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.

Wine in the Time of COVID-19

By: Briana Tomkinson

Tasting rooms, restaurants and bars across Canada were abruptly shut down in March in an unprecedented move to slow the spread of COVID-19 and avoid overwhelming health care services. Boutique wineries from coast-to-coast immediately pivoted to focus on online sales to try and soften the blow.

  For established brands, this meant re-jiggering the marketing plan and reallocating resources to push local delivery or contactless pickup orders instead of targeting wine country tourists. For two fledgling wineries on opposite ends of the country, wine in the time of COVID-19 meant embracing a crash-course in online marketing.

  At Priest Creek Winery (https://priestcreekwinery.com/) in Kelowna, British Columbia, founder Jane Sawin was all set to finally open the tasting room to the public on March 20. Instead, she got an ugly surprise when the province suddenly announced that bars, pubs and liquor-only tasting rooms had to suspend operations until health authorities determine the pandemic is under control.

  “The day we would have opened the tasting room was the day the Canadian health authorities shut everything down. The tasting room is ready, beautiful, clean and ready to go,” Sawin said. “It’s a little sad.”

Complicating matters, the winery’s website launch had been delayed when the webmaster fell ill with COVID-19. Sawin decided to improvise: she created a special social media promo, of-fering a 15% discount and free local delivery, and began taking orders via Facebook and In-stagram.

  Orders have been steady, Sawin said, and social media and word-of-mouth marketing has been working.

  By early April, the winery was processing between 10-to-15 orders per day, she said. Some local customers were ordering as few as two bottles at a time, but many others, especially those farther afield, bought Priest Creek wine by the case. Priest Creek produces six varieties of red and white wine, with list prices ranging between $19 and $46 CDN per bottle. The win-ery’s website is finally up and running too, now that the webmaster has recovered.

  For now, Sawin is just hoping to keep the momentum going while the winery tries to get its name out there. Unlike competitors in the wine trail area who have built up a base of loyal cus-tomers through tourism and event marketing, Priest Creek has no reputation to trade on.

  “The hardest part is that no one got to taste our wine before this happened,” Sawin said.

  On the opposite side of the country, the new owners of Ontario’s Vankleek Hill Vineyard found themselves in a similar predicament.

  Like Sawin at Priest Creek, Vankleek Hill owners, Teresa Bressan and Scott Lambert, had to scramble to find a makeshift solution to sell wine without an online store when health authori-ties closed down all the province’s tasting rooms in March.

  The vineyard’s tasting room opened in October, but Bressan and Lambert had prioritized cleaning up the property’s bedraggled vines before building an online store. They had been counting on events and tourist traffic to drive sales this year, but with group gatherings of all sizes banned and even driving between regions discouraged or restricted, they’ve had to re-think the business plan.

  “We kind of jumped in with two feet,” Bressan said. “Our website isn’t ready for it. We don’t have an online store.”

  Like Sawin, one of Bressan’s biggest challenges is just finding ways to get new customers to try her wines. In Bressan’s case, it’s not just that the wine brand is new to consumers—it’s that many locals didn’t much like the wine produced by the former owners of the vineyard.

  “We have a big stigma to remove,” Bressan said. “Their wines are not on our shelves. We couldn’t even come up with a good recipe to make sangria with it.”

  Bressan, a former realtor, found an upside to the additional legwork required to process orders without a proper online system in place: it created an opportunity to build a more personal connection with customers. For example, when she learned one customer was ordering a case of 12 wines to give away for Easter gifts, she included tissue paper and gift bags at no extra cost to spare the person having to make another trip to the store.

  “If you show your customers that you appreciate them, they will come back for sure. We really put a lot of emphasis on personalized attention,” Bressan said. 

  While Vankleek Hill Winery launched its wine delivery by offering a 15% discount on purchases, Bressan said when the promo ended, the orders kept on coming in.

  “We’re still so new, and we’re learning a lot. Vankleek Hill is just amazing. It truly is,” she said. “This unfortunate event has really brought the community together, truly. I’m finding a lot of goodness in a lot of people these days.”

