Negri won Ontario Winemaker of the Year in 2005 before passing away in 2014.

  While Colio Estate and Pelee Island Winery are both examples of thriving large-scale producers in Lake Erie Northshore, most of the wineries there are small-scale, family-run businesses producing small-batch wine. Many of them also experiment with innovative techniques and unique varietals.

  An exciting example of this is the Hounds of Erie Winery, located in Lake Erie Northshore, just 2.5 kilometers from the shoreline. Here, husband and wife duo Mat and Melissa Vaughan have started a boutique, dog-friendly winery that offers unique French vinifera plantings. In 2012, the couple started with a small test vineyard but have since expanded their operation, specializing in modern hybrid grapes including Frontenac Blanc, Marquette, Petite Pearl and L’Acadie Blanc. Since opening their winery, the couple has continued to experiment and expand, testing new trellis systems and adding more French vinifera to their 23-acre farm. In 2019, the couple started a test vineyard of Crimson Pearl, and 2020 brought even further vineyard expansion with the addition of Petite Louise to the Hounds of Erie portfolio. The Vaughans also grow a selection of heritage apples used for their lineup of hard ciders.

  As Ontario wine continues to gain popularity and more wine lovers and connoisseurs take notice of VQA wine, it is the hope that Lake Erie Northshore will start to gain more notability and popularity in the world of wine. The combination of location, topography, and terroir, alongside the passion of the winemakers who reside here, results in rich and robust wine. Old vines, lots of sun and a long growing season produce bold and intense flavors with complex aromas and a lasting finish. With such a rich history of winemaking in this part of Canada, there is no doubt that Lake Erie Northshore will continue to grow and develop a name for itself. For now, this lesser-known appellation remains a hidden gem in Ontario VQA.

In Search of Vermouth

By: Stuart Laidlaw

In North America, vermouth is often misunderstood and unloved. Until the early 2000s, it was used in two ways: a splash of dry vermouth for martinis (the less, the better) and a jigger of sweet for manhattans. Half the time, the vermouth would be spoiled or flat and lifeless due to infrequent use and room temperature storage. Nowadays, as consumers broaden their horizons to include aperitivo hour and drinks like the ubiquitous spritz, there is more interest in vermouth than ever before. For Canada’s winemakers, vermouth offers another way to express themselves and a potential new revenue source.

History

  Although other aromatized, fortified wines predate it, vermouth, as we know it now, was first introduced in Turin, Italy, in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. His sweet red vermouth is still produced today as Carpano Antica Formula. Then, around 1800, Joseph Noilly made the first dry white vermouth in southern France – it too is still produced today as Noilly Prat. The third style of vermouth, blanc or bianco, followed shortly thereafter from Dolin in France and Gancia in Italy, completing the foundation of the category.

  Today vermouth is being made in uniquely local styles around the world, broadening its expected flavor palette beyond its traditional expectations. In Spain, oxidative wines are used by producers like Lustau and Guerra to make a new hybrid style of sherry-inflected vermouths. In the U.S., producers such as Vya and Hammer & Tongs draw on inspirations both local and exotic, using botanicals as diverse as frankincense, turmeric, cardoon and alfalfa.

  Amongst Canadian wineries and consumers, vermouth has struggled to find its footing. Although fortified wine was one of the first types of wine to be produced commercially in Canada, it was made from non-vinifera grapes, blended with imported table wine, and fortified with neutral alcohol to make a generically sweet, strong and cheap wine. These styles of fortified wine have historically been the country’s bestselling fortified wines, leading to a stigma that has tarnished the entire category. However, as Canada’s craft spirits culture continues to mature, a handful of wineries and distilleries have seen the opportunity that vermouth offers.

Low ABV Workhorse

  The last few years have seen the rise of health and wellness trends across the food and beverage sector, leading to a significant increase in the number of people actively trying to curb their alcohol intake. Every year more people participate in Dry January and carry some of those good intentions into the following months. In response to the increasing demand for low ABV drinks, Canadian cocktail bars have begun featuring vermouth spritzes and cocktails as low ABV alternatives to the more traditional gin, whisky or vodka drinks. For example, Bar Raval in Toronto, named Canada’s best bar two years in a row, specializes in sherry and vermouth-based cocktails. One of their menu mainstays is the Logroni, a low ABV version of a Negroni.

  One of the clearest signs of the interest in healthier beverages has been the boom of ready-to-drink hard seltzers. Here too, vermouth has a role to play, with its versatility being key. 2020 saw the release of Canada’s first vermouth-based RTD, made by Revel Cider Company, who make both cider and natural wine. They start with a wine made from apples, pears and blue plums, aromatize it with locally foraged botanicals, re-ferment it, and can it at 4.4% ABV with zero residual sugar. Although it is the first drink of its kind in Canada, the current thirst for RTDs and the need for new types and flavors to meet consumer demand make it unlikely that this will be the last.

Diverse Origins

  Unencumbered by the traditions of the Old World, vermouths in Canada are made by people from a wide range of backgrounds. Although someone who makes vermouth is by definition a winemaker, not all start out that way. In addition to trained winemakers, vermouth attracts distillers and even craft soda producers. Quinn and Michela Palmer founded Esquimalt Wine Company in Vancouver following the success of their previous company, Rootside Soda. While learning about botanicals for their soft drinks (e.g., artisanal tonic water and rosehip soda), they became interested in aromatized wines, and since 2019 have released an award-winning range of vermouths, including a Quinquina, a largely forgotten bitter relative of vermouth.

  Canada’s first craft vermouth was made in 2015 by Odd Society Spirits in Vancouver. Being the first came with a particular disadvantage for founder and distiller Gordon Glanz. He was the first micro-distillery forced to navigate British Columbia’s licensing system to make a product that requires both a winemaking license and a distilling license. Unfortunately for Gordon, the system is designed to keep beer, wine and liquor licenses separate for taxation purposes. In the end, Glanz acquired a separate winemaking license and produced something that belongs to both the Old World and the new. Although it is in many ways a traditional Italian-style sweet vermouth, the base of local wine is fortified with Odd Society’s own malted barley spirit, instead of the standard neutral grain alcohol, brandy or eau-de-vie – perhaps a nod to Canada’s depth of whisky heritage, and an affirmation of the distiller’s commitment to experimentation.

  The most recent addition to Canada’s vermouth portfolio is from a more established producer, Tawse Winery. Founded by Moray Tawse in 2005, the winery is one of the Niagara Region’s largest organic winemakers. In 2019, Moray and Paul Pender, Director of Viticulture and Winemaking, oversaw the installation of a micro-distillery on-site and immediately set about making a bianco vermouth. They took inspiration from the Burgundian tradition of a traveling distiller going from winery to winery, pulling a still with a tractor, to distill each winery’s pomace into marc (similar to grappa). At Tawse, they use their Riesling as the base for their vermouth, then make marc from the Riesling pomace and use it to fortify the wine. The resulting vermouth is high in acidity and has 22 grams of residual sugar, making it uniquely mouthwatering. Although Tawse vermouth comes from a very different place than Odd Society’s and Esquimalt’s, they are still bound by a commitment to using locally sourced ingredients and introducing their own perspectives to a traditionally staid product.

