When a friend sent Painted Rock Winery owner John Skinner an image of a wine list from an exclusive Shanghai restaurant, he couldn't believe his eyes.
The Okanagan winery's Red Icon flagship wine was listed at 5,280 renminbi (RMB), the equivalent of $900. That was just below the 6,057 RMB listed for a famed Napa Valley wine, Opus One.
The prices are unbelievably high, Skinner acknowledged. Painted Rock sells for $55 in Canada; Opus One for $197. Nonetheless, Skinner said the menu sends a clear message not just for his winery, but for B.C. wines in general.
"We are being taken seriously in the international market."
Painted Rock is one of a handful of B.C. wines, including Poplar Grove, Mission Hill and Meyer Family, that are being exported. They are rebranding Canada – long known for its ice wines – as a producer of quality table wines.
Skinner said it is the small B.C. producers committed to making quality wines that will be the engine of growth for the B.C. wine industry, creating spinoffs in turn for tourism as the Okanagan's wine reputation grows internationally.
Painted Rock has earmarked 20% of the 5,000 cases a year it produces for the Chinese market. An initial order in 2011 of 800 cases has been sold already, and Skinner is negotiating a second order.
The high price in China – Red Icon is sold in wine shops for the equivalent of $530 – doesn't translate into windfall profits for the B.C. producer. The markup remains within the Chinese distribution network. But Painted Rock's Chinese contracts have provided the winery with the up-front revenue it needs to continue investing in its Skaha Lake vineyard.
A new tasting room, a consultant who flies in six times a year from Bordeaux and costly vineyard management techniques used by high-end French wines such as Petrus are being funded in part by the winery's export contracts, Skinner said.
"Those sales enable us to be more viable, to keep improving. And the more I see improvement, the more I am committed to taking extra steps."