Walla Walla, Washington is about 620 kilometres away from Vancouver, a mere 7-hour drive. It’s a hop, skip and a jump away from a long weekend jaunt. Yet, I had never visited until only last month. And before visiting, I could only recall 1 or 2 wines that I’d ever tasted from the area. A travesty! Meanwhile, South Africa is more than 16,000 km away and I regularly ramble on about producers, indigenous varietals and neat-o tourist attractions. In spite of the distance, wine from South Africa is far more available on our liquor store shelves.
So why is it that a region in our back yard is such a mystery? Why don’t we have more of their wines available here? It can’t be any easier or cheaper to ship wine from South Africa, so what’s holding Walla Walla back?
Exploring Walla Walla Wine at #WBC18
While attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla last month, I found myself asking this question often. We were lucky to be able to chat with a vast number of local wineries from across both Washington and Oregon. And the answer I got most was not necessarily Walla Walla specific. To put it simply, it’s too expensive.
Annette Bergevin’s family has been farming their estate vineyard, Bergevin Springs Vineyard, since 1903. She’s the Partner and General Manager of Bergevin Lane Vineyards and sold her wines in BC between 2008 and 2013. Even after a successful year participating in the Vancouver International Wine Festival, she opted out of the market.
“I think the conversion rates along with taxes really hiked up the price of our wine. We started out selling a lot of wine and then I think it just became too price prohibitive. To be competitive we need to significantly reduce the cost on our wine in the market and most times it just doesn’t pencil.”
Meanwhile, Matt Wieland from Fullerton Wines in the Willamette Valley says,
“Fullerton Wines crafts around 5,000 cases per year. 70% of Willamette Valley producers make fewer than 5,000 cases annually. When you combine this reality with the fact that exporting internationally adds layers of complexity not found when distributing in the United States, it simply makes more sense to sell our wines domestically.”
So as consumers, let’s get out there and support the wines from Walla Walla that ARE sold in British Columbia. Of the 3,760 wines available at BC Liquor Stores only 28 of them are from Washington and Oregon. 20 red and 5 white, which tells you a great deal about what their specialty is. The remaining 3 are sparkling.
I also encountered two wineries during my trip that are just about to enter the market, likely starting out in select private stores. Keep your eyes out for Avennia who specialize in Bordeaux and Rhone Valley varietals. I featured them on Instagram and was blown away by their flavour extractions. Also, Brooks in the Willamette Valley. They received Biodynamic certification in 2014 and have established a living legacy of Jimi Brooks. You can read about it here.
It’s easy to grab the latest vintage of our favourite BC winery off the shelf. Trust me, I’m guilty of it too. However, the next time you’re shopping, ask the clerk where the USA section is and start searching for Washington and Oregon – you won’t be disappointed!