The Future of Vermouth

  2020 has put on hold many projections and forecasts, but one trend that seems unaffected is the increased interest in premium alcoholic beverages. This bodes well for the growth of Canada’s domestic vermouth category. It can be easy to focus on the explosion of interest in bourbon, agave spirits and craft beer. Still, in developed markets like the U.S. and the U.K., premium wine sales have outpaced other drink categories. According to a report from Impact Databank, U.S. sales of bottled wine priced $20 and over increased by 30% from January to September 2020. Craft vermouth fits neatly at this nexus of the upswing in premium wine sales, the craft cocktail market’s continued maturation and the fast-developing enthusiasm for low ABV drinks.

  Consumers will grow more accustomed to seeing vermouth-forward cocktails on drink menus, and vermouth made with locally foraged botanicals paired with courses on restaurant tasting menus. At the liquor store, they will see well-packaged, sleekly branded, Canadian-produced vermouth sold alongside the French and Italian standard-bearers, and low ABV, low calorie, vermouth-based RTDs next to the beer. Although Tawse is by no means a big producer, they are well-established and highly respected; the resources they have committed to their vermouth say a lot about the category’s potential. If they can solidify their annual production and sales, it will signal to other wineries that there is room for growth in the category and the potential to tap into a new revenue stream.

  In some ways, Tawse has laid out a roadmap for other wineries to follow. The ability to experiment with different grape varietals to create a unique flavor profile, and the integration of the distilling side of things by dint of having their own pomace to use, makes table wine producers well suited to adding vermouth to their portfolios. Now, if they can just remind customers to keep their vermouth in the fridge, this could be the beginning of something big.

Defining the Best Single-Vineyards in the Niagara Peninsula

By: Alyssa Andres

The Niagara Peninsula is the largest viticultural area in Canada, with two regional appellations and ten sub-appellations. The peninsula sits between the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario, creating a unique microclimate that is sheltered from prevailing winds and insulated by its proximity to the lake.  Many small rivers and streams in the area provide an excellent water source for vineyards through the long dry summers, and the soft aspect of the escarpment provides excellent drainage. Centuries of erosion have created a complex soil structure that varies from location to location within the regional appellations, from clay and silt to limestone and sand. The unique variations in soil are ideal for creating wines with distinct character and personality.

  These marked distinctions in terroir and climate mean that a Cabernet Franc will taste remarkably different from one vineyard to the next within the peninsula. Some winemakers believe there is definitive variation in grapes even from one end of a single-vineyard to the next. For this reason, some Niagara wineries are moving toward labeling their wines by single-vineyard and starting to define what the best vineyards are in the region.

  Just like the Grand Cru vineyards in France, certain vineyards in Niagara stand out as being supreme. Cave Spring is a vineyard that first rose to esteem as one of the finest in the region. Located in the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation of the Niagara Escarpment, it is owned by the winemaking family, the Pennachettis. The vineyard gets its name from the limestone caves and natural springs that surround it.

  Cave Spring Vineyard sits along the steep cliffs of the escarpment, planted on gently sloping hills that provide optimal drainage and retain ample moisture during the Mediterranean summers experienced in the region. The escarpment also captures the temperate lake effect breezes from Lake Ontario, which lengthen the growing season and allow for optimal flavor and ripeness in the grapes. Above, on the ridge of the escarpment, the vineyard is surrounded by hardwood forest. The forest retains plenty of moisture that slowly filters through layers of sedimentary rock, feeding mineral-rich water into the vineyard. The soil is a stony clay: a complex mixture of limestone, shale and sandstone that give Cave Spring’s wine a distinct minerality.

  Cave Spring focuses on Riesling and Chardonnay, which the Pennachetti family believes exhibit the ultimate expression of the vineyard’s terroir. They use only the top 5% of grapes from the best blocks and parcels in the vineyard for their CSV estate release. Some of their old vines date as far back as the mid-1970s. The wines are delicate and aromatic with notes of melon, lime, white blossom and a characteristic wet stone that comes from the vineyard’s terroir.

  Both the Riesling and Chardonnay are dry, with vibrant acidity and bright fruit flavors achieved from the vineyard’s ideal location. CSV wines are only produced in the best vintages when the growing season allows for it, but the Pennachettis say there are few years that conditions do not permit, due to the vineyard’s premium locale.

  Down the road from Cave Spring Vineyard, in the Twenty Mile Bench VQA sub-appellation, Tawse  

Winery is also making note of their ideal single-vineyard locations. Owner and founder Moray Tawse purchased his first vineyard in 2000 and now owns over 200 acres of prime grape-growing real estate in the Niagara Escarpment. All four of his vineyards are comprised of limestone clay loam, which gives Tawse wines a unique depth and character. Tawse is not only labeling his wines by single-vineyard, but he has also divided the vineyards into different blocks so he can further define the terroir within each plot. The Cherry Avenue Vineyard has three blocks, each named after his three children: Robyn, Carly and David. Each block is home to different grape varietals, from Riesling to Cab Franc, each thriving in the vineyard’s deep clay soil.

  Tawse winemakers practice organic and biodynamic farming as well as minimal intervention winemaking techniques to allow the resulting wines to display as much of the vineyard’s terroir as possible. The variation between each single-varietal estate bottle is surprising as each plot receives varying amounts of sunlight, precipitation and drainage. Having an array of different plots allows Tawse to pick and choose which of his grapes he uses for single-varietal each year, as growing conditions vary dramatically from season to season.

  For this reason, some winemakers in Niagara choose not to purchase the best land in the region, but instead, act as classic French “negotients” and buy the best grapes from a multitude of different growers and vineyards in the area. This allows them to pick and choose where they get their grapes instead of being tied down to a specific plot.

  One winemaker in Niagara working this way is Thomas Bachelder. He has made it one of his goals to define the best single-vineyard plots in the region. Originally from Quebec, Bachelder started his winemaking education in Burgundy, where he became extremely interested in terroir and its impact on wine. After producing wine in Burgundy and Oregon, Bachelder settled in Niagara, where he specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He labels his wines with the name of the single-vineyard, and his latest release goes as far as to define the different ends of these single-vineyards.

  In his most recent release, Bachelder produced three Chardonnays and four Pinot Noirs from five different vineyards in the Niagara Escarpment.

  Three of these vineyards are part of the Wismer Vineyards, a collection of eight farms in the Twenty Mile Bench that are becoming known within the region as some of the best for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Two of Bachelder’s 2018 Pinot Noirs are single-varietals from the Wismer-Parke vineyard, but one is made using only grapes from the vineyard’s west side. The 2018 Wismer-Parke “Wild West End” has a distinct iron, flesh and game note that the other sides of the vineyard do not offer.

  Therefore, Bachelder has taken the notion of single-vineyard and brought it one step further, defining the unique flavor profiles found from one end of a vineyard to the next. 

