The Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in BC Wine is unique among wine competitions. Nowhere else, as far as I know, does a panel of judges work so hard to whittle down 486 entries to just 12 wines. (Although, Ontario stages a similar contest, which is modeled on BC’s.)

The contest has grown considerably as BC’s wine industry evolves. As more, once borderline regions come on stream the range and styles of wines increases accordingly.

One of the contest’s key aspects,  the winners often include ‘under the radar’ wineries. When the wraps come off, it’s always intriguing to see who made it through. This year is no exception, as you will see.


A Brief History


Lieutenant Governor's awards founder: The Honourable Iona Campagnolo

The awards’ founding Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo

It’s 14 years since then Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo discovered Canada’s Governor General was on a serious BC shopping spree. Her consort, John Ralston Saul, was busy stocking the cellar at Rideau Hall with the best of BC (and Ontario) bottles. The story goes that Her Honour was dining at Sooke Harbour House, renowned for its BC cellar. When she discovered that several of the best wines had been scooped up, she decided something needed to be done!

Government House consulted with trade and media to forge a much valued contest. It decided to reward only the best wines. And bring added distinction from the cachet of the Lieutenant Governor’s patronage.

To put things in perspective, in 2003 BC was still very much spreading its wings. The industry was facing challenges that ranged from quite variable quality to still trying to decide which varieties were suited to any given area. Even in the short time since, BC’s industry has expanded beyond the wildest dreams of the few pioneers who launched the modern era in the 1980s. It has also become far more polished. All of which makes these awards even more interesting and complex to undertake.


A Competition with Serious Cachet

Lieutenant Governor's awards white flight

The contest is staged ‘double blind’ with all entries coded and unknown to the judges

It’s important for Government House there be no commercial influence. The only way wineries may capitalize on being awarded is to display the official seal on the bottle. Although, bragging rights are also priceless. As is the visit by the Lieutenant Governor (scheduled for September) and an enthusiastic entourage of the Consular Corps.

Wineries who make it to the final round are recognized with a letter of commendation. Their wines are also included (with the winners) on a list of wines served at Government House official functions.

Judge Brent Muller assesses the final white flight

Victoria based Judge Brent Muller assesses the final white flight

The Government House Foundation raises the money to make such projects possible. It has continued to fund the awards during the tenures of Steven Point and current Lieutenant Governor, The Honourable Judith Guichon.

Overall, this year’s final round revealed very strong red wine entries, ranging from Pinot Noir to Syrah and Bordeaux blends. This reflects the string of excellent vintages that BC has enjoyed over the last few years. Hence the winners’ circle leans more towards red wines (8 out of 12) than usual.

2017 BC Lieutenant Governor’s Award Winners

In announcing the winners, Her Honour said:

“2017’s winning wines represent the best from our province. The hundreds of exceptional wines entered each year make it a challenge to select just twelve winners.”

Lieutenant Governor's Award Winners for Excellence in BC Wines

Lieutenant Governor’s Award Winners for Excellence in BC Wines, 2017

Congratulations to this year’s recipients, some of whom make regular appearances on this list…

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Cabernet Franc 2014

Cassini Cellars
The Aristocrat Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 *

Cassini Cellars
Nobilus Merlot 2013 *

Castoro de Oro Estate Winery
Crimson Rhapsody 2014

Gray Monk Estate Winery
Odyssey White Brut 2014

The Hatch
Crown + Thieves “The Broken Barrel” Syrah 2013

Howling Bluff Estate Winery
Century Block Pinot Noir 2013

Kitsch Wines
Riesling 2015

Maverick Estate Winery
Bush Vine Syrah 2014

Noble Ridge Vineyards and Winery
“The One” Sparkling 2012

Perseus Winery
Invictus 2013

Upper Bench Estate Winery
Upper Bench Estate Chardonnay 2015

* Of note, of course, not one but two wines from Cassini. That’s impressive. But the fact that a winery can win two of 12 awards underscores the fairness and transparency of the contest. The results are as counted and not in any way adjusted.

In Conclusion …

Every year I look at the list of recipients to see if there’s a common theme, or particular trend developing. That (for the most part) more full bodied reds dominate come as no surprise. Given the climate and ideal circumstances of the last few vintages, British Columbia’s red wines are coming into their own like never before. Pinot Noir was also impressive. Syrah continues to gain grounds, but now often with more elegance than power. Cabernet Franc has also now firmly arrived as a BC stalwart.
However, not to be overlooked is the choice of two excellent sparkling wines, reminders of the potential that exists in this category. It was good to see such a superb Riesling come through, while the Chardonnay pulled ahead in a fairly strong group.

It’s good to see some new names in here, as well as some perennial winners.
In all, 132 wineries entered, with the majority of wineries/brands taking advantage of the maximum four wines permitted.

For more on the Lieutenant Governor’s awards, check out posts from previous years, including 2016, 2015, 2014 , 2013 and 2012