Tuesday, January 29, 2013

“Value” and the Wine Bloggers' Conference

The North American Wine Bloggers' Conference is coming to Penticton in 2013, its first visit to Canada since its inception in 2008. The conference brings with it hundreds of wine writers and winery reps all staying in local hotels and filling up local tasting rooms – a nice boom to the local economy. What it will mean to the BC wine industry is hard to truly forecast beyond the predictable message of “BC produces some world class wines and you can taste them if you visit.”

All but a handful of BC wineries sell their wares within the Provincial borders and even fewer truly have the volume to make Canada-wide sales necessary, let alone worldwide sales. With more and more wineries and vineyards starting production each year it may one day be inevitable that the BC market will become saturated with home-grown product and force wineries to look abroad to sell their wares, but only if that market’s consumption of local wine doesn’t also grow, which it seems to be doing each year based on BC WineInstitute stats.
I think the real discussion about foreign markets is about what to get them interested in importing from BC. A handful of icon wine labels like Mission Hill’s Oculus? A luxury item like Icewine? Or unique expressions of familiar varieties? For me, the answer lies behind door number 3.
Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay are all popular, familiar varieties that perform consistently well in BC’s cool climate wine regions and showcase the unique flavours of the BC terroir. BC will never be able to complete with the likes of Chile or Australia in producing, for example, an easy-drinking, variety-representing, (though virtually indistinguishable) $15 bottle of Shiraz.  And why should they with comparable land and labour force costs being what they are? But does this mean that BC wines offer no value to the consumer in their home market? No, the $20-30 range offers great value.
Given the uninspired selection of big-brand, generic imports that flood the BC market I maintain that, more often than not, $20-25 spent on a local wine is worth $30-40 spent on an import when the worth of perceptible terroir is placed at a premium above accessibility or affordability. The BC government tariff on imported wine is a stiff 117% mark-up, meaning that a $40 import was likely about $20 in its home market unless discounts were applied.
However, when the same $25 bottle of BC wine is viewed as an exported product, the question of value must be reevaluated. Tariffs generally work both ways, plus one must factor in the cost of shipping and distribution. $25 may become $40 pretty quickly unless a massive wholesale discount is applied and when the wine has demand locally, what truly is motive for offering a discount in order to make it affordable elsewhere?
Does BC produce world class wines? Yes, I believe we do. But at what cost will the world be willing to import the unique flavours achievable in BC? Feedback from the Wine Bloggers’ Conference may begin to help answer that, but it will likely take years to make a meaningful entry into foreign markets – should we even want to.
  - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2013 IconWines.ca

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