  One of Bachelder’s other favorite vineyards in the Niagara region is the Lowrey Vineyard. Two of his 2018 single-vineyard Pinot Noirs are made with grapes from Lowrey, one using only Pinot Noir from the oldest vines on the property, planted in 1984. Located in the St. David’s Bench sub-appellation, the vineyard is owned by the Lowrey family, who have farmed the land for five generations. The family turned from fruit farming to grape growing in 1984 when Howard Wesley Lowrey first planted five rows of Pinot Noir.

  Since then, the Lowreys have been supplying grapes to some of Canada’s most prestigious winemakers, including Ilya Senchuk from Leaning Post Wines and Kevin Panagapka from 2027 vineyards. However, the Lowrey’s keep a small percentage of the grapes from their 35 acres of farmland for their craft wine, Five Rows.

  Five Rows Craft Wine has become well-known in the region for producing beautiful, complex wines that sell out before anyone can get their hands on them. The family takes a minimal intervention approach to their winemaking, avoiding artificial pest control and fertilizers, with the intention of producing wines that are truly characteristic of their vineyard. They tend to the vines by hand and treat each vine as an individual to ensure optimal fruit quality. Their hands-on approach produces some of the most highly sought after grapes and wine in the Niagara region, from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah to Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

  All of their fruit comes from their vineyard, and only small quantities are produced. The extra love and attention given to the vines pay off. By focusing on quality over quantity, the Lowreys have defined their vineyard as one of the best in the region.

  By labeling single-vineyard locations, Niagara winemakers can clearly define why their wines are superior. Just like winemakers in Burgundy and Bordeaux, who are known for their specific Grand Cru sites, Niagara is in the process of developing a similar map.

  Now, consumers can learn what vineyards to look out for and start to understand the flavor profiles of different sites compared to others. The diversity in terroir, elevation and climate in the Niagara region means that flavors can vary dramatically from vineyard to vineyard. It is important to define extraordinary vineyards and understand why they are so special.

   As this burgeoning winemaking region continues to grow and businesses expand to accommodate the market, these are the areas that need to be protected. By defining the best single-vineyards and including them on the bottle, Niagara winemakers can display the complexities found in each of these sites and clearly exhibit the impact these locations have on the wine.

  The vineyards start to take on their own personalities, and consumers can begin to taste the characteristics of each one. It’s the next step in the future of Niagara wines.

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. 

The Mad Scientists of the Niagara Peninsula

By: Alyssa Andres

Many wine regions of the world are known for producing a certain style of wine. In many Old World wine regions, they are bound by laws as well as centuries of tradition to grow only particular grapes and use specific techniques in their vineyard and winery. In Ontario, Canada, winemakers have the complete freedom to play around with their winemaking styles and manipulate their grapes as they see fit. From the varietals they grow to the way they ferment and age their wines, nothing is off-limits. As an extremely youthful winemaking region, Ontario is still discovering what it can do. In the Niagara Peninsula, there are a few winemakers determined to push it to the next level.

Unexpected

At Big Head Wines, father and son duo, Andrzej and Jakub Lipinski, are two winemakers that have been evolving and growing their practices over the past decade in the Niagara-on-the-Lake sub-region. As a family that dedicates the majority of their time to their winery, they started experimenting with different winemaking styles and techniques as a way to keep interested in wine. Jakub says he was initially hesitant to try different techniques for the general public but would play around for friends and family to see what kind of results he could yield with various out-of-the-box methods. After several years of experimentation, the Lipinskis learned that these methods created wines with more character and interest than the average bottle.

  Big Head Wines started out producing big Bordeaux style blends but has since introduced the Big Head Raw Series to their line of wines. The Raw series uses minimal intervention techniques, wild fermentation, whole cluster carbonic maceration, and is bottled completely unfiltered. The Raw White series was the first to be released in 2016 and featured three single varietal offerings: Pinot Gris, Savagnin and Chenin Blanc. They could not keep the bottles on the shelves. A year later, the Big Head Raw Red series was released and featured Syrah, Petit Verdot and Pinot Noir in the same style. Again these wines were met with rave reviews. The Raw Series has serious weight and depth but also the potential to develop beautifully over time. The flavors in each bottle are complex and often unexpected, and these nuances will come out even more as they age.

  Today, the father and son are using carbonic maceration on just about everything in the winery, from Gewurtztraminer to Malbec. They believe this technique unlocks the full potential of the grapes, specifically when it comes to aromatics. Jakub Lipinski says he has not had a bad experience using carbonic on any grape varietal – red or white – and will continue to explore the possibilities within that style of winemaking. Their latest Big Head Raw release is a Cabernet Sauvignon using a variation of this technique. While the wine is low intervention, the process of producing it is still incredibly labor-intensive. The Cabernet grapes are sun-dried appassimento-style before undergoing carbonic maceration for ten days. They are then pumped over for two weeks before being destemmed. After being destemmed, the skins are added back into the wine and aged in clay for five months before being bottled unfiltered. The result is a wine with much more depth and complexity than the typical big, overly oaked Cabernets that have become so common in the liquor stores.

  The Lipinskis believe the market is changing, and more and more of their audience is interested in something new and different. Some people are interested in a Chardonnay with notes of gunpowder and matchstick or a Pinot Gris that drinks more like a Pinot Noir. Wine lovers are becoming more open to alternative notes and more interested in the process behind the winemaking.

Unbound

  Head winemaker, Ryan Corrigan, of Rosewood Estates Winery, also believes that people want to hear the story behind the wine and that North Americans are no longer as brand loyal as they used to be. Many wine lovers are constantly looking for the newest, coolest thing. That is why he’s decided to turn his winery into a full-out research and development lab where he can develop new styles, flavors and textures in Ontario wine that no one has ever tasted before.

  Winemaker at Rosewood since 2016, Corrigan takes a traditional approach in his winemaking with the intention of getting to the root, or “the heart,” of each varietal. He is transparent in his methods and as mindful as possible in his practices. While his craft approach to winemaking is not new, it is something that has been neglected by many modern-day winemakers, who instead opt for high volume and quick production. For Corrigan, patience is a virtue. He will literally take years to create some of his wines, playing around with and combining different techniques to see how they affect the final product’s flavor and aroma.

  Unbound by any rules or traditions, Corrigan creates everything from skin contact white wines to meads using honey from the winery’s extensive apiary program. The winemaker-meets-mad-scientist is also concocting a Vermouth and Amaro using different types of oak barrels, and he is experimenting with co-fermenting honey with wine and apple cider. The results are a huge hit. The skin contact white, Pure Imagination, sold out three weeks after being released. Rosewood’s 2019 Pet Nat, Nebulous, sold out in 15 minutes and has inspired Corrigan to create a white Pet Nat using Muscat grapes. Their 2019 Flora Rosé was also hugely successful.

