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'Clean slate' to reshape B.C. wine industry, after climate-related catastrophes



British Columbia's wine industry is facing a daunting challenge as it grapples with the aftermath of consecutive climate-related catastrophes, leaving vineyards devastated and wine production in disarray. The southern Interior, the heart of the province's wine industry, has endured a relentless series of setbacks, including record-breaking heat, destructive wildfires, and a damaging cold snap in 2022. The latest blow came in January, with a deep freeze estimated to have caused up to a 99 percent crop loss, erasing this year's vintage.


Sommelier Van Doren Chan sees this adversity as an opportunity to redefine the future of winemaking in British Columbia. Despite the hardships, she views it as a "clean slate" to shape the next generation of B.C. wine. While acknowledging the challenges ahead, Chan suggests that only a limited selection of B.C. wine will reach retail shelves in the coming years, as vineyards and wineries focus on recovery.


With extensive replanting efforts underway, Chan anticipates a shift toward direct-to-consumer sales and fulfilling orders for members. However, she also notes that the cost of B.C. wines is likely to rise due to crop losses compounded by global inflation. Despite this, she sees an opportunity to engage consumers in supporting the province's grape and wine producers, turning the challenges into a marketing campaign that emphasizes the quality and uniqueness of B.C. wines.


Wineries, such as Corcelettes Estate Winery, are prioritizing replanting efforts. The winery plans to scale back promotional activities and focus on conserving wine for members and direct sales while waiting for new plantings to yield Canada's finest wines once again. Charlie Baessler, a partner and general manager at Corcelettes, describes their experience as a "Rubik's cube of challenges" involving severe wildfires, smoke contamination, and now, crippling freezes.


Miles Proden, president of Wine Growers BC, acknowledges the industry's concern over the steady decline in grape harvests. Despite the challenges, vineyards like Corcelettes are adapting to climate changes by carefully selecting grape varieties and adjusting vineyard locations. Proden emphasizes the need for regulatory changes to explore options such as importing grapes or wine from other regions to sustain B.C. winemaking.


Elizabeth Wolkovich, an ecologist specializing in climate change and plants, notes the global impact of climate change on winemaking regions. While some argue that global heating could benefit Canadian wine regions, the unprecedented cold snap in January poses a unique threat. Baessler stresses the importance of government support for the industry, highlighting its significant contribution to the provincial economy.


The federal government has allocated additional funds to support the wine sector, aiming to bolster research and increase competitiveness. Proden remains optimistic about the future of the B.C. wine industry, emphasizing its global competitiveness and the appeal of its crisp vintages. However, he emphasizes the need for adequate grape supply to ensure the industry's sustainability.


As British Columbia's winemakers navigate these challenges, the resilience of the industry and the support it receives from both consumers and the government will determine its ability to overcome the setbacks and emerge with a revitalized and sustainable approach to winemaking.


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