First off, the time has come to open provincial borders to transporting and shipping Canadian wine throughout the country. I strongly support the Alliance of Canadian Wine Consumers (ACWC) and their Free My Grapes campaign. I very much hope that Bill C-311 (An Act to amend the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act) gets passed. But it will have some unwanted consequences for those, outside of British Columbia, hoping to have easier access to the fine wines being produced in BC. As well for those in BC that already have access to these wines.
Prices Will Rise!
Not all wines will increase in price, but those already expensive, limited production, finer quality wines will see more pressure from the demand side. Think wines in the $35 plus range. Wines many wineries consistently sell out of every year, or very nearly so, often times before the next years vintage gets released.
There are lots of great $15 to $25 wines being produced in BC, but these wines are often produced in much higher volumes and priced to target certain market price points. A $20 wine needs to remain at $20 to satisfy those buyers who tend to mainly buy $20 wines. Unless demand picks up rather significantly on those wines they probably need to remain at that price.
Supply is Increasing – Slowly
BC wineries are growing. New acreage is being turning into vineyards every year and production is growing. From 2008 to 2011 grape acreage increased from 9100 acres to 9866 acres (8.4%). And BC VQA wine sales increased from 6.59 million litres to 8.35 million litres (26.7%). (source BC Wine Institute from data from the BCLDB)
This supply growth largely feeds the bigger market of low and middle end wines. Mostly the middle as the lower end wine market is largely filled by “Cellared in Canada” (CIC) wines from imported grapes and there will not be a tidal wave of new buyers rushing to have those wines shipped to another province. In fact most CIC producers have production facilities in most provinces to supply those markets and as such already avoid inter-provincial shipping issues.
Production will likely continue to meet demand and keep the lower and mid priced wines at their respective price points.
Higher end wines won’t/can’t increase in production to the same levels but demand from the rest of the country will soon flood into many wineries online shops (if/when the bill is passed). Visiting wine tourists will choose to have a case or two shipped home, once that option is available to then. Fine restaurants across the country will want some of these wines on their wine lists. Prices have to rise.
Take for example Mission Hill Oculus. This stunning wine, one of the best produced in BC and Canada for that matter, retails at $80 a bottle. A steep price for most wine drinkers. Yet according to John Schreiner, who got to sample the 2008 release just a couple weeks ago, “most of the wine has been allotted for collectors and restaurants although there usually are some bottles on sale at the winery“. Total production, 1100 cases. At what price could Mission Hill still sell out on Oculus when all of Canada has equal access to it? $100? $120? $160? 200?
And what of those $25 to $35 wines? The transition zone. This price point is just beyond the ‘everyday wine’ for most drinkers. But many who generally buy $15 to $20 wines will once in a while treat themselves to something a bit more expensive. Perhaps for a special holiday meal or the occasional luxurious treat. In this price range too, perhaps still a bit limited in quantity than lower priced wines yet not to the extent of the very expensive icon wines, many wineries sell out before the next vintage is released.
Price list on Moon Curser Vineyard website - May 5th 2012
Moon Curser’s 2009 Border Vines, for example, retails at $25 at the winery (but costs me $28 at a local private liquor store) is sold out ( I have a few bottles tucked away ). In fact, at time of writing, visiting the Moon Curser website right now, 7 of their 8 wines are currently sold out.
Moon Curser should be thinking about raising prices now, even before the rest of Canada can knock on their door. There are other wineries in, or nearly in, the same position.
These $25 to $35 wines will see demand pressures as well and prices will rise. Maybe not quite to the extent of many of the more expensive wines but rise they will.
That all said, there is over priced wine on the market in BC. Some producers may have overpriced themselves and the wine does not quite live up to market expectations, and they get stuck with excess stock that does not sell. These wineries may benefit from the coming demand- allowing them to keep prices where they are and become lucky enough to sell the majority of their stock. A rising tide floats all boats.
Over the past 2 years prices have stagnated and even declined very slightly, on average, for BC VQA wines. This is largely due to the global recession but those effects were slight in Canada compared to the USA. Napa Valley took a beating over the past few years and prices declined dramatically. However, wine economist Mike Veseth is seeing a major upturn in the US wine market coming on the horizon. Canada may see the same, though maybe to a lesser degree, even if Bill C-311 does not pass.
