Awhile ago, the Globe and Mail published a story on the grapes emerging as the marquee varieties of BC.
It made the case that pinot noir was a forerunner among reds. That kicked off a nice little firestorm in the online Canadian wine geek world.
On a private Facebook group, as you might expect, folks jumped in to defend their favorite variety as the “true” elite grape of BC.
Of course there is a vast winegrowing region there, with many differences in terroir. So one could easily make the case that -- being such a young wine area -- it’s unhelpful to pinpoint pinot as the main player over the entire province.
That said, if pressed, I would probably agree that pinot noir excels across Canada in general.
I saw a set of comments come up that really made me scratch my head. Mainly because they seemed very anti-excellence and anti-wine history.
The comments were basically that the signature grape of BC was “diversity”.
Here is why I think that kind of philosophy hurts winegrowers and consumers:
The article definitely wasn’t arguing against BC winemakers experimenting and growing different grapes. It was making the case that after initial trials and growing pains, above-average pinot was emerging as a pattern.
Creek and Gully proprietor Kaleigh Jorgensen, however, sheds light on the realities of being a Canadian producer, "When 80% of wine produced in BC is purchased in BC, it’s so easy to slip into a ‘valley view’ of homogeneous styles and varieties. We are Wine Tour Disneyland, and it’s impossible to make wine solely for love and craft when we must monetize every aspect of our creativity to survive another winter. To devise unique styles and a sense of place requires risk and time, both of which are barriers in a place where the illusion of pastoral luxury has been the exact selling point pricing young creatives out. The trappings of winery life are marketed here as a lifestyle choice for retired dentists rather than the hardscrabble farming gig it truly is."
But let’s be honest, it’s not realistic or feasible that we would be great at 80+ varieties.
At some point we need to hone in on what we do well in each sub-region.
Winemaker Galen Bernhardt, agrees, "The industry is so small that we have no choice but to market ourselves as “BC”, but we also have to educate the public on the nuances of smaller regions, and I think it’s those smaller regions that need to zero in on what they do best. Example: East Kelowna - Pinot and Riesling"
The common story told over and over is that producers are obsessively tuned in to the minor tweaks required over time. And since I am lucky enough to deal with very humble people, they will often comment that a bottle I think is delicious (not perfect, mind you, just yummy) is missing such and such a thing. Or that it is going to take some corrections over time to achieve their vision.
“There is little growth potential inside the positive vibes only approach to craftsmanship. Criticism serves to push the envelope in quality and innovation - and those who are most critical can also be those who cheer the loudest when someone nails it.” muses wine importer, Kari Macknight Dearborn.
And so it should be.
The bulk of my time is spent learning about Canada, sorting out what grapes do well here. Championing Canadian wine is an uphill battle - a region in its infancy has much to prove, and when we preach that what we do best is diversity, it doesn't plead much of a case for measuring up to our global counterparts that comparatively produce a small handful of varieties well.
I'm only hard on Canadian wine because I want it to move nearer precision, harmony, balance, and satisfying artistry.
Winemaker Jordan Kubek attests to this notion, "We are incredibly lucky. We still have very few rules leaving us free to be creative and explore different varieties and styles. We have a very supportive community open to sharing ideas and knowledge. I don't know where we will end up, but having the freedom to play in such a unique environment is a fabulous opportunity to discover something uniquely ours."
It’s not huge grandiose changes that equal greatness, but rather slow, steady tweaks over time. A game of inches so to speak.
Innovation and experimentation are necessary in a region as young as Canada. But as we evolve and grow, we need to take stock at what isn't working. Regional styles, markers of Canadian terroir and winemaker influence all become crucial as we move away from emulation and settle into our own individual identity.