BC Wine Report: 2016 Forecast for BC Wine – January 2016
by Rhys Pender, MWJanuary 14, 2015
This time of year always sees a flurry of wine predictions as writers sit back and reflect on the year that has been and forecast on where trends in the ever-fickle wine world will go in the year ahead. It is also a great time to look back further, taking stock of how the wine world has evolved over a longer timeframe, such as the past decade. Change in the wine world rarely takes place in one year, but rather evolves in a slow but steady manner. Commenting on the predictions for the upcoming year then is more a case of commenting on the continuing trends that we are seeing unfold in the marketplace.
Any article such as this must come with the caveat that these trends are those at the pointy end of the wine world, the trends that the early adopters are making happen rather than trends that are taking place in the mass market. And the reason for such predictions is that many of these forefront trends that start small end up mainstream within a few years. That is why it is necessary to think about it and that is why the wine world needs its pioneers. The second caveat is that there may be an element of hopefulness in some of these predictions, rather than solid science.
Some 2016 predictions for the BC wine world:
2015 saw the important step of the BC wine industry making a move towards showcasing its terroir. Recommendations to create smaller sub-appellations that might actually reflect what the wine tastes like are being considered and could become reality in 2016. (see my earlier BC report on this at BC Wine Appellation Task Group)
Sense of Place
Growers and winemakers in BC will continue their exploration of making wines that show a sense of place. Instead of winemaking tricks that make uniform tasting wine, many forward-thinking winemakers are looking to go to the next level in quality by making interesting wines that reflect their terroir.
Many predicted the demise of the natural wine movement in 2015, seeing it as some overhyped fad to excuse crappy winemaking. Boy were they wrong. Instead, natural wine is emerging into 2016 as an increasingly mainstream trend.
It is not just global but happening in Canada too. For those of you who question it, Southbrook’s Orange wine, made by Ann Sperling, was recently featured in one of Canada’s biggest home magazines. That is pretty mainstream.
People question how everything they eat is made and grown but have largely trusted that wine is natural too. Maybe it is because there is no ingredient labelling but all wines are not created equal. People are starting to realize this and natural wine is being recognized as a trend that is here to stay across the globe. It is a good time to start asking yourself, how natural is the wine I’m drinking? Wild ferments, concrete, organics, biodynamics, old oak and even amphora are starting to pop up in wineries around BC.
Bigger is not Better
“Big reds” are so pre-millennium. The days when bigger, riper, fuller, boozier meant better wine is on the decline. This has been a trend happening around the world, with the west coast of North America, perhaps due to California stylings, the last holdouts who are slow to change. But the trend is even happening in California itself. Napa Cabernet is becoming somewhat elegant again. In BC we are more naturally suited to fresher, medium to light bodied red wines anyway and grapes like pinot noir and gamay are finding new favour.
Say No to Sweet Red Wine
Maybe more hope than reality but I feel like the wave of wineries relying on sweetness to lure customers into drinking their wines is on the way out. Fresher, crisper, lighter seem to be the new buzz words. Hopefully the use of sugar in wines has served its purpose to get new drinkers moving from other beverages to wine, and now they can continue on the path to drier, less manipulated styles.
Supply & Demand
BC seems well on the way to balancing its supply and demand. With plantings slowed to almost a halt, things are working towards balance again. BC VQA wine sales have grown in both value and volume by more than 10% in the last two years.
One positive outcome of the oversupply of the last few vintages is that producers have realized they should look further afield in where their wine is sold. BC makes really good wine and people around the world are often impressed, but if nobody knows you make wine it is unlikely to build an international reputation. If a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound? If BC wine is only sold in Vancouver does it make a sound in the global wine world? More producers are realizing the need to spread the word about Canadian wine and the response has been good. With a low Canadian dollar, the time is right to take a few forays into the export market. (See John Szabo’s piece from earlier in 2015: How Are Canadian Wines Received Internationally?)
Oh, and perhaps exporting across Canada might be logical if the politicians can sort out the embarrassing fact that it is often easier to ship to another country than another province.
Further to, and as part of, what was mentioned above about looking to export, we need to let the international media know what is happening in BC. Recent visits by world wine superstars such as Steven Spurrier, Matt Kramer and Jamie Goode (who predicted Canadian wines to become better known as one of his predictions for 2016!) have shown that the wines are considered impressive. This means getting people to come and see the beautiful BC wine scape and learn what is on offer. But it also means we need to have a proper story to tell and focus on the best grapes in the best regions (something that should be helped by the new sub-appellations – see above).
Rosé seems to be still ploughing ahead strongly and moving beyond just a tipple for the hot summer months. It is also getting better as consumers don’t just want a pink wine made with leftovers but rather something that has been properly thought out.
Consumers also seem to be more adventurous in wine. No longer are they looking for the safety of the standard varieties and taste profiles. In fact, wine snobbery seems something from a generation past. New consumers just want something interesting, tasty and good value that is made in a way that is honest. Look at the global trend for exploring indigenous varieties.
One thing I am not sure about is where the flux of 2015’s changes to the way wine is sold in BC will settle. While some of the changes have been positive and logical there have been many things that have turned out to be not well thought out and causing unforeseen issues. It will take some strong political will to finally just do what makes sense.
Interesting Wine Lists
Aside from needing a break in the price they pay for wine (full retail, just like consumers) as part of the changes to the BC market, restaurants will continue to put out better wine lists than they ever have before. Big name and big ego wines seem to be getting dropped for character and value. The Sommelier movement has never been stronger in BC and customers are now able to benefit from people with intimate knowledge of their wine lists which results in more interesting and better value wines.
Advancements in technology with things like Coravin are also allowing restaurants to pour an increased range of wines by the glass without worry about losing wine through spoilage.
There are many other issues I could comment on but I feel these are perhaps the most important for BC wine for 2016. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something and I’d be happy to hear what your predictions are too and if you agree or disagree with what I have written. Happy New Year and cheers.
Rhys Pender, MW
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