  The time and care Corrigan puts into creating his wine has definitely paid off. The winery has a huge following awaiting his newest releases. One of these releases will be a sparkling wine that uses the solera method on the base wine to add a different layer of texture and body as well as oxidative notes reminiscent of sherry. Corrigan is also playing around with oxidative effects in red wines. He is trying to uncover the true potential of the grapes.

  As a very young and emerging wine region, Corrigan believes Ontario has an opportunity to become world-class, offering never before seen flavors. By manipulating the grapes using a multitude of methods, he intends to discover everything that Ontario grapes are capable of and how to represent that best.

Unique

  Another winemaker creating unique representations of Niagara grapes is Ilya Senchuk of Leaning Post Winery in Stoney Creek, Ontario. The long-time winemaker and his wife, Nadia, bought their property in 2011 and has since been creating wine with the goal of expressing the unique terroir of the region. He uses minimal intervention techniques and traditional methods of winemaking to allow this terroir to shine.

  Senchuk has taken this concept one step further with his line of wines aptly titled Freaks & Geeks. This series is as odd as it is unexpected. For The Geek Riesling, Senchuk uses the solera method on Riesling grapes to create a robust expression of the typically delicate grape. Currently in its fourth vintage, 2017’s The Geek rested for 22 months on the lees from all three previous vintages before being racked and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The resulting wine is a combination of stone fruit, mineral and flint with a creamy texture and complex aroma.

  The Freak Pinot Noir is an entirely sulfite-free wine using 100% whole clusters. The grapes are hand-picked, hand-sorted and hand-punched down twice a day for three and a half weeks. The wine is then transferred to barrel, where it undergoes spontaneous malolactic fermentation and stays for 10 months before a single racking and bottling without fining or filtration. The Freak has distinct earthy notes combined with dark red fruit and a lengthy finish. These bottles are only two from Senchuk’s experimental series that draw wine “geeks” to the tasting room each day. Not available in the liquor store, guests come from far and wide to visit the retail location to get their hands on these bottles.

  Wine lovers and connoisseurs are jumping on these funky new releases and encouraging the Ontario wine industry to continue to develop in this way. Palates are changing, and flavors like pencil shavings, tar and mushroom are becoming welcomed additions to a bottle. Many consumers are moving toward more natural styles of wine that use fewer sulfites and less human intervention. Ontario’s newest winemakers are taking advantage of this changing market and taking the opportunity to explore the possibilities of winemaking within the region. Without anything holding them back, winemakers like Senchuk, Corrigan and the Lipinskis can make decisions in their wineries that would be considered by some to be unorthodox. But, by experimenting with new varietals, techniques and combinations, these winemakers produce examples of wine that have never been seen before. While many winemaking regions continue to play it safe and pump out big, juicy reds and light, crisp whites, expect to see the unexpected coming out of Ontario.

Understanding the Domino Effect of the European Wine Tariffs

By: Tracey L. Kelley

At press time, the Office of the United States Trade Representative is deciding the revised outcome of a controversial decision from 2019: an increase in import tariffs for European wines by 25%. This action is part of a World Trade Organization judgment against the European Union to end subsidies granted to aerospace giant Airbus. The USTR issued the tariff hike in response to what it believed to be an unfair disadvantage to U.S.-based competitor Boeing.

  In February 2020, the USTR announced it wouldn’t raise European wine tariffs to 100%, but for the upcoming review, it’s unclear if last year’s decision will be upheld, or if those WTO tariffs will shift to other European products. 

  To provide a more tailored scope of the issue, The Grapevine Magazine talked with Benjamin Aneff, president of the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance and managing partner of Tribeca Wine Merchants in New York City; and Eric Faber, chief operating officer of Cutting Edge Solutions in Cincinnati, a wine import and distribution business.

Why the Tariffs Create Conflict

  The Grapevine Magazine (GV): Let’s break down the issue for the layperson: what does U.S. and European wine have to do with Airbus and Boeing?

  Benjamin Aneff (BA): Great question. Nothing. Unfortunately, the USTR has decided to put large tariffs on most wines from the EU because of the dispute involving Airbus and Boeing. It’s incredibly unfortunate, given that these tariffs do roughly four times the economic damage to U.S. businesses than they do their targets overseas. They’re back-firing and hurting mostly small, family-owned businesses in the U.S.

  Eric Faber (EF): I’ve heard the arguments that these tariffs protect American jobs, that people can just buy domestic wines instead of European. In some cases, this may be true, but to believe this about the wine industry shows a complete lack of understanding into how our industry uniquely works and how it’s connected. These connections exist based on an industry that is among the most regulated in the U.S. Companies shouldn’t be asked to change their business model because of an international trade dispute of an unrelated industry.

  The truth is that these tariffs may cause job losses and business closures in Europe, but they will cause job losses for the American small businesses who rely on these wines for their livelihood. Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer, the USTR, can try to tell us it will simply lead to new American jobs, but that only shows his lack of knowledge about our industry.

  It’s an industry that—unlike Boeing and Airbus—has always paid its fair share of taxes. In fact, the regulation of alcohol means we pay more than most businesses. We don’t get the tax breaks that massive companies like Boeing, Amazon, Apple and others enjoy. Taxes on the alcohol industry help provide billions of dollars to state and local governments. And we’re more than happy to do so, but we shouldn’t be burdened as a result of the poor practices of two of the largest companies on the planet.

  Airbus has recently offered a solution to this entire dispute, and it’s equivalent to the changes made in regard to Boeing. If the goal is to punish Airbus for its misgivings, then punish that industry. But leave the lives of millions of hard-working Americans who aren’t affiliated out of it.

  GV: What would be the direct impact of the 25% tariff increase on small- to medium-sized producers/vintners, and what tangible change happens for them if it’s defeated?

  (BA): Well, ending these tariffs would certainly help small- to medium-sized producers in the U.S., particularly producers looking for distributors that rely on this access to market. These are the companies that actually make sure those small producers in, say, Oregon or California, can make it to the shelf of a wine store or get poured in a restaurant in Chicago, Dallas or New York.

  When distributors are having trouble financially—which they are now due to the tariffs—it’s much harder for them to take the risk of bringing on a new U.S. producer, which generally are unknown and require time and capital investments from distributors. It’s less clear how it helps producers in, say, France.

  There’s pre-pandemic data from the Global Trade Atlas that showed, despite a huge drop in wine exports from France to the U.S. after the enactment of the tariffs, the overall wine exports from France actually grew. In a nutshell, they sold their wine elsewhere. This is just one of the reasons why these tariffs are such a bad idea. They do significantly more damage to the U.S., and they’re incredibly unlikely to influence the EU to change behavior.

  (EF): Should the tariff be justifiably rolled back, things will mostly go back to normal. I say “mostly” because the pandemic has its own role to play in our industry, which adds to the need for the tariffs to be lifted.

  The European wineries we work with love the American wine market and experiencing the amazing wine and restaurant culture so many Americans have worked hard to create. Right now, they’re facing difficult choices about where to sell their products and how to maintain their businesses in the face of tariffs. I think it’s important for Americans to know that the effect on European wineries isn’t money lost from paying the tariffs—because American businesses pay them. It’s from lost sales due to price increases and importers downsizing or going out of business.