Just How Much More Demand Could we See for BC Wines?
In a post on sustainability of the Canadian wine industry, Sandra Oldfield, winemaker and CEO at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, says Canada has the ability to absorb all of what is produced in Canada while still bringing in huge amounts of import wines. Canadians consume 334,000,000 liters of wine yet only produce 50,000,000 liters and barely any of that gets exported outside the country.
If all of Canada had access to BC wine, they would certainly drink it. I think ‘explode‘ would be how you could best describe the coming growth in demand.
It’s Not Just BC Wines
Ontario wines will see the same effects of cross-Canada demand. The small wineries of Quebec and Nova Scotia may as well (especially some of the Nova Scotia bubblies). And it’s not just internet sales and shipping direct to consumer. At some point in the future the wine racks in liquor stores will no longer just have a BC wines section in BC liquor stores, or an Ontario wine section in Ontario liquor stores, plus the sections for France, Italy, Australia, USA, Spain, Chile, Argentina, etc. They will have a Canadian wine section featuring cross sections of the wines of Canada.
That is the future Canadian wines need and deserve. It is the future Canadian wines will eventually get- even if this bill does not pass at this point in time. Someday it will happen. But we will pay a little extra for the good stuff. Some of us very happily so.
Everyone Benefits from Higher Wine Prices
Yes, I said it. Everyone benefits from higher prices on BC (and Canadian) wines. Wineries become more profitable and that’s a very good thing. Good for those businesses and the wine industry in general. Believe it or not, consumers will benefit too. As I said above it is largely the already higher priced wines that will see price increases. For the most part this has little effect on the average wine consumer. Those who do tend to drink and collect higher priced wines will see the pinch but they are a small part of the overall market. They also tend to be in a better financial position to absorb such costs. Where the benefits come for the rest of us is in increased production of everyday great quality $15 to $20 wine. Remember, these wines are priced specifically to hit certain price points and need to keep targeting those same price points.
Wineries with their increased cash flows and profits will invest more in planting new vineyards. Most of that increase in grape production will go towards the higher volume low-mid priced wines as that is really where the bulk of the money is for those businesses. Also, higher end wines are always more exclusive as they are only selected from the very best of the best grapes, or those few barrels that turn out better than the rest. Grape production increases tend not to increase those premium lots of grapes by all that much.
Really good BC wines for the most part start at about $20. There are some great ones to be found below that price level now but with increased grape production over time we may also get to see more $15 wines that are reaching higher in the quality spectrum. That is something most wine drinkers will love to see. Bill C-311 may very well help get us there.
Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me why in the comments below.
Last night this charlatan of wine attended his first big wine tasting event. The 14th annual Kamloops Wine Festival, a fundraiser for the Kamloops Art Gallery, kicked off with the Consumer Wine Tasting event. With over 150 wines to sample I was like a kid in a candy shop.
Being that my quest for Bordeaux style blends is still an ongoing affair I focused mainly on those style of wines. But tried a few others here and there, both red and white wines, stepping out of my usual boundaries.
Wines of Note
Perseus Invictus – A Bordeaux style blend containing 5 of the 6 classic varieties that are permitted in a Meritage/Bordeaux blend with this vintage having a fairly heavy amount of Petit Verdot (10%). I came back for more of this one a couple times through the night.
Summerhill Cipes Brut – A Champagne style bubbly white that was crisp and tasted of green apples and pear and nectarine. A great pallet cleanser between sessions of tasting big reds.
Tantalus Pinot Noir – I’m not much of a Pinot fan but this one may have swayed me to the other side. Much deeper and bolder than a typical Pinot Noir it had some spice and light tannins from the oak aging. I may yet become a convert to Pinot.
Noble Ridge Meritage – This was interesting in that it was only 80/20 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon yet they decided to go with the Meritage name (a trademarked term wineries need to pay a licence for). Lots of producers do Cab/Merlot blends but often just call them that instead of going for the “Bordeaux Style” labeling.
Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt Syrah – Pepper is a trademark flavour in most Syrah/Shiraz wines. This one had a very definative freshly cracked black pepper note to it. Very Rhone style with a lighter body than a huge Austrailian Shiraz.
River Stone Corner Stone – the 2009 vintage of this big Bordeaux style blend is, i believe, their first release. Nice texture from the tannins and a lingering finish.
Cerilia Misceo – From the Similkameen Valley another solid Bordeaux blend that hits 4/5 stars in my books.
Dunham & Froese MDC – A blend of Cab Sav, Zinfandel and Syrah. Yes, that’s a Zin from BC. Great finish on this one.
All told I sampled nearly 40 of the wines on offer and covered everything I aimed to try, except I think I missed the Seven Stones Meritage. About 2/3rds of the way into the night I misplaced my pen and did not take notes after that. And I don’t recall having had that wine. Though it is entirely possible I did, but I was beginning to get a bit tipsy towards the end of the night- as might be expected after 40 wine samples.
Though I’ve had them before I had to taste again the bigger than big Painted Rock Red Icon, the great value Meritage from Lake Breeze Vineyards which may very well be the best $20 Meritage in BC, and the wonderful Cabernet Franc from Hester Creek (I was very disappointed they didn’t bring the Judge, and let them know via Twitter).
At least someone takes the Wine Charlatan seriously, though I tweeted from my other account
I had a blast. Sampled some great wines. Had some great chats with people from the wineries. Nibbled on some breads, cheeses, sliced meats, smoked Salmon. Had more wine. Bumped into a couple local people I knew. Had more wine. Fought for a cab at the end of the night. Went home and opened a bottle of 3 Cru Traveler, yet another BC Bordeaux blend ticked of my list.
I have a dream.
I have a dream that one day I will have sampled every Bordeaux style red wine blend being produced in British Columbia. Let me tell you, I am well on my way to living that dream. And the quest continues.
To date I have tasted 32 made in BC, from 100% BC fruit, big red blended wines. A few BC wineries are producing Bordeaux Plus styles with the addition of Syrah. Before the early 1900′s many producers in Bordeaux, France would add a little Syrah from the Northern Rhone region to add some depth and colour during years when Bordeaux vineyards had a bad vintage. So, as a Charlatan, I’m including them in this list but do note which are Plus blends. I am however omitting the very common 2 grape blend of Cab Sav and Merlot.
Here is what I’ve had so far (in order of my personal 5 star ratings) (winery pricing rounded to nearest dollar);
Mission Hill – Oculus 2007 $80
Mission Hill – Compendium 2008 $50
Moon Curser – Border Vines 2009 $25
Painted Rock – Red Icon 2008 $60
Desert Hills – Mirage 2006 $35
Osoyoos Larose – Le Grand Vin 2007 $45
Osoyoos Larose – Petals d’Osoyoos 2008 $25
Mission Hill – Quatrain 2008 $50 – a Plus with a fair bit of Syrah
Nk’mip Qwam Qwmt – Meritage 2007 $30
Red Rooster – Reserve Meritage 2009 $23
Hester Creek – Character 2010 $20 – Bordeaux Plus (Syrah)
Herder Winery – Josephine 2008 $50
Laughing Stock – Blind Trust 2009 $50
Sandhill – Two Blend 2009 $35
Clos Du Soliel – Signature 2008 $39
Cedar Creek – Platinum Meritage 2007 $40
Fort Berens – Meritage 2009 $28
Herder Winery – Meritage 2009 $20
Lake Breeze – Meritage 2009 $20
Hidden Chapel – Trilogy Meritage 2009 $25
Tinhorn Creek – 2Bench Red 2008 $35
Township 7 – Reserve 7 2007 $35
Road 13 – Rockpile 2010 $25 – may be too much Syrah to even be a Bordeaux Plus
See Ya Later Ranch – Ping 2008 $28
Inniskillin – Dark Horse Meritage 2008 $25
Gehringer Brothers – Dry Rock Blend 2010 $15
Road 13 – Honest John’s Red 2010 $20 – Bordeaux Plus (Syrah and Gamay Noir)
Spierhead – Vanguard 2009 $30
Stags Hallow – the Heritage Block 2008 $25
Ganton & Larsen – Regatta 1 Red 2009 $15 – Bordeaux Plus (Shiraz)
Blasted Church – Big Bang Theory 2010 $19 – Bordeaux Plus (Syrah)
Therapy – Freud’s Ego 2008 $17
Every time your go to the liquor store buy at least one new wine. And keep trying the cheap stuff. Trying new wines on a regular basis is a sure fire way to learn about wine and in particular what you like and don’t like in wines. Every now and then you find a real winner. Hunting for value wines is a prime time sport in the wine world, even for those with fatter wallets.
