Wineries in the premium grape-growing region of Oliver, B.C., are facing a financial hit as a fast-moving and aggressive wildfire is forcing some businesses to evacuate, while others face mass cancellations.
Some wineries along Black Sage Road closed their doors to tourists on Tuesday as the Nk’Mip Creek wildfire grew to 2,000 hectares in mountainous terrain near the east side of Osoyoos Lake.
“Burrowing Owl Estate Winery has been evacuated to ensure the safety of our winery guests and team. We are all safe!” the popular winery posted to Facebook.
“At this time we are monitoring the situation and working with the RDOS and the amazing fire fighting crews to do what is necessary for the Osoyoos/Oliver fire.”
Phantom Creek Estates, the newest multi-million dollar luxury winery on the Black Sage Bench, also said it was impacted by the wildfire.
“Our winery building is on evacuation order today,” the winery posted online.
“Although there is no imminent threat to the winery, in accordance with the orders, we will be closing the tasting room and the winery offices today.”
Nk’Mip Cellars at Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos, B.C., is temporarily closed as the entire property is evacuated.
Nearby Desert Hills Estate Winery said the property is under an evacuation alert, but, as a precaution, it closed the winery on Tuesday.
“The wildfire is across the road and on the other side of the mountain, very visible from the winery, but, in reality, still a ways away,” general manager Shawna Dunkley told Global News.
Black Hills Estate Winery is also on evacuation alert and closed its tasting room for the safety of its staff and guests.
“We notified all guests who had a reservation before we opened for the day,” the winery told Global News. “We will do the same tomorrow if we remain closed.”
Other wineries further north on Black Sage Road, such as Silver Sage Winery, remain open, as well as a plethora of wineries along Highway 97, known as the Golden Mile.
Dapinder Gill, general manager of Kismet Estate Winery, said 50 per cent of reservations at its bistro were cancelled as visitors fled the area.
Gill, who is also a director at the Oliver/Osoyoos Winery Association and sits on the board of directors at the Wine Growers of British Columbia, said Oliver-area wineries will face a significant financial blow due to the wildfire’s impact on tourism.
It comes as businesses try to recover from losses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions.
“There will be financial impacts to all wineries around the valley, because we look forward to the tourist season, and that is one of our biggest financial assets is the tourists coming to the area. The tourists being cautious and cancelling their reservations, it is a very big financial hit for the whole valley,” Gill told Global News.
Gill said the Black Sage Bench was the birthplace of premium wines for B.C.’s wine industry, and the historic wine-growing region is now under threat.
“We can see the whole mountain burning,” he said.
Gill doesn’t believe any vineyards have been damaged by the wildfire, and no structures have been lost.
His message to visitors is to call ahead.
“My message will be, they should call the wineries and make sure they are open,” he said.
More than 200 properties are under an evacuation order on the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve and within the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.