To longtime friends in British Columbia,
When I launched this magazine with Jerry Hug, our goals included shining more spotlights on the British Columbia wine industry and sharing more of their stories. Andy Perdue and I did that perhaps better than anyone else in the United States not long after we created Wine Press Northwest magazine in 1998 for our then employer — the Tri-City Herald.
By the spring of 2003, we knew enough to choose Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in Summerland as the Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. It marked just the second year of that annual awards program. Six years later, we placed Wild Goose Vineyards in Okanagan Falls on the cover as the Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year — with the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver just months away.
All along, we included British Columbia wineries in that series, through the spring of 2012 when Stag’s Hollow Winery in Okanagan Falls was the British Columbia Winery of the Year and 8th Generation Vineyard in Summerland was the British Columbia Winery to Watch.
A few months later, Andy and I resigned our positions with the Tri-City Herald to launch GreatNorthwestWine.com. It also prompted a change in the direction of Wine Press as management pointed to the expense of getting magazines into Canada, the logistics surrounding international tastings and a lack of advertisers as reasons to discontinue coverage for the province’s wine industry.
Hurdles definitely remain. It’s exponentially more costly to send magazines to another country, and we must prove ourselves to potential advertisers. And even though we share grape-growing conditions, there are also governmental barriers and regulations. (Canadian wineries continue to deal with requirements created by the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.)
When things fall into place, however, the showing of British Columbia wines proves they are worthy of the effort and the attention. Until the pandemic got in the way, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery in Oliver — our 2006 British Columbia Winery of the Year — received more Platinum Awards than any producer in the Pacific Northwest.
This spring, as a result of the border being reopened, the 10th annual Cascadia International Wine Competition saw an influx of British Columbia wineries wanting to attract the attention of American wine tourists. And 21 of those wines earned a gold medal or better during the judging. Walter Gehringer and his grape-growing brother, Gordon, were voted to have produced both the competition’s Best Chardonnay and Best Pinot Gris.
For wine lovers living in the Columbia Valley, it’s an afternoon’s drive to reach the Okanagan Valley — the home turf of Allison Markin, our correspondent who wrote the cover story for this issue. And we hope wineries, restaurants, resorts and others in the British Columbia hospitality industry will reach out to us with ideas and help us share their stories that will encourage Americans to explore the many corners of the British Columbia wine industry.
Some of the West Coast’s top consumer events include the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, the Vancouver International Wine Festival and the wine-focused Cornucopia, which has matured as it turned 25 years old at Whistler last November. Cornucopia, now a two-week shoulder season event, bills itself as “the True North of food and drink festivals” and supports the BC Hospitality Foundation.
Sadly, the last time I crossed the 49th parallel was Aug. 9, 2019, to pay my respects to the late Harry McWatters and support my friend Coke Roth, who officiated at the memorial service and loved Harry as a brother. (Among Harry’s many accomplishments was founding chair of the BC Hospitality Foundation.)
Now that travel is becoming more available, we strongly urge anyone who needs a post-pandemic international wine getaway to drive, fly or sail to Victoria, the Lower Mainland, Kamloops, Kelowna or Penticton. However, there also appears to be a new avenue for some world-class wines from British Columbia to be shipped to your home.
A shopping list can be created via KascadiaWineMerchants.com. The site and service is a young endeavor by VJ Gandhi, a Canadian expat raising a family in the Silicon Valley who also is growing a portal for Okanagan Valley wines to be sold and shipped to savvy U.S. wine consumers. At this point, she’s working with nearly a dozen of Okanagan Valley’s top producers, and she touts the ability to ship Canadian wines to nearly 30 states in the U.S. — including Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
“Growing up, my family and I spent summers enjoying the Okanagan Valley and its abundance in wineries,” she reports. “Moving to California really opened my eyes to the lack of Canadian wines in the U.S. It has become my soul’s mission to change that.”
Among those she’s working with — you can learn more about her via The Tall Mike Wine podcast — is Phantom Creek Estates. Their 2019 Kobau Vineyard Syrah off the Golden Mile Bench was voted Best Syrah at the 2022 Cascadia International.
It’s important to note that during the previous decade, there have been other attempts, online and in-store, to make British Columbia wines more available in the U.S. Those programs included a thoughtful 2014 campaign by Whole Foods Market in Washington state and Oregon. To the dismay of many, the approach didn’t resonate with shoppers, despite the vision of Erez Klein, the grocer’s Pacific Northwest wine buyer for more than a decade. This spring, he was hired to oversee the wine portfolio at American Northwest Distributors.
“You can get wines from Croatia, Serbia and Corsica easier than we can get wines from our neighbor,” Klein told me in 2014. “That’s just not right.”
Unfortunately, that’s still the case, although more Canadians now realize a growing number of their wines are world-class. Meeting that increased domestic demand is a good problem to have for British Columbia winemakers who have been battling similar problems to their American colleagues — wildfires, flooding and reduced harvests in recent vintages.
Still, whenever my team stages a judging that includes entries from British Columbia, there is no shortage of sommeliers, retailers, winemakers and journalists wanting to sit on the panel. While I wish it were easier to present those wines to judges, the desire to taste something that’s rarely seen outside of Canada adds to the mystique. (Gehringer twice has won best of show at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, and Wild Goose topped The Invite in 2014.)
Make sure you download and use the ArriveCAN app prior to planning any trip, and arrange your lodging in advance. British Columbia is a charming, popular and delicious region in so many ways, and the best way to experience the wines is to visit. See and taste for yourself. I’m willing to bet a tank of petrol you won’t be disappointed. The bottles you bring back home to share with friends and family will be proof enough.
This all reminds me of the biggest complaints Andy and I began to receive soon after we published our first review of a Canadian wine — the Summerhill Estate Winery nonvintage Cipes Brut — in 1999. (It’s gained fame as Summerhill Pyramid Winery.)
“You guys write about these great wines from Canada, but how do I get them?”
Alas, our reply still is — “You’ll just have to drive up and get them yourself.”