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Penticton  

Okanagan wineries come together to discuss solutions while facing devastating loss of 2024 fruit

What next for wineries?

Casey Richardson

British Columbia winemakers, growers and industry experts gathered in town hall sessions in the Okanagan on Wednesday, brainstorming solutions to potentially catastrophic losses suffered by the industry this winter.

Wine Growers BC started off the morning in Kelowna, before heading into Penticton for an afternoon session, gathering stakeholders together. They will be holding another session in Osoyoos on Thursday.

As host of the town hall session, Wine Growers BC president and CEO Miles Prodan said the organization is focused on discussing what the best path forward is after the incredibly detrimental winter for the industry.

"It's an extremely resilient industry, so we think there's lots of opportunities in where the grapes can come from and what some of those options are, but it's really [about] maintaining this vibrant industry that we've got and what we need to do to make sure that we continue to thrive," he said.

Following mid-January’s cold snap, a report conducted by the wine industry projected wine grapes and production to be 97-99 per cent lower than usual in 2024. The cold may have killed off almost all the buds.

The report said the financial damage for wineries and vineyards could be $346 million or as much as $445 million when costs from industry suppliers, logistics providers and distributors are included.

"It's unprecedented. We've never seen it and nowhere are we familiar with it," Prodan said, adding that to his knowledge there has never been an event this severe impacting wine production anywhere else in Canada.

Winemakers are in a similar state of limbo.

"It's such an unknown, the situation that we're in with not having any fruit this year, most likely, or 99 per cent of it not being grown," Three Sisters Winery winemaker Matthew Mikulic said.

"What are we going to do? And I think that's the scariest thing. There's so many unknowns, I think it's important to get us all together, as we've been doing for the last little bit so that we can see what our options are."

He added that about 40 per cent of their crop was affected by the cold snap in 2023 and they are hoping to bounce back this year.

"But with farming, you can't expect anything and this is a real showing of that. So honestly, it's been a tough slog for a lot of these wineries."

Alison Moyes, winemaker and general manager of Solvero Wines, said there are significant economic impacts that could occur from the losses ahead.

"We want to make sure all of the talented people in this industry have a job moving into 2025," she said.

"Every year, it seems like there's some kind of unpredictable event where we're faced with a lot of challenges, from forest fires to landslides, and now back to cold winters. So we hope that we see support from local BC wine buyers to help all of the wineries in this beautiful region get through a tough year."

Prodan said discussions in the town hall meetings have been and will continue to be focused on what growers and winemakers need, how everyone can work together, and what regulations can be changed to adapt to the challenges.

"It's an incredibly regulated industry that we've got for all the right reasons, and it's really been focused on 100 per cent BC [grapes] to date. So what those options can look like, it's actually freeing us up to be able to pick and choose amongst our different business plans in different operations. What can we do to help to make sure we can get through this, and an easing of some of those regulations, would be a great place to start," he said.

Current provincial regulations mandate that wineries produce 4,500 litres of wine each year (about 500 cases) and use at least 25 per cent of the grapes from their own acreage.

This may not be possible for a winery that relies on vineyards that are now going to need to be replanted, as the cold snap caused severe damage to 32 grape varietals in nine Interior regions.

Moyes said she hopes to see a temporary exemption allowing land-based winery licenses to switch to commercial licenses.

"Which would allow some importation of grapes, what we'd be looking for are premium grapes from other regions to make high quality wine," she explained.

"We'd like to see the regulations relaxed to allow us to do that for a year without many barriers to transition back to the land base license, which would be what we would do moving past this vintage."

Mikulic said he hopes to get a little clarity on what options are going forward for this harvest, next harvest and the future of the grape growing industry.

"If they're gonna open up the borders, open up Ontario, so that the land-based wineries can get grapes to keep our tasting rooms open," he said.

"It's going to affect a lot of jobs, it's gonna affect tourism, it's gonna affect hospitality. We're all in this together.
It's a much bigger thing. I just want to make sure everybody understands how serious of an issue this is for our community."

Wine Growers BC, BC Wine Grape Council and BC Grapegrowers’ Association said they are communicating with government at all levels how dire the situation is for not only the wine industry itself, but also adjacent industries and the overall economic benefit of British Columbia.

"Climate change is not going away. So we need to figure out how can we continue to be resilient and continue to have a crop, not just to replace what we've lost, but going forward," Prodan said.

"It's not about money. There is some opportunities for re-plant but it's really about just how government can help support us and giving us options to do what we do best, which is make fantastic wine.

"Lots of wine [is] still available. So it's important to continue to support to BC wineries. We're resilient farmers. This is Mother Nature at some of her worst but we'll get through it, and please continue to support buying BC wines."



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