Alcohol Sales Increase, Even with Delivery Hiccups

  Canadians across the country have taken shelter-in-place orders very seriously. An online sur-vey conducted between March 29 and April 3 by Statistics Canada found that 90% of re-spondents reported that they were following physical distancing guidelines, such as avoiding leaving the house, using social distancing when out in public, and avoiding crowds and large gatherings. Sixty-three percent had stocked up on essentials at the pharmacy and grocery store, so they didn’t need to go out as often.

  The same survey found that 20% of those aged 15 to 49 admitted to increasing their liquor consumption during lockdown, compared to just 7% of those over 50. Yet liquor store sales skyrocketed in March, suggesting that some consumers have begun stockpiling more than just toilet paper.

  According to the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch, sales of boxed wine jumped 144% in March. Sales of bigger 1.75-liter bottles of vodka, rum and whisky were up an impressive 153%, and 24-packs of beer were up 120%.

  Yet home delivery has also had its hiccups. On March 26, the National Post reported that the Liquor Control Branch of Ontario had to halt home delivery of wine, beer and spirits outside of Toronto because Canada Post had halted delivery of packages requiring proof of age at the doorstep to limit the COVID-19 risk to mail carriers.

  A prior partnership with the home food delivery app, Foodora, has allowed delivery to continue in Toronto. Ontarians living outside the Foodora delivery limits can still order online, but must now go pick up their delivery in person at a Canada post office.

  In Quebec, the Société des alcools du Québec announced a partnership with Purolator to en-sure direct-to-door delivery would continue. Delivery fees are $12, which will be donated to provincial food banks.

  Some boutique wineries, including both Priest Creek and Vankleek Hill Vineyard, are bypassing the post office or courier service, however, to personally offer free local delivery for larger or-ders. According to the B.C. Wine Institute, 86% of British Columbia wineries were offering free shipping on some orders in March.

  Even in provinces like Quebec and Ontario, which both announced a total ban on the operation of “non-essential” businesses for a month or more on March 23, the production and distribu-tion of wine, beer and spirits are allowed to continue. Yet it is far from business-as-usual.

  In addition to sales challenges, many wineries have also been impacted by supply chain dis-ruptions and unexpected labor issues.

  Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper reported that some British Columbia winemakers are behind schedule on bottling because they have not yet received shipments of bottles, labels or corks from international suppliers. Many wineries have had to lay off tasting room staff, yet are also faced with a shortage of field labor because foreign seasonal agricultural laborers are not yet allowed to cross the border. 

  Priest Creek was among the wineries affected by production delays. Sawin said she would have been able to open the tasting room as much as two weeks earlier had bottling not been delayed due to illness-related slowdowns at the factory that produced her labels.

  Across the country, provincial officials have urged Canadians to shop local and support small businesses as much as possible, including local wineries.

  In Quebec, the provincial government launched a website called “Le Panier Blue” (https://www.lepanierbleu.ca/) (a ‘blue basket,’ referencing the color of the provincial flag), to help Quebecers identify local businesses where they can order products for pickup or home delivery. At press time, over 228 Quebec wineries, breweries, distilleries, cideries and dépan-neurs (convenience stores specializing in wine and beer sales) had registered on the site.

  “Let us remember that every dollar invested counts and helps support our local products and our expertise, which further stimulates our economy,” said Quebec Minister of Economy and Innovation, Pierre Fitzgibbon, in a news release about the program.

  In British Columbia, officials continued the tradition of officially decreeing April “wine month” with a social distancing twist: urging consumers to buy 100% British Columbia wine to enjoy at home.

  In a press release issued by the B.C. Wine Institute, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham called on consumers to choose locally made products to keep small wineries from folding.

  “Many B.C. winemakers depend on sales within our province to keep their businesses running, and our support for them and all B.C. farmers and businesses during this pandemic will help the resiliency and future of food and beverage production in British Columbia,” Popham said.

  Back at Vankleek Hill Vineyard, Bressan said she has noticed many of her friends, neighbors and customers are making a point of buying local. Moving forward, she thinks this trend will continue.

  The support from local customers has been a lifeline for the winery, and has inspired Bressan’s family to make a significant effort to buy from local producers as well—especially when it comes to wine.

  “We love wine, but now we only buy local wines from Ontario and Quebec. It’s also good prac-tice for us to learn and see what other people are doing, and develop our palate for wine from cold-climate grapes,” she said. 

