B.C.'s wine industry is relatively young, but it is also a significant economic force in the province. That's why when wildfires, flooding, and the consequences of those climate-related disasters, impact crops and wine production, the whole industry suffers.
To that end, a new campaign kicked off this week urging the public to support the industry during the harvest season and as we shift into the colder months as part of Wine Growers British Columbia's "Fall for B.C. Wine" campaign. Their ask is for wine shoppers, drinkers, gifters, and travellers to select B.C. wines at restaurants, bars, and retailers and to visit British Columbia's wineries in the coming weeks to eats, drink, and celebrate the season.
In 2019, B.C. wineries welcomed almost 1.2 million visitors, generating over $600 million in associated revenue for the province. Including both tourism and retail, B.C.'s wineries generally contribute about $3.75 billion annually to the provincial economy, according to a media release on behalf of the WGBC.
A year later, the industry was met with a challenging blow: 2020 was supposed to be a year of celebration - it was the 30th anniversary of the Vintners Quality Alliance and the province’s birth as a serious wine region - but, instead, B.C.'s many wineries suffered from the ramifications of the global pandemic.
Increasingly, natural disasters such as wildfires have had a profound effect on the wine industry. This year, B.C. wine industry business owners are facing what is likely to be the worst year many have seen for forest fire smoke. This comes as production is also crimped by a colder-than-normal winter that stunted vines.
Wineries around the province are facing a cumulative estimated 54 per cent reduction in crops this year, along with longer-term damage to 45 per cent of total planted acreage, with a projected $133 million in direct revenue lost this year alone.
Tourism to wine regions in B.C. slowed by wildfires
Compounding the crop loss is the fact that wildfires in the Okanagan and on Vancouver Island kept tourists from visiting some of the province's most popular wine regions, while simultaneously forcing wine industry professionals to evacuate temporarily.
Some wineries, like 81-year-old Jake Ootes' Celista Estate Winery, had just started to see revenue rebound following the pandemic slump that began in 2020.
This year, Ootes told BIV that forest fire smoke will render his entire crop of one grape varietal unusable, while the deep freeze in December 2022, when temperatures plunged below -30C for days in the Shuswap, stunted production of two of the other varietals he grows.
Ootes himself had to evacuate when fire encroached on his property; now he is facing a drop in production from 2,400 cases last year to about 1,800 this year, including some wines made with grape juice sourced from other growers.
“Winemaking has never been an industry for the faint of heart — resilience is a prerequisite,” said Miles Prodan, President and CEO of WGBC. “However, these setbacks are temporary. We’ve always been fortunate to have enormous support for the wines of B.C. from local consumers and, with them behind us, we know the industry will overcome these challenges. We’re looking forward to an exciting future for B.C. wine.”
The WGBC has outlined some easy ways people can support B.C. wineries this fall:
- Choose B.C. wine during the next shopping trip at a favourite wine store
- Choose B.C. wine as a gift for an upcoming occasion
- Order a glass or bottle of B.C. wine while dining out
- Visit a B.C. winery or farm stand
- Choose a B.C. wine region for your next getaway
- Share support and spread the word using WGBC's #FallForBCWine hashtag on social media
Lastly, the WGBC is asking for people to nominate a deserving individual impacted by recent wildfires, a "Community Hero" who stepped up for their community during BC’s 2023 wildfire crisis. Whether a first responder, a community volunteer, or someone who took in those in need, the industry wants to help recognize hometown heroes. One lucky recipient from the pool of nominees will win an all-expenses paid VIP trip for two to B.C. Wine Country this November.
More information about the “Fall for BC Wine” campaign and how to nominate a deserving individual is available via the Wine Growers BC website.
With files from Glen Korstrom and Joanne Sasvari