Skaha Bench inching closer to being a B.C. wine sub-appellation

B.C. Wine Authority plebiscite passes 19-1, sending initiative to Victoria

Painted Rock Estate Winery owner John Skinner smells some of his wine in the barrel room of his Skaha Bench winery | submitted

Owners of wineries and vineyards on the Skaha Bench of the Okanagan Valley have overwhelmingly voted in a plebiscite to create a sub-appellation, or as some call it in the wine industry, a sub-geographic indicator, according to vote results announced December 4.

That means that they want to be able to put the words Skaha Bench on wine bottle labels if the wine is produced entirely from grapes grown in a small area on the east side of Skaha Lake, north of McLean Creek Road, which is at the southern edge of Blasted Church Vineyards.

This is important because that additional information on the wine label can help consumers find wine that has distinct and desired flavours while simultaneously having the potential to enable winemakers to charge more for their wines.

The British Columbia Wine Authority conducted the plebiscite and will forward the result to the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture in the hope that Agriculture Minister Lana Popham will change regulations to make it legal for winemakers to use the words Skaha Bench on labels.

“It essentially passed unanimously,” said Painted Rock Estate Winery owner John Skinner after the vote result was announced. “Nineteen out of 20 potential respondents voted for it. One didn’t respond.”

All abstentions were counted as votes against the proposal.

Skaha Bench wine industry stakeholders now join counterparts on the Naramata Bench, who similarly voted in favour of their region becoming a sub-appellation, or a sub-geographic area of the Okanagan Valley.

The result of the Naramata Bench vote was announced on November 26 and the provincial government has not yet changed regulations to make the area a sub-appellation.

In 2015, the B.C. government approved the Golden Mile Bench as the first such sub-appellation. It then approved the Okanagan Falls region as the province’s second sub-appellation in July.

Skinner said that he believes that red wines produced from grapes grown in the Skaha Bench exude flavours of "beautiful fruit" and have what he called “a bright acidity.”

The recent drives to create sub-appellations follow the 2015 founding of the B.C. Wine Appellation Task Group, which planned to splinter the Okanagan Valley into 15 contiguous regions, in a way that would resemble a cracked mirror.

“I wanted it all to happen at once,” task group chairman and Summerhill Pyramid Winery principal Ezra Cipes told BIV earlier this year.

In the end, however, the project proved too ambitious for the task group, and it was left to deeper-pocketed groups of winery owners to spend the necessary time on reports, lobbying and consultation to get their regions designated.

Cipes believes there will likely be parts of the Okanagan Valley that never become part of a designated sub-region, and therefore wine made from grapes grown in those areas will be limited to having the Okanagan Valley geographic indicator on bottle labels. 

Skinner never supported the cracked-mirror approach of putting the entire valley into distinct sub-appellations.

“It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Skinner told Business in Vancouver earlier this year. “But if you’ve got a legitimate sub-appellation, fair enough.”•