Thomas Bachelder Defines Niagara Terroir

By: Alyssa Andres

The wine of Burgundy, France, is renowned worldwide for a number of reasons. Their vintners have centuries of winemaking experience and have tended their vines over generations, but one major factor in Burgundian wine is, and always has been, terroir. In Burgundy, no one refers to a wine by its grape varietal. They talk about wine in specific parcels. They refer to a wine by the vineyard it comes from, and they know what that particular vineyard tastes like compared to its neighbor down the way. That is because, in Burgundy, vintners have taken hundreds of years to map their terroir.

  In New World winemaking, which has only started to evolve over the past hundred years or so, terroir hasn’t been as much of a focus for winemakers. Their focus has been on the wine itself and trying to build an international reputation. In Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, however, Thomas Bachelder and his wife, Mary Delaney, are breaking this trend and taking a more Burgundian approach to winemaking.

  The Niagara wine industry has taken off over the past decade. Hundreds of tourists flood to the region each day to bombard tasting rooms. Despite this, Thomas Bachelder has chosen not to open his own winery. Instead, he works as a traditional “micro-negocient,” purchasing grapes that he’s handpicked from the top producers in Niagara and from specific vineyard sites he deems the best. This allows him to experiment with the vast growing conditions within the area, focusing specifically on making chardonnay and pinot noir that express the unique terroir from numerous plots within Niagara.

  Originally from Quebec, Bachelder started his career as a wine journalist before moving to Burgundy to study winemaking. He always had an interest in French culture and French wine, and, combined with his interest in terroir, Burgundy was his ideal destination. At the time, Bachelder dreamed of having his own small organic vineyard in Burgundy, but, ironically, by 1993, he was in Oregon working as a winemaker at Ponzi Vineyards in Willamette Valley. Bachelder continued his winemaking journey over the next 20 years, jumping between Burgundy, Oregon and Niagara. He worked as a winemaker in Meursault and then as the founding winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne in the Niagara Escarpment. Bachelder became known as a “Master of Elevage,” using minimal intervention to produce elegant, terroir-driven wines. It was this chapter of his life that inspired his “Three Terroirs Project.” 

  In 2009, Bachelder started producing and bottling chardonnay under his own label from all three countries he had worked in over the years: France, the U.S. and Canada. He wanted to study and compare the wines to one another and have other critics do the same. The concept was for those who discriminated against certain regions to be able to taste wine from the same grape made by the same hand from all three regions. This would allow people to be able to taste distinctions in the wines that came from the terroir and other climactic factors versus a variation in winemaking style.

  His intention at the start of the project was to focus entirely on chardonnay, but, after committing to producing Chardonnay in Burgundy, Oregon and Ontario, Bachelder was offered 800kg of Old Vine Pinot Noir grapes from Wilma Lowrey. The Lowrey vineyard is one of Bachelder’s favorite sites in Niagara, located in the St. David’s Bench sub-appellation. Being a Pinot Noir lover at heart, by 2011, Bachelder was growing Pinot Noir in all three countries as well. It was then that Bachelder was able to truly discover the impact of terroir on both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grape varietals. He worked creating multiple expressions of both grapes from different vineyard sites each year and continued to sample them against each other. While he says Burgundy remains his favorite expression of the grapes, he found that Niagara wine was what really interested people.

  “We keep our licenses in both places…but for the past six years I’d go out, and everybody would want the Niagara wines. What we are doing in Niagara is more novel and different than just another Burgundy,” he said.

  Many restaurants already have a wine list full of Burgundy and Oregon pinot noir. Niagara wine is what most excites people because it’s different. It’s up and coming. So three years ago, Bachelder made a decision.

  “We were hitting our heads against a wall and spending so much money trying to do all three [countries] when everybody wants Niagara. The Niagara warehouse would always be empty.”

  He decided to start focusing more of his time and efforts in Ontario. He quickly realized that there was no one in Niagara producing single-vineyard wines from sites that spanned across the Niagara Peninsula, a 70km distance from Hamilton to Niagara-on-the Lake. He already had a reputation in the region as a founding winemaker at Le Clos Jordanne as well as Domaine Queylus in the Niagara Escarpment. People in the Niagara region knew him and liked what he was doing. It gave him the edge he needed to start his next project, and so, he began selecting the best fruit from the best plots in the Peninsula.

