Discovering British Columbia

I'm in Canada this week, getting to know the wine regions of British Columbia around Okanagan Lake. It's my first time here, and we have a busy schedule of tastings and vineyard visits.

British Columbia's wine regions are relatively young, commercially speaking - in 1990 there were fewer than 20 wineries, now there are over 275.

That tends to mean that, unlike many long-established European wine regions,  most producers here have a keen understanding of the business side of the wine trade. They are active on social media, have good websites, operate cellar doors with restaurants and tasting rooms, and have strong technical grounding in viticulture and vinification.

However, the sense of tradition and heritage is far less powerful in new regions than it would be in Chianti or Chablis, for instance. While that might be advantageous in that it allows producers to establish their own traditions and doesn't impose any restrictions on their winemaking, it means they have a harder task to establish their region's identity.

One of the questions often asked about wine is: what are the unique characteristics of this grape in this region? Finding a trait that is unique and universal to a set of wines is a handy way of summarising them - as in Mosel Riesling and slate, Coonawarra Cabernet and eucalyptus, Loire Chenin Blanc and wax, and so on.

Such shortcuts might be useful when first teaching people about wine, but they are generally a gross oversimplification. Plus, with the variation of soil and climate in a relatively large region such as the Okanagan Valley, as well as differences in winemaking philosophy, there are bound to be very different styles being made from the same varieties.

But without a simple summary, the problem for emerging wine regions is how to sell themselves. Should they specialise in particular varieties, or focus on specific types of soil, or aspire to premium quality, or champion organic viticulture? There is no straightforward answer to this, but having some kind of simple story makes it far easier for the outside world to understand a region.

Over the next five days, I'll be trying to find one for #bcwine. (At the very least, they've got their own hashtag.)