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B.C. wines clean up at inaugural Canadian Wine Awards

For years, ordering a bottle Canadian wine was maybe a step up from ordering a bottle of Bud at a fancy restaurant, then asking for a bottle of ketchup to spruce up the broiled salmon.

A lot has changed, however, and in a relatively short period of time. With B.C. leading the way, a group of determined vintners have made the best of our climate to produce some highly enjoyable – and marketable – wines. In 1996, B.C. wine exports were a mere $300,000, but by the following autumn they were up to more than $2 million. With a bumper year in the Okanagan Valley in1998, and a growing reputation for quality and specialty products such as ice wines, Canadian exports were almost $10 million last year. B.C. exports accounted for more than $6 million of that total.

The fact that there are only a handful of wine makers in Canada, when compared to a wine powerhouse like California, quantity was thought to be a limiting factor in exports.

According the B.C. Wine Research Centre at UBC, a privately funded project that was created by the wine industry to address their scientific needs, there are currently 68 wineries in B.C., and 190 growers on approximately 5,000 acres of land. That’s not even half the size of Oregon’s wine region.

At home, we still tend to import the majority of our wines, but the domestic market for domestic wines had increased to about 35 per cent of the $745 million in B.C. sales in 1998.

Elsewhere in Canada, and especially in Southern Ontario, the wine industry is experiencing similar growth, but in a different vein. Most of B.C.’s pre-eminent wineries are established estate wineries, while Ontario is on the whole more proficient in making and marketing affordable table wines.

At international tasting events, Canadian wines are beginning to earn accolades, but we haven’t done much to recognize the industry at home. To remedy the situation, Air Canada and Wine Access Magazine hosted the first Canadian Wine Awards in Toronto on Nov. 4. All the West Coast winners were presented with their awards at the Preview Grand Tasting on Nov. 8 in Whistler, as part of the annual Cornucopia Food and Wine Celebration.

A total of 71 wineries from three provinces submitted 528 wines for judging. A total of 247 gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded, based on a points system. A minimum of 85 points is required for a medal, and a total of 20 wines scored 91 or better, denoting "excellent" or "outstanding."

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