Case in point, the 2010 Carmenere from Santa Rita’s 120 brand of wines. I picked it up one day to give it a shot, not wanting to spend more that $15. Ding, ding, ding – WINNER!
A Brief History of Carmenere
The Carmenere grape is absolutely flourishing in Chile. It’s like the terroir in that region of the world has been crying out for the Carmenere grape. “This is where you belong! Not France! Come to Chile and express yourself fully!” In fact, for those that don’t know, the Carmenere grape was brought to Chile’s Central Valley in the 1800′s and was mistakenly thought to be a Merlot clone – oops. Back in France the grape suffered a double blow to fungal attack and a Phylloxera infestation in the mid 1800′s. After that it was long thought that the Carmenere varietal had gone extinct, or nearly so at least.
Carmenere in Chile, mistakenly thought to be Merlot, was thus heavily mixed in with true Merlot, giving the wines from Chile a very different flavor profile than it’s European descendants. Many probably just choked that up to terroir differences. That and French traditionalists would likely have just assumed wine makers in South America had no clue what they were doing. It was not until 1994 that some genetic testing was done and determined that it had been the long lost Carmenere grape.
Now back to our wine at hand here, 120 Carmenere.
I’ve sampled other wines in Santa Rita’s 120 line. Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon and these are, well, typical of most mass produced low to low-mid price ranged wines coming out of South America – decent but nothing all that special. But the Carmenere is the star of this line.
Nice and fruity with touches of spice and leather, a light hint of chocolate, maybe tobacco and quite a bit of vanilla. And this wine has a finish that lingers on the tongue! All that in a $13 (my local pricing – or about $7 to $8 in the USA) bottle of wine. That’s a good value wine. One you can buy and drink often.
I recall when I thought a blended wine meant it was cheap and mass produced. Or that was once my perception. Wine makers simply took the last of their grapes, as the good ones were already allotted to their higher quality single varietal wines, and they simply mixed them all up to make a cheap basic table wine to as to sell off that remaining product. And then I tried Oculus.
Oculus is the flagship product from Mission Hill Estate Winery in Kelowna, BC. It retails at $80 a bottle. Not a cheap blend by any stretch of the imagination. Oculus was my eureka moment as a wine lover. I mark it as the point when I truly discovered the allure of really good wines. And it shattered my silly pre-conceived notions of what blended wines were all about.
My wife and I had won a full tour and tasting at Mission Hill. It was a bottle of their medium level Cab Sav, or maybe a Merlot, that had a tag on the neck about this promotional contest and a link to their website to enter. So on a whim we placed 2 entries. One for me and one for her. A few months later, having totally forgot about it, I get an email announcing I was the winner. Sweet!
It was a private tour and tasting even. Just me, the wife and a sommelier. It was awesome. When we tasted the Oculus I was blown away. It was the best tasting wine I had ever had, and miles above anything else I’d had. The sommelier told the story of how that wine is made. How the grapes are selected. How the 70 some year old cigar smoking master wine maker from France flys in twice a year to taste the grapes at harvest then taste the wines before they are blended. He uses that information to recommend what the blend percentages should be that year. Or at least that’s the romantic story they tell at the winery.
Some Bordeaux style red blends from British Columbia
I was hooked. Blends, blends, give me blends. Big, rich, complex red blends. From that point forward most of what I’ve been drinking has been blends. Not just from BC, the wine region I’m closest to, but elsewhere too. California Zinfindel blends, Australian Shiraz blends, Chilean and Argentinian blends, South African blends and of course some true Bordeaux blends from France.
