As a BC wine dweeb, I was a bit shocked this past week to see the annual update on grape acreage in BC. It wasn’t the amount – we jumped over the 10,000 acre mark, which is great!
No, it was the “top grapes in the ground” that left me shaking my head. They were – in descending order – merlot, pinot gris, pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, gewürztraminer, cabernet franc, syrah, riesling, and sauvignon blanc.
For those who know even a little about BC, the first reason for my incredulity may be apparent. Our climate – while nice – is not as conducive to red grapes as to white, and certainly not to red grapes that ripen later – like merlot and cabernet sauvignon. So to see those as #1 and #5 seemed odd. Many of our wines made from these grapes are quite woody and herbal, as well as tannic, with little obvious fruit. Kinda like most Bordeaux, without the prestige! And cabernet franc? Come on…even in the Loire Valley – where it is famous – the wine is green and unripe. Only in California can they occasionally get it ripe enough to make it worth drinking.
The same kind of argument can be made for our white wines. Chardonnay needs to be ripe to be good…and very few producers here make good ones. Meanwhile, most of the pinot gris is hard to distinguish from the other white wines.
At the other end of the spectrum…how can riesling be second from the bottom? Of all the grapes on that list, it is the one that can have the highest acidity and doesn’t need to get super ripe to make great wines.
Not only that, we make arguably the best riesling in Canada (if not North America). Taste the wines from La Frenz or Tantalus…you will be blown away.
The same can be said for Syrah, which is maybe our most consistent – and maybe best – red wine. How can it finish second to last?
Pinot noir is about the only one that makes sense to me…we make some great pinot here, although a lot of thin, insipid stuff too.
So what’s up?
Well, I think I know the answer, and it is simple. Taste is relative, and reputation plays a big role. For the average wine drinker names like “Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay” are well known, so that is what they buy, whether it is good or not.
And…I guess…that is okay. Certainly, if that is what most people like, then they should get what they want.
But my heart actually aches for what people are missing. Some of our small producers make stunning wines for the “other varietals” – and even outstanding wines of the popular ones that taste nothing like the everyday Cabernets and Merlots – and few people will ever taste them. I know these producers probably don’t care, because they sell all of their wines to wine dweebs like me.
But I can’t help wish that everyone knew how good these wines were!