  From a larger view, you don’t have to look farther back into our history than the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 to see the negative effects tariffs can have on our own economy and the global economy we’re part of. It turned a difficult recession into the Great Depression. It set people back 20 years and created a “lost generation” across the world. These tariffs will harm people across the globe, so by lifting them, we give small businesses—specifically here at home—the opportunity to be successful, experience growth and create jobs.  

The Domino Effect

  GV: As an example, how does an import/distribution company balance its portfolio to include both international and U.S. wine products?

  (EF): We strive to have a portfolio that represents top producers from around the world, specifically boutique producers that fit our model in terms of quality and price point. Domestic wines are the backbone of our portfolio. 

  Like most small distributors, it’s important to have a good mix of products from around the world so we can provide our accounts with a wide variety of options. Domestic wines are certainly a large part of this, and the balance is largely driven by the demands of our customers and the wine-buying public. For us to be successful, we work with producers that we believe in and that our customers have a desire to purchase. While we have very strict standards for the producers we add to our portfolio, we’re ultimately driven by the market.

  The other part of this is profitability. We typically work on lower margins on domestic wines than we do on imported wines, specifically the wines we import ourselves. The slightly-higher margins we make on European wines allow us to keep our prices on our domestic portfolio lower. This is commonplace for most companies in our industry.

  GV: What type of trickle-down effect does the tariff issue have?

  EF: The tariff has an enormous impact on importers and distributors. Many people who argue the tariffs are a penalty on the producers, or the countries on which they have been levied, are simply wrong. We pay the tariffs—not the producers and not the EU.

  A 25% tariff means prices on those products have to go up for importers and distributors to maintain their ability to function. In a state like Ohio, for example, we’re legally required to have a certain margin to our accounts to maintain state tax revenue. We legally can’t make less on the wines, so we have to charge more. This means our retailers and restaurants must raise their prices to the consumer.

  While this may not be the case in every state, no industry could suddenly take a loss of 25% or even 15% of its margin and still be successful. How do people pay employees if they don’t make any money on the products they sell?

  In terms of how this affects domestic producers, the biggest issue outside of distribution is money. Our industry works on “terms”—meaning, we pay for our products typically 30 days after receiving them. This model has been set for decades. But with tariffs, they’re paid as the product clears customs. This creates a significant problem in terms of cash flow.

  So if we’re typically paying a few thousand dollars to clear product into the country, and suddenly have to pay upwards of $25,000, that depletes our bank account in a way our long-standing model wasn’t prepared for and makes it more difficult to pay our domestic suppliers on time.

  We also have to pay our employees, our bills and our taxes. If it takes longer for our domestic partners to get paid, this cash flow problem moves on to them, then to their vendors.

  GV: If certain import relationships fail, do fewer distributors mean fewer channels of retail and restaurant opportunities for U.S. products? Why?

  EF: That’s an excellent question and raises one of the most important points of this debate. If our company relies on a mix of producers from the U.S., Europe and other countries to be successful, then eliminating sales from one of these avenues would force us to close. If companies like Cutting Edge go out of business or contract significantly less, who will sell domestic wines to restaurants or independent retailers that the wineries rely on as the largest part of their sales network? For most domestic wineries, they can’t sustain their business through direct-to-consumer sales alone.

  This leaves wineries without a home. It’s not as simple as just finding another distributor if you’re a domestic winery. Boutique American wineries need to be in a portfolio that gives their products appropriate attention to attract sales and create valuable placements in restaurants and independent retail. They have to find someone who cares about their wines and their stories, someone who can pay for the products, and who can actively promote their products to accounts and consumers.

  Larger, multi-state distributors typically don’t work with smaller domestic producers because it isn’t a part of their business model. They have obligations to their own, typically larger and more corporate, partners. This means that smaller wineries have no focus in their portfolio.

  To sum it up from the point of view of our domestic producers: if 20 Oregon producers suddenly lose their distribution in a state like Ohio, maybe 10 will eventually find a new home and those that do will likely lose significant sales because the new distributor has to essentially re-build the brand in its own portfolio. This is especially daunting when you look at the current climate in our industry as a result of COVID-19. If a producer loses representation in just a small number of states, especially now, it would likely lead to bankruptcy.

  GV: Please explain why a zero-tariff policy on wine imports benefits U.S. producers/vintners in our wine industry.

  BA: Wine from the EU is a keystone species for the health of the U.S. wine market. It represents critical profit margins for tens of thousands of U.S. wine businesses–the same businesses that sell wines from the United States. If those businesses are weak, it’s going to be harder for them to adequately support particularly small- and medium-sized U.S. producers.

  Those wines are often handsels from distributors, retailers and restaurants. That means you need more staff, more time for training, more samples. Further, there may come a point where U.S. distributors are so weakened by tariffs that they’re forced to ask for lower prices from everyone. That’s what happens when companies industry-wide are faced with such hardship. U.S. domestic producers could be one of the first impacted by this need.

  Bottom line, the entire wine industry, from producers to distributors, to restaurants and retailers, are significantly better off when there aren’t tariffs on wine.

Make Connections in Congress

  GV: At press time, the U.S. will have experienced more than 5 million COVID cases, and many wineries continue to be shuttered or downsized in production and tourism. How do you encourage them to take an active stance on this issue when so many other factors have them at a disadvantage? What immediate results will they see from their activism?

  EF: We’ve worked with dozens of domestic wineries to raise awareness of the tariff situation and how it will negatively affect them. I’ve spoken to many of them personally to get them involved, as have countless other distributors. No independent domestic winery thinks the tariffs will benefit them in the short- or long-term.

  We’ve helped provide information on how to contact their elected officials and make their case to members of Congress, the administration, and the USTR. Many have spoken out publicly to condemn the tariffs. People like Jason Lett of Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon have led the charge to raise awareness amongst their peers. They need a strong economy here at home to promote their brands and continue to operate their businesses, and strong partnerships with successful distributors to weather the current storm.

  It’s tough to say what results any of us will see from our activism on this issue because we don’t get to make the final decision. As a community, we have been able to gain support from elected officials from both sides of the aisle and raise public awareness of the negative effects the tariffs will have. Hopefully, awareness will lead to a better understanding of why it’s so important to remove the tariffs currently in place.

  Truly, if there’s anything positive from the battle against tariffs, it’s been the coming together of so many in our industry from all facets: importers, distributors, domestic producers, European producers, restaurants and retailers. I’ve even had wineries we work with in Australia and Chile ask how they can help. All see the incredibly negative outcome of these tariffs on the American wine industry and are united in standing against them. Hopefully, this will help to sway the decision-makers.

  BA: There are so many hardships right now, in every corner of our country. I would say the voices of U.S. wineries can be incredibly impactful with their representatives. We are so interconnected; I think many see how clearly that we rise and fall together. 

