SEATTLE – British Columbia tourism officials knew a delicious way to promote their wine industry in the middle of summer would be to invite Seattle’s food, wine and travel media to an invitation-only dinner in the penthouse at the iconic Canlis.
Initially, the event was to be capped at the first 40 to RSVP. Organizers soon were favorably overwhelmed by the response, and the Canlis team skillfully accommodated the dinner that topped out at nearly 70 guests, an audience that included two prominent Seattle TV news personalities.
“When Mika Ryan of Destination BC was booking the event, she knew Canlis would be a draw, but we didn’t know how much of a draw,” said Lindsay Kelm, communication manager for the Wines of British Columbia. “We were really impressed with the turnout.”
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Destination BC, the province’s recently rebranded tourism organization, also arranged for Vancouver pianist Ali Milner to sing during 90-minute reception. Okanagan Valley producers Blue Mountain, Mission Hill and Quails’ Gate were served at the dinner.
“Those wines are all available in the Washington area, which as you may know, is a rarity, but we managed to find a few,” Kelm said. “Blue Mountain you can find at select restaurants. Mission Hill and Quails’ Gate are available at Esquin, and Summerhill does direct-to-consumer sales.”
Hurdles created by importation only begin the discussion as to why most of British Columbia’s top wines are not sold in the U.S.
“Unfortunately, one of the reasons why you can’t get wines down here is we are a little bit selfish,” Kelm said with smile. “We keep a lot of the wines for ourselves. About 95 percent of what is made in BC is consumed in BC, so I’m sorry to the rest of you, but we feel very lucky.”
The Canlis event brought in tourism officials from 11 regions around the province and included representatives from British Columbia’s five primary wine producing areas – Fraser Valley, Gulf Islands, Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley and Vancouver Island. And Kelm, who has been with the BC Wine Institute for four years, spent the early part of her summer catching up after taking a year to start a family.
“When we went on leave, I believe there were 235 wineries and now there approximately 254,” Kelm said. “We’re growing in leaps and bounds still, even when people would think there isn’t a lot more room for growth in some of the regions. Now there are the emerging regions as well in Lillooet and the Kootenay and the Shuswap, so people are not only working in the Okanagan and the other four regions, but they are finding new areas to grow as well.”
Few areas in North America do a better job promoting their wine industry, partnering with the tourism industry and sharing their hospitality than British Columbia does.
“You can see we all work very closely together,” Kelm said. “We have a great province to promote, and we’re all keen to get out and share it with the world. It’s one thing to see the pictures and hear about the regions and to taste the wines, but it’s an entirely different thing to come up and meet the people and be immersed in that experience. It gives you a whole new appreciation for it.”