Interesting couple of stories the last few days in the Globe and Mail about BC’s wine industry, with the focus on the Okanagan. Today’s was all about how high costs — land, grapes, etc. — were causing many wineries to struggle to survive. But as I read it, I found myself wondering if some of the wineries profiled were missing a key point.
Yes, land is expensive there for grape growing. One restaurateur from Vancouver told me a couple of years ago that, on a per acre basis, land was actually more expensive than in Napa! So I don’t doubt that is a factor.
The nature of the business itself also provides natural challenges. Large capital expenditures (particularly for new wineries), product that often needs to be stored for at least a year or two (or more) before it can be sold, with no revenue coming in during that time. And, of course, the vagaries of our weather — that delicate balance between sun, rain and cold can be all the difference when it comes to quality.
But another factor that many wineries have brought upon themselves from a cost perspective is who they are making their wines for. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I have a huge problem with BC wines that reach — and go over — the $40 mark. Frankly, from a quality perspective, few if any of them can justify that kind of money.
Now, I’m fine paying a bit more for BC wine — $5 a bottle extra if the product is excellent. But at $40, there are Austrialian, French, Italian and Spanish wines that are way better for the same (or less). So what gives?
Well, the same restauranteur who told me about the $/acre problem also told me this — that the market for many wineries isn’t you and me in BC, but tourists, particularly from the U.S. Many of those folks used to spending $50, $60 and even more on wine — and looking for a souvenier to boot — may actually be looking for expensive wines, regardless of whether the quality is there or not. Personally, I expect that some of the old guard (like Mission Hill with its Occulus, Quatrain, Compendium, etc. and Osoyoos Larose) and newbies like Le Vieux Pin and Black Hills (Nota Bene) are doing just that. Even factoring in that their wines are not my style to begin with, I see no justification for wines of that price anywhere in BC!
And it is definitely not about quality, because you can make the best wine in BC for far less. So many examples are out there — virtually all of La Frenz’s wines are under $40, for example. Nichol’s Syrah is closer to $30, Blue Mountain’s Reserve Pinot Noir is about the same and Kettle Valley’s Reserve and Hayman Vineyard Pinots are under $40. Even new kids on the block — like Moon Curser and Mt. Lehman in Abbotsford — are well below that $40 threshold. Oh, and by the way, almost all of these wines sell out every year at these prices.
So what’s the moral of this story? Well, it is undoubtedly expensive and challenging to make good wine anywhere. But it doesn’t have to be ridiculous. And if you make your home your target market, you can even do it and make a profit too. But if you choose to market to someone else — don’t come crying the blues to me!