  We don’t begrudge the job of the U.S. government to protect our trade interests abroad, but there are better, less damaging ways to do so. We’re all trying to get back up off the mat right now. It’s the wrong time to try to pull the rug out from underneath us.

  Though the public can no longer submit comments to USTR, Congress can! Tell your elected officials, both in the House and Senate, to reach out to the USTR and voice their opposition to these tariffs. There are better ways to influence the EU than a tariff policy that does disproportionate damage to mom and pop businesses in the U.S.—particularly during a pandemic that just saw the U.S. economy contract by 33%. [Editor’s note: The carousel date for the expected USTR announcement regarding its decision, was August 12. Look for an update on thegrapevinemagazine.net]

  When the wine industry is healthy, everyone benefits. When we’re suffering, we all see the impact. Bottom line, we’re in this together.

UPDATE: August 31, 2020; Update from the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance: “The USTR published their decision regarding the August 2020 carousel for the WTO / Airbus award. The tariffs on wine remain the same, with no changes to either tariff percent or category.” Read the full statement here

The Unexpected is Growing in Niagara

By: Alyssa Andres

As a cool climate wine region, the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, Canada, is traditionally known for planting specific grape varietals that thrive in a colder climate. The region is known for its delicate Riesling and Cabernet Franc with a distinct note of green pepper. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are planted widely across the Peninsula and flourish. This is unsurprising since Niagara is situated at the same 43-degree latitude as Burgundy, France. However, that is not all that is being planted in Niagara. Within the region, winemakers and grape growers are experimenting with the unexpected, taking on grape varietals that have never before been grown in Canada.

  It’s true; Niagara is technically a cool climate wine region, but the weather varies dramatically from year-to-year,  just as in Bordeaux. In certain years, temperatures start rising as early as April or May, and early bud bursts allow for an extremely long ripening season. Other years the region can be devastated by frost shortly after temperatures start to rise, and winemakers are at risk of losing entire crops. Summers are warm and even Mediterranean, with days reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Long, sunny periods leading into the winter let even late-ripening grapes become quite juicy in the warmest of vintages and allow winemakers to create single-varietal expressions of grapes typically known to be hot climate varietals.

  J-L (Jean-Laurent) Groux of Stratus Vineyards is one winemaker that began experimenting with warm climate varietals as soon as he started his vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2006. Known for his mastery of the Old World Art of assemblage, when Groux planted his first vines, he included half an acre each of Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Tannat and Mourvedre. He wanted to experiment with what was possible in Ontario, and use this unique combination of grapes to create his Stratus Red blend, an annual release that Groux deems the perfect combination of aromatics, mouthfeel, length and complexity.

  Of the four unexpected varietals, the only one that did not survive the Canadian climate was Mourvedre. Even after being left on the vine until December 21st, the berries were still not ripe enough. However, the other three grapes were successful, including Tannat, which is known to be extremely late-ripening. Traditionally grown in the South of France and now the national grape of Uruguay, Tannat requires excessive heat and sun to avoid being overly acidic and astringent. This means that in Ontario, a lot of maintenance is needed in the vineyard to achieve success with Tannat, and, as a result, it is an expensive varietal to produce.

  All of the leaf removal, pruning, crop thinning and picking of the Tannat is done by hand with the goal of creating the best expression of the grape as possible. Unlike in hot climate wine regions, there is no risk of sunburn for the grapes in Ontario. Pruning must be done early; most of the leaves are removed from the vines in the spring to allow grape clusters complete exposure to the sun. After leaf removal, the crops must undergo a complete adjustment, with the majority of the fruit getting dropped to the ground, reducing yields from approximately six tons an acre down to just two. Yield reduction encourages more quality grapes that are at less risk of being underripe. Frost eliminates most of the leaves by late October or November, but the winter can still see lots of sunshine during the daytime and can lengthen the harvest substantially. The grapes are left on the vine to ripen for as long as possible; most years, Tannat will not be harvested until the second week of November.

  Groux typically uses the Tannat in his Stratus Red Blend to add acidity, tannin and alcohol. If the Tannat is needed for the blend, 100% of harvested grapes will go into it. In some years, however, Groux has been able to produce a single varietal expression of the grape. In 2017, an early budburst and a late harvest meant an amazing yield for Tannat, and Stratus was able to release a 2017 single varietal expression. 2018 brought heavy rainfall during harvest, and, as a result, was a bad vintage for Tannat. However, Stratus managed to produce a 2018 single varietal Petit Verdot that was just bottled this past July. It won’t be until May 2021 that Stratus winemakers decide if the 2019 Tannat grapes will be used in a blend or on their own. This year looks promising for the hot climate grape, with lots of heat and sunshine sweeping across the Niagara-on-the-Lake region so far this summer.

  This year’s weather is also helpful at Ridgepoint Wines in Vineland on the Niagara Escarpment, where winemaker Mauro Scarsellone has been growing Nebbiolo since 1999. The warm weather is a relief for Scarsellone after experiencing harsh winters in Ontario the past couple of years. Cold weather is the biggest issue for Nebbiolo grapes, which need to spend more time on the vine to ripen fully. While the vines can survive the cold, it is challenging to produce a reliable Nebbiolo every year in the Niagara region. To achieve a quality product requires a lot of thought in the vineyard. The yield of the vines will have a significant impact on the wine, so Scarsellone will thin clusters to as few as one or two per shoot. During veraison, if he sees clusters that have not significantly started to ripen, he will drop the fruit to the ground, reducing the yield to as little as one and a half tons per acre. 

  In the hottest years, Ridgepoint can produce single-varietal Nebbiolo that is reminiscent of a Barolo. In cooler vintages, the Nebbiolo starts to resemble a Barbaresco, a softer expression with more elegant, floral notes. The winery is currently offering its 2010 Nebbiolo in the tasting room, a big and bold wine with smooth tannins and a lengthy finish. However, this is not their only unexpected offering.

   Ridgepoint is also offering a sparkling wine made from what could be the only Glera growing in North America. Glera is a Northern Italian grape that is the dominant grape used in Prosecco. By definition, Prosecco must be made using 85% or more Glera and made in the Charmat method. Scarsellone wanted to make his own version of Prosecco from Ontario but could not find Glera vines growing anywhere within the region. He started asking around in British Columbia and even California to no avail. After an intense search, he discovered a grape grower in Stoney Creek, Ontario, whose father was born in Friuli, Italy, and had brought Glera vines over to Canada 20 years prior. Scarsellone bought all the grapes the farmer produced in 2019 to use in his version of Prosecco. The resulting sparkling wine is bright and fruity with notes of mandarin orange, ripe peach and even tropical notes of guava and passionfruit. While technically the wine cannot be bottled under the classification of Prosecco because of labeling laws surrounding the term, it’s an exciting first for the Niagara Peninsula and Ridgepoint Wines. Equally as exciting, 2020 is the first year the winery will grow Glera on-site.

