By Miles Prodan
British Columbia Wine Institute
But it is unfair to forecast doom and gloom or to lament the consolidation of industry stalwarts as a result of Andrew Peller Ltd.’s recently-announced acquisition of Black Hills Estate, Gray Monk Estate, and Tinhorn Creek wineries.
In what is clearly a vindication of British Columbia’s growing potential as a wine industry, both of our collective success and viability, Andrew Peller Ltd.’s $95 million-dollar acquisition of three prestigious BC wineries — with a subsequent $25 million investment over the next five years — can only be described as bullish for our industry as a whole.
These three wineries together own 250 acres of BC vineyards, produce 125,000 cases of wine and recorded sales of $24.5 million in 2016.
A publicly-run company and Ontario-headquartered, Peller Estate Ltd. is now ready to welcome these wineries into its existing portfolio of premium BC VQA wineries. This includes Sandhill Wines, Red Rooster Winery, and Conviction Wines (formerly Calona Vineyard’s BC VQA Artist Series Brand).
For those unaware, Peller Estates Ltd. is not new to BC and is already established one of the most experienced producers of BC VQA Wine.
It is inevitable that some will cry foul over a perceived takeover of iconic ‘estate’ wineries considered among the forbearers of our BC VQA Wine industry by an organization that by its history and successes is simply categorized as “large.”
Realistically, however, this is a designation used only by the BC Wine Institute to ensure good governance and fair representation on its Board and bears no relevance to a commitment to our industry.
For history buffs, while the term “estate” winery was once used to denote a specific winery category, the term is no longer regulated by the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (BC LCLB) and hasn’t been for close to 20 years.
Previously, there was a winery licence classification known as estate winery (farmgate as well) to indicate 100% BC grown grapes. The estate winery category did have conditions and a winery couldn’t call itself that if it didn’t meet the criteria. However, since the repeal of those winery classes, there’s no legal definition of estate winery — similar to calling oneself a “craft” brewery, which is similarly undefined.
Today there is only one winery licence issued by the BC Liquor Control & Licensing Branch though the BC Liquor Distribution Branch dictates distribution and reporting models based on a winery being land-based vs non land-based or ‘commercial’ and is independent of production amounts or size.
While wineries are subject to a barrage of audits, only the BC Wine Authority audits and is able to certify a wine as being 100% BC.
Today there are more than 50 licensed wineries reporting to the BC LDB as commercial, and with no relation to their production capacity, sales, or size.
So how does one know if a BC winery is producing 100% BC wine or not? Clearly not by its licence or size.
In the end, a winery’s tank capacity, sales or production volume is irrelevant to its commitment to producing a premium quality product. What is important is the guarantee that the product is 100% BC.
Fortunately, industry icons such as Trudy and George Heiss had the forethought to establish BC VQA certification to guarantee that it is.
While the Heiss family may be stepping away for a much-deserved retirement, their legacy will long be recognized by those of us fortunate enough to have the opportunity to continue driving our industry forward to its fullest potential.
Miles Prodan is President & CEO of the BC Wine Institute.