The milestone, according to the B.C. VQA, marks an incredible journey of B.C. grapes, of how locally grown wine was once perceived as being second-tier but is now considered top-shelf.
The B.C. VQA standard was created in 1990 to ensure that B.C. wine was made from 100 per cent locally grown grapes. Those efforts, say organizers, led to the rapid growth of B.C. wines.
“This anniversary is a celebration of the success and growth of B.C. VQA wine over the last 30 years,” said Miles Prodan, president and CEO of the B.C. Wine Institute.
“B.C. VQA Wine would not be what it is today without the incredible vision, collaboration and determination of our industry.”
According to the B.C. VQA, prior to 1990, most of the grapes grown in B.C. were hybrids, and the growers’ focus was on quantity rather than quality.
That changed with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States.
“With the onset of free trade, the government gave the option for growers to remove their vines and plant a different crop,” the B.C. VQA said in a press release.
“Two-thirds of the 3,400 grape acreage was removed, leaving just 1,134 acres of grapes in 1990, only half of which was estimated to be vinifera grapes.”
Lanny Martiniuk, one of the founding members of the B.C. Wine Institute (BCWI) and creator of Stoneboat Vineyards, said that had a huge impact on the industry.
“Many growers lost their vineyards,” he said. “We realized we had to do something that would help us produce better grapes and convince the public that we were producing better wine.
“We (the BCWI founders) consulted with the wineries and proposed to the government that the only way to make this happen was to become a premium wine region.”
What followed were vineyards planting quality vinifera varieties — the beginning of B.C.’s still-growing wine industry.
“Back then, BC wines were not well-received,” said George Heiss, a founding BCWI member and creator of Grey Monk Estate Winery.
“If the wine wasn’t French, no one was looking at it.”
“We ran into that everywhere when trying to get B.C. wine into hotel restaurants or onto shelves. We had to create a standard. If a wine region doesn’t have a quality standard, it just can’t compete with the rest of the world.”
The BCWI says the number of licensed B.C. grape wineries went from 19 in 1990 to 282 as of 2020, while the number of vineyards has grown from 115 to 929.
Further, it added, there were 157 certified B.C. VQA wines in 1990, while more than 2,100 B.C. wines now carry the designation.
The BCWI says B.C.’s wine industry contributes $2.8 billion to the provincial economy, and draws one million visitors with $600 million in tourism.
“There’s a trust now that is synonymous with B.C. VQA wine,” said Martiniuk. “Given our success in making quality wines, I’d say, if we’ve done this in just 30 years, we’re only getting started.”