Of all the blends I’ve been drinking over the past year I am mostly trying to sample every Bordeaux style blend being produced right here in BC. I’m stepping well outside my preferred price point just to sample at least one bottle as some are quite pricey. I’ll be adding reviews of those to the blog here soon.
I’ve long heard of people decanting wine and letting wine breathe. I had always thought that was some basic wine snobbery. I’m sure many feel the same way. I even recall jokes about letting wine breathe on TV shows. Like an episode of Where I Met Your Mother where Marshal and Lily are attending some party and waiting impatiently to drink the wine that the wine snobs at the party are letting breathe before they allow it be served.
So, yeah, I never let my big red wines breathe. Open and drink. Good enough.
I was wrong.
How I Discovered the Concept of Letting a Wine Breathe
I discovered how letting a wine breath can really open it up rather haphazardly. It was a bottle of 2010 Hester Creek Character. A Bordeaux style blend from the Southern Interior of British Columbia. I did not set out to let this wine breath. I opened it, poured a glass and began to drink, as usual. But it was a rather slow drinking night. So with each glass I poured (the bottle remained open the whole time) I began to notice the wine getting smoother and smoother. The buttery chocolate notes seemed to come out a bit more and more with each glass.
Eureka! This is why you let wine breath!
Let me rephrase that. This is why you let good tannin rich deep red wines breath.
What Wine’s Should be Allowed to Breathe?
Not all wines need to, or should be allowed to breathe. It’s the big bolder reds, the ones meant for aging, that you should let breathe before drinking. Think Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or Shiraz and the big red Bordeaux style blends. But even among those wine varieties not all need to breathe. Cheaper mass produced wines, the commodity wines, are produced to be drunk young. No further aging required. They won’t and can’t get any better with age or with letting them breathe.
Why Let Wines Breathe?
Basically you are exposing the wine to oxygen which reacts with the tannins and other complex organic compounds in the wine. To some extent, for wines that benefit greatly from aging in the bottle, you are simulating and speeding up the aging process. Not exactly, but sort of.
Tannins, or tannic acid, give wines that astringent mouth puckering feel. Tannins are a long protein chain and the flavor receptors, where they interact with the surface of our tongue, exist at the ends of each chain. With age these chains slowly pair up to form longer chains, effectively diminishing the number of receptor ends. This is how the tannins in wine mellow with time.
Instead of letting the wine age, by letting it breathe the tannins will oxidize and form different compounds at the receptor ends, effectively turning some of those receptors off. A very different process from chain building with age, but a very similar effect on your tongue.
As the wine oxidizes it changes the flavor profile as well. This is the reaction with the other organic compounds, flavor compounds or aromatics in the wine (phenols, esters, carbonyls, etc). Certain flavors that may only be a faint hint can come forward more with breathing time, others may take a back seat.
How Long Should Wine Breathe
The length of time a wine should breathe will vary from wine to wine. As well as your method. Experiment with your favorite wines to fine an optimal resting period. If you use a decanter it will not need as much time as simply popping the cork early and letting it sit.
At time of this writing I do not own a decanter. So I just open the bottle and let them sit. At a minimum I shoot for an hour breathing time. Some of the bigger Bordeaux style blends I’ve been drinking lately do better with 2 to 3 hours breathing time. If I was using a decanter I might cut those times in half. The act of pouring the wine into the decanter does a fair amount of aeration and the wider neck of the decanter exposes more surface area of the wine to the air while you let it breath.
Note that by oxidizing wine you are speeding up it’s journey towards it’s ultimate existence. Vinegar. If you let it breathe too long it will become sour tasting.
Final note. If you don’t have time to wait, but wish you did because you know that wine would benefit from some breathing time, you can always try hyper-decanting. Crazy and blaspheme to some, but I’ve tried it and it does work. I pour a single serving of wine into a standard drinking glass or a tumbler. Using a small wire wisk spin it back and forth using the palms of your hands, like you were spinning a stick to make fire. Spin for 10 to 20 seconds. Pour from standard glass into you wine glass. Presto. 2 hours breathing time in 10 seconds. You could also use a hand blender, or pour the whole bottle into a full sized blender and hyper-decant it all at once.