  Bachelder now releases wine twice a year from vineyards that span from east to west in Niagara. He still has no fixed address and does not own any grapes of his own. He rents all the winemaking space to produce, bottle and store his wine. You can only taste his wines by appointment, in a tiny space he rents to store his barrels and lovingly refers to as “The Bat Cave,” but hours are irregular and mostly take place once a week on Saturday afternoons. The entire operation remains Bachelder and his wife, Mary, who takes care of the business side of the operation. The couple sells their wine through their website, https://bachelderniagara.com/.

  “If I buy a big property, then I’m like everybody else, where I have to make wine, or mostly make wine, from that property, which is a beautiful and honorable thing to do. Whereas, if I continue the way I’m going, I get to interpret Niagara, everywhere. We’re going to try to do that. The Old World has really defined their terroirs, and now is our time to do that.”

  Staying true to his Burgundian influence, Bachelder’s latest release, La Violette, offers Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but also Gamay Noir from five different vineyard sites across Niagara, including Lowrey vineyard. They offer not only single vineyard “Cru” wines but also Beaujolais inspired “les Villages” wines available from each varietal, which blend grapes from several single-vineyard plots to create something more affordable and also very powerful. Bachelder is also offering his wine by the case in three “Terroir” packs, which allow customers to sample each of the variations of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in one case.

  Thomas Bachelder is doing something right. As a “micro-negocient,” he remains free to make the wine he wants to make, as well as not make the wine he doesn’t. He continues to consult for Le Clos Jordanne and Domaine Queylus as well as work on other projects in Burgundy, Oregon, and, more recently, in Chile. He’s avoided huge start-up costs as well as licensing fees and staff expenses and has figured out a way to produce interesting, small-batch wine for a captivated audience. In the bigger picture, Bachelder has started breaking ground on a much larger project, one that could be a significant movement in North American winemaking.

  There are a lot of prime vineyard sites that stretch beyond the Niagara Peninsula. In Ontario, there is Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore. The Niagara Escarpment continues into the U.S., and the Finger Lakes are rapidly gaining in popularity. Pennsylvania wine is on its way up. Now, more than ever, is the time to take full advantage of this region and bring to light all the beautiful vineyards, unique terroirs and incredible wine that comes out of it. 

Sustainable Wineries Attract More Consumers

By: Briana Tomkinson

  Concern about threats related to climate change is inspiring more consumers to make lifestyle changes like going vegan, upgrading to electric cars, reducing plastic waste and seeking more environmentally sustainable products. It’s also starting to affect how consumers select their wine.  

  Surveys of wine consumers in Canada, the U.S., Sweden and the UK are indicating a growing interest in purchasing sustainably produced wine, favorable perceptions of sustainable certifi-cation programs and certification logos, and a willingness to pay more for sustainably pro-duced wine—particularly by Millennials and Gen Z.

  For many Canadian winemakers, however, their interest in sustainable winemaking began well before consumers started paying attention.

  According to veteran British Columbia winemaker Gordon Fitzpatrick, adopting environmentally sustainable practices isn’t just the right thing to do—it also makes good business sense. “Often, sustainable choices have economic benefits. It’s not mutually exclusive,” Fitzpatrick said. “Every little bit helps.”

  Fitzpatrick has been in the wine business since 1986 when he founded Cedar Creek Estate Winery. He sold the majority of his vineyards to Mission Hill five years ago, but kept one be-tween Peachland and Summerland. In 2017, he launched a new label, Fitzpatrick Family Win-ery, using those grapes.

  The boutique winery focuses on sparkling wine and has approximately one-fifth of the produc-tion capacity of Cedar Creek, topping out at about 10,000 cases at full production. The shift into sparkling wine was a strategic choice to take advantage of the vineyard’s unique microcli-mate.

  “We lose the sun about two and a half hours earlier than most other vineyards,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s why we specialize in sparkling wine. It creates that natural crisp acidity. I call it shade’s gift.”

  Fitzpatrick Family Winery is located in the Thompson Okanagan region, British Columbia’s pri-mary wine-growing region. The area boasts 84% of the province’s vineyards by acreage and has over 200 wineries. Wine tours are a big draw for visitors to the region. With the local tour-ism association increasingly spotlighting sustainable tourism, wineries like Fitzpatrick’s are get-ting more recognition for their environmentally friendly choices.

