The South Okanagan—er, Oliver & Osoyoos Wine Country, from the border to McIntyre Bluff, viewed from Anarchist Mtn., Tim Pawsey photo

We’re still sorting through our notes from this year’s South Okanagan Banée. But this was the major news…

Here’s our column as it appears in this weekend’s North Shore News:

Over the last six months, the South Okanagan Wineries Association (SOWA) has been on the quest for a new identity. While organizations often rebrand, SOWA’s reasons are more complex.

The challenge faced by the group, which includes 21 wineries—from giants like Vincor to small family owned enterprises such as Castoro De Oro (formerly Golden Beaver)—was to find a real point of distinction—though maybe without being too precise…

A new brand: regional emphasis ... but no appellation. Yet.

 

 

With 53 percent of BC’s acreage under vine, the south grows the majority of grapes that go into BC wines (regardless of whether they’re made in Summerland or Saanich). That’s a fact not always apparent on front labels, which generally state only ‘Okanagan Valley.’

In jurisdictional terms, the South Okanagan starts at Peachland and includes Penticton. However, many in the grape-growing community have long felt the real divide to be McIntyre Bluff. The soaring cliff face just north of Oliver is a natural weather barrier that marks a point where harvest times between the south and some parts of the central valley can differ by as much as two or more weeks.

From a wine tourism point of view, SOWA’s new brand makes perfect sense. It’s also deliberately more specific than the recently discarded “Desert Wine Country.”

Tim Martiniuk: 'A sense of something very special', Tim Pawsey photo

 

 

“We’re proud to be here . . . and everyone has a sense of something very special. But we weren’t exactly sure of where ‘here’ is; or rather we haven’t done a very good job of telling consumers about it,” says SOWA president Tim Martiniuk.

He introduced the new brand logo — a red on yellow sunburst of bottles with the slogan “uncork the sun” and “Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country” prominently stated.

Click here for the rest of the North Shore News column.

Some background:

The move to promote Oliver Osoyoos more specifically is an interesting (and logical) one, amplified by the fact that the 21 member South Okanagan Wineries Association is now firmly defining its geographic limits as being South of McIntyre Bluff.’ While it’s important to note that this is a commercial ‘brand’, it is one that at the same time does make the case very strongly for a South Okanagan wine region.

Also of note is that just about all the grapes that go into the wines made by the majority of SOWA member wineries (all with the exception perhaps of Jackson Triggs) already come from the South Okanagan—something that cannot be said for other parts of BC.

The debate on whether or not to implement sub-appellations tends to divide people pretty firmly into two camps, depending—not surprisingly—on where they are. Wineries who are truly land-based (i.e. bona-fide estate wineries, who use only grapes grown in their own vineyards or vineyards they control) stand to benefit from being within a sub-appellation, which could raise their cachet above that of the broader region at large. In a way, BC already has that system in place through the ability to label wines as ‘vineyard designate.’ It does offer considerable leverage, especially if that vineyard happens to be in a recognizable area—such as Black Sage. However, it’s not as evolved as a sub-appellation system, which would also include vineyard designate at the next level.

Those not in favour of sub-appellations tend to be wineries who draw freely from a variety of vineyards across the Okanagan—and wish to continue doing so without being more explicit on the label. This may be for any number of reasons, although usually it’s a matter of sourcing sufficient volume and for brand continuity. The argument you hear most from this camp, in support of the status quo, is that BC is ‘just too small’ for a sub-appellation system …

For too many years now, the BC consumer has been short-changed (often as not by the interests of larger wineries) by a system that’s too general in identifying (or not) just where the grapes come from. It’s also fair to say that this broad approach to origin has its roots in the early history of BC wine production, prior to the advent of VQA, and even prior to land-based wineries, when grapes might have been sourced from anywhere (including from Washington State and California)—a fact not necessarily (in fact rarely) stated on the label.

The biggest (and most divisive) challenge revolves around establishing the exact boundaries for Okanagan sub-appellations (already identified, as five ‘sub-regions‘). While the first step might be seem easy, e.g. accepting, say, Golden Mile, Naramata Bench, or Black Sage as specific areas, the nitty gritty comes down to where the individual limits are eventually drawn.

From the consumer’s point of view it really comes down to one issue: transparency.

For more on this discussion, have a look at what John Schreiner has to say, about Golden Mile, in particular …