  Scarsellone plans to continue experimenting with classic Italian grapes in his vineyard. He is growing Rondinella and Corvina for use in an authentic style Appassimento, but he says he has to be careful. He currently uses approximately 25% of the vineyard for “sensitive” varieties that run the risk of not making it through to harvest. It’s a balance between an art and a business for him, and each year brings new challenges. This year, he says, he almost put up a “for sale” sign after temperatures dropped and snow hit in mid-May, forcing him to use wind machines to keep frost off the newly budding vines. However, he managed to pull through and is cautiously optimistic about the 2020 vintage. With lots of sunshine, heat and a lack of moisture so far this summer, the berries should be ripe and concentrated as long as there isn’t too much rain throughout harvest. September and October can be tumultuous months for the wine region and can make or break a vintage. 

  Grape growers and winemakers in the Niagara Peninsula can only hold their breath and wait to see what kind of weather the rest of 2020 will bring. Temperatures might rise or fall, and winemakers will have to react accordingly to ensure the quality of their crops. By planting a diverse variety of grapes that thrive well under different circumstances, winemakers can ensure they have a successful harvest each year. From Tannat and Nebbiolo to Corvina, Malbec, Aglianico and Old Vine Foch, it is all growing in Ontario. As this New World wine region continues to grow and blossom, it is becoming more apparent that Niagara is capable of more than just ice wine—it is becoming a world-class wine region for the unexpected.

Southbrook Vineyards: Living a Sustainable Mantra

By: Alyssa Andres

Many wineries are starting to move toward more sustainable practices, not only because it’s ethical but also because it results in a superior product. The term sustainable could include the transition to organic winemaking and vineyard operations, the use of less water and energy, or the utilization of recycled materials in production. Southbrook Vineyards in Canada’s Niagara Peninsula has taken the concept of “sustainable” and designed their entire operation around it. From the vineyard to the winemaking to the design of their tasting room, Southbrook has made it their mission from day one to have as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible. They’ve even coined themselves Canada’s most thoughtful winery.

  Southbrook has pursued the goal of sustainability from the start. Owner, entrepreneur and wine connoisseur, Bill Redelmeier, always believed in the idea of a sustainable winery. Since establishing Southbrook in 2005, he set out to make it as low impact as possible. Redelmeier’s goal was to provide an example of what was possible in Ontario and back it up with certification. Starting as a 75-acre plot in Niagara-on-the-Lake, by 2008, Redelmeier had expanded his vineyard property to 150-acres. By 2010, Southbrook Vineyards became the first winery in Canada to be completely certified organic, biodynamic and sustainable in both its vineyard and winemaking practices. 

  Being organic and biodynamic, the winery does not use any synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizer, bioengineering or genetically modified organisms. Instead, they use an all-natural approach in the vineyard, emphasizing the relationship between the plants, soil and wildlife, and treating them as a single living entity. This low impact method of viticulture focuses on nourishing the soil and the surrounding environment.

For soil fertility, the winery relies on sheep fed with organically grown hay. They do not rely on irrigation at all. They use specially prepared composts, incorporate their own blend of herbal teas into the soil, and align their farming activities with lunar energy in an attempt to interfere with the natural environment as little as possible.

In 2008, the 75-acres of Southbrook Vineyards became certified by Demeter, the international body that oversees biodynamic agriculture, joining the elite ranks of other prestigious Demeter certified wineries, including Benziger Family Wineries in California and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace. The winery believes the result of these biodynamic practices is beautiful, vibrant wine that is a true expression of its terroir.

  Not only is Southbrook biodynamic and organic, their tasting room and winemaking facility are also designed to be as green as possible. Southbrook is certified sustainable “from soil to shelf” by Sustainable Winemaking Ontario, an organization that inspects every aspect of a winery’s operation from viticulture and water management to energy use. The facility is the first winery in the world to achieve a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Award for its design.

  It’s no wonder they were awarded this designation; Southbrook’s entire operation was designed with these standards in mind. The process started with sourcing as many materials as possible from local businesses and using as many recycled materials as possible in the design. The building is made from 15% recycled materials, with 20% of the construction material manufactured within 800 km of the site. The winery used all of the excavated soil during its build elsewhere on the vineyard. They even enacted an extensive program during construction to separate waste materials from construction waste, maximizing recycling and minimizing trips to the landfill.

  The building itself was built to be as efficient as possible. Designed by renowned architect Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt Architects, the building utilizes features like large insulated glass windows to trap warm air and provide excellent natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting. The winery staff enjoys 95% natural light in their work areas as a result of these windows, shaded from the sun by a large overhang to minimize heat. The outdoor lights of the building shine downward to reduce light pollution and avoid the risk of affecting migratory patterns of birds in the area.  The reflective roof reduces heat radiation into and off the building, which, in turn, reduces dependency on electricity and minimize the impact on the environment.

  The winery also does not operate on the town’s sewage line. They treat wastewater onsite through a wetland filtration system and then disperse this purified water back into the ecosystem. They utilize low flow fixtures inside and outside of the facilities, and they added a bioswale, which uses native wetland plants to break down pollution in the rainwater that drains from the parking lot and driveway. By the time the water flows back into the town’s municipal system, it is entirely potable.

  Outside its property, Southbrook maintains 15-acres of untouched forestland surrounding the vineyard specifically for wildlife and uses “natural buffer zones” within the winery property to ensure that the local flora and fauna still have a space to thrive. The winery is certified bee-friendly and hosts beehives onsite to encourage the pollination of local orchards as well as the production of honey, which the winery sells on their website. They have planted native wildflowers on the property to encourage bees, butterflies and other crucial pollinators to visit. They have even made homes on the property for birds and small flying mammals, such as bats, to take up residence and naturally control pest problems in the vineyards.

  It doesn’t stop there. Southbrook applies the same principles to their production line, utilizing lightweight bottles made in Ontario from 85% recycled materials. The process costs a premium compared to going with a large scale international supplier. Still, Redelmeier believes, in order to live his sustainability mantra, he has to put his money where his mouth is and make decisions for the better of the planet and not his pocketbook.

  Even after becoming certified sustainable, achieving LEED Gold status and gaining an international reputation for its biodynamic practices, Redelmeier continues his mission to improve his winery’s impact on its surroundings.

In 2017, Redelmeier teamed with an Ontario-based engineering firm and Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro to figure out how to further drive down Southbrook’s overall energy consumption. He decided to install 432 solar panels on the winery property, and, as a result of this effort, has cut down the winery’s electrical use by 80% since opening. The winery uses the energy it needs from these solar panels and redistributes what it doesn’t use back into the grid in exchange for a credit that it can redeem in the colder winter months. It is Ontario’s first winery net metering project, and Redelmeier predicts the project will pay for itself by 2024, further proving what is possible for businesses in Ontario.

  Taking this notion one step further, Redelmeier has created his own registered Natural Health Product using the leftover organic red grape skins the winery would otherwise discard. The product, called Bioflavia because it is rich in bioflavonoids, is high in antioxidants and can be added to smoothies, yogurts and cereals. It is available for sale on the winery’s website along with their line of mustards, jellies and sparkling apple juice. The winery also partners with local Linc Farm to offer grass-fed lamb and beef, forest raised pork and free-range eggs to the public. They continue to form partnerships with like-minded local businesses, encouraging their community to grow in the right direction. 