  The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association recently developed a sustainability pledge to identify and feature responsible tourism providers in the region, including Fitzpatrick Family Winery. Other wineries who have signed on to the program include Poplar Grove (https://www.poplargrove.ca/), Grizzli Winery (www.grizzliwinery.com) and Meadowvista (www.meadowvista.ca).

  The region was also officially certified as the first destination in the Americas to achieve the Sustainable Tourism Accreditation from Biosphere International and the Responsible Tourism Institute. The certification criteria includes commitments to environmentally sustainable practices, including ensuring access to sustainable energy and adopting measures to mitigate cli-mate change.

  Fitzpatrick Family Winery was a pilot winery for the program last fall, Fitzpatrick said, which included a thorough audit on water, energy and waste management practices.

  “We think of ourselves as good stewards of the land, but you always want to look at how you’re doing things. They came up with some recommendations on how we can do things even better than we currently are [doing them]. It was a very worthwhile process to go through,” he said.

  Recommendations ranged from replacing big-ticket items like a 25-year-old water pump with a newer, more energy-efficient model, to less costly initiatives like installing flow meters to better monitor water usage, and expanding the winery’s compost program to incorporate food waste from the on-site, seasonal restaurant.

  The winery is also now pursuing organic certification, following a recent $40,000 investment in mechanical weeding equipment that will allow Fitzpatrick to stop using herbicides in the spring.

  In the last five years, Fitzpatrick said consumer awareness of sustainable practices has changed significantly. “People are much more aware and want to know what your practices are, and are you being a good steward of the land,” he said. “it’s nice to be able to stand be-hind what we do.”

Do Wine Consumers Care? Researchers Say Yes

  According to market research by Wine Intelligence, it’s not just hippies who are choosing more socially and environmentally conscious purchases. Interest in organic, fair trade and sustaina-bly produced wine is growing and is now considered mainstream, particularly among consum-ers under the age of 45.

  In the U.S., almost three-quarters of consumers surveyed said they would consider buying sus-tainably produced wine in the future. Seventy percent of Canadians agreed.

  Nine out of ten millennial consumers surveyed said they would be willing to pay an average of $3 more for sustainably produced wine. The research found that sustainability certifications for wine improved consumers’ willingness to buy.

  The research was presented at the first U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summit in Sonoma last June. In a speech at the event, Wine Intelligence CEO Lulie Halstead outlined five key concepts  to “sell” sustainability to consumers, highlighting how it’s good for people as well as for the environment:

1.   Focus on the small steps producers and consumers can take today.

2.   Frame sustainability as a positive choice: talk about positive benefits.

3.   Use groupthink for good: invite customers to be part of a larger movement to make greener choices.

4.   Appeal to feelings, not facts: logic is not as persuasive as emotion.

5.   Be brief: keep messaging succinct.

  The second edition of the U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summit will be held this year on May 5-6 in Long Island, New York. The event will feature tours of sustainable wineries in the area, as well as a full conference program. Tickets are $50. More details are online at https://www.sustainablewinegrowing.org/summit/.

British Columbia to Host Global Sustainable Tourism Conference

  The Thompson-Okanagan region is also hosting the 2020 Global Sustainable Tourism Confer-ence November 19-22—the first time the annual event will be held in Canada—at the Delta Ho-tels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort in Kelowna.

  The event will feature expert speakers and panelists from around the world. Over 500 local, national and international delegates are expected to attend, including destination marketing professionals, airlines, travel agents, international media and tourism-oriented business lead-ers.

  According to President and CEO of Tourism Kelowna, Lisanne Ballantyne, industry research indicates that interest in sustainable tourism destinations is growing. She said recent reports have found 87% of consumers want to travel sustainably, and 67% are willing to pay more for travel that has a less negative impact on the environment.

  In 2019, for the second year in a row, TOTA was named the World Responsible Tourism Award Winner at the Annual World Travel Awards.

  According to British Columbia’s Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Lisa Beare, the prov-ince’s stunning scenery and unspoiled wilderness is a key draw for visitors from around the globe, and the region’s tourism strategy reflects that.

  “Our strategic framework for tourism seeks to responsibly grow the visitor economy by re-specting nature and the environment, and making sure that everyone sees the benefits of this important industry,” Beare said in a press release about TOTA’s award win.