  Redelmeier believes we all have a responsibility as individuals, consumers and business owners when we make decisions, and we should choose companies and products that align with our overall values. When we support these businesses, we make a statement and set an example for others. It is our responsibility to choose companies that have ethical values in order to help our environment and preserve it for future generations. Redelmeier has gone to every extent to keep this in mind and make impactful decisions while building Southbrook Vineyards. The result has been positive. Southbrook won the InterVin International Wine Awards “Winery of the Year” in 2012, and since then has continued to wow crowds with everything from their Bourdeaux-style blends to their wild fermented ciders and Chardonnays. The company continues to expand its portfolio, winning more awards and accolades each year for creating an outstanding product.

  Southbrook is an incredible example of what is possible in sustainability within the wine industry. They have taken no shortcut along the way to creating an entirely low-impact business model and have stood by their sustainable mantra from vineyard to barrel to bottle. By partnering with like-minded local businesses, they support, benefit and encourage positive growth within their community. They even encourage local wildlife to flourish within their property. Redelmeier continues to search for new, innovative ways to reduce his impact on the environment and lead the way in the world of sustainable business models. That is why Southbrook really is Canada’s most thoughtful winery.

Pricing Strategies to Maximize Profit in the B.C. Wine Market

By: Briana Tomkinson

Mass-market Canadian wine producers like Arterra and Constellation Brands have something most family-run boutique wineries don’t: teams who use insights from sales data to optimize their pricing strategies.

  Smaller wineries who don’t have the expertise, staff or time to do this tend to price based on intuition. According to British Columbia wine pricing consultant Lindsay Kaisaris, many bou-tique wineries are unknowingly leaving a lot of money on the table.

  “The hardest thing to do when you make something with your hands is to price accordingly,” Kaisaris said.

A few cents can make all the difference

  When the wine is flying off the shelf, it’s a good sign people love your wine. Yet selling out too fast can actually be bad for your brand. Smaller wineries in this situation can increase prices by a few dollars to strategically slow sales velocity, Kaisaris said, and sell out at the appropriate time—just before the next year’s release.

  On the other hand, when a wine isn’t selling well, many smaller wineries will offer a discount of a few dollars to try and clear out inventory. In some cases, adjusting the wholesale price by just a few cents can make a drastic difference in how well a wine sells.

  In British Columbia, most wine retailers like to work on a 30% margin. A wine that wholesales at $15, for example, would retail around $20—a “dead” price for a bottle of wine. Most con-sumers are either looking to buy a wine for less than $20, or looking to spend a few bucks more. Even though it is only a penny less, wine sales trends show that the majority of consum-ers prefer to buy a $19.99 bottle of wine or a $21.99 bottle of wine.

  “No one wants to buy a $20 wine,” Kaisaris said. “A couple of dollars makes a big difference on the shelf.”

  By reducing the wholesale price from $15 to $14.39, Kaisaris said, it gives the retailer more room to set the price at $18.99, which would make the wine stand out next to the $19.99 bot-tles on the shelf.

  Lowering the wholesale price by a few cents isn’t the only way to put your wine into a more favorable price category on the shelf. In one case, after analyzing sales numbers and the com-petition on the shelf, Kaisaris advised a client to increase the price instead. Sales of the wine had been stagnant at $44.99, but when the retail price increased to $49.99, the wine sold out.

  Kaisaris recommends doing a careful competitive audit of the other wines in your category, and price strategically so that your wine isn’t crowded out by too many similar ones at the same price.

Vary the Price of Your Wines

  Another common mistake smaller wineries make is to price all their wines close to the same value, Kaisaris said.

  If your winery has five or 10 different wines, try marketing at least one at a lower “entry-level” price point, and one at a more premium price. That allows customers to compare prices and select a wine that feels more or less expensive.

  If a winery has seven labels all priced between $20 to $28, the price point can alienate a new customer who is looking for something more economical, and yet won’t be expensive enough to attract a customer aiming for a “special” bottle. Kaisaris recommended decreasing the price of the cheapest bottle so it retails just under $20, and increasing the cost of the most expen-sive bottle to ensure there is at least one premium label above $30.

  Another pricing trick wineries can use to increase sales is to bundle wines, rather than discount them. For example, three $25 wines could be sold as a package for $65 instead of $75.

  “You’ve discounted, but it’s not quite as evident. You might have hit a price that is more com-petitive, but you haven’t shown everyone that you’ve taken $5 off the bottle, so you can con-tinue to offer in singles at the higher price,” said Kaisaris. 

Carefully Monitor Sales Volume in Different Channels

  It’s common in British Columbia that restaurant sales of white wine spike in summer and drop off towards the fall as the weather cools. At that point, it makes more sense for wineries to shift their sales efforts for white wine to retail stores. 

  “If you can do that in mid-September instead of waiting until November, you can beat your competition, who’s trying to do the same thing, without having to discount the price,” Kaisaris said. “Stop selling to restaurants then, and let them know your product will no longer be avail-able after that date. Then you can load it into stores for the Christmas season.”

  The biggest season for wine sales is fall, during October, November and December. That’s when savvy wineries try to get a lot of product in stores and offer incentives to sweeten the deal for restaurants to push wine for Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve bashes. Yet often, the big guys get there before the smaller wineries have a chance to start.

  “The small guys have already lost sales velocity in restaurants and then failed to capture the extra sales in retail over that two-month holiday period,” said Kaisaris. 

  Since the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Board establishes retail prices based on a fairly consistent markup, some boutique local and international wineries have made the strategic decision not to sell through provincially owned liquor stores. This allows wineries to set a price that is more profitable for restaurants and privately owned liquor stores and creates an incen-tive to feature that wine over others with slimmer profit margins. 

  Some larger wineries do both. Oliver-based Tinhorn Creek, for example, is a well-known label at provincially run liquor stores, but also offers some premium varieties at higher price points that are exclusively available at private retailers.

  “These are not things small wineries do, which puts them at a disadvantage,” Kaisaris said.

Tips for Pricing Wine in British Columbia

  According to Big Sage Strategies wine pricing consultant Lindsay Kaisaris, some wine price categories offer more opportunities than others.

  Wine priced in the $20 range sells better than wine priced above $30. If you can, set the wholesale price to make it possible for your $30 wine to be priced at $29.99 or less in-store.

  The mid-40s price point is a dead zone: “$44.99 is neither premium nor mid-range,” Kaisaris said. “At $49.99, it’s benchmarked against flagship wines and seen as a premium bottle.” Wines at this price point might even be placed in a different section of some stores, alongside premium brands.”

  If you’re selling a premium product, price it boldly. If your customer is likely to be shopping for an expensive bottle to give as a gift with a $100 budget in mind, they may actually be more likely to spend $89.99 than $74. “Price elasticity gets wider the higher up you go,” she said.