All about the Naramata Bench Terroir: Part 2 of 3

Part 2 of 3: What is a Sub-GI and Why Does it Matter?

An appellation or geographic indicator (GI) is a means of delineating “terroir” geographically. Terroir refers to the set of conditions that contribute to the character of the fruit, and therefore the wine, such that it stands apart from its neighbors. These conditions range from very broad—latitude/longitude, west-facing vs south-facing, frost-free days etc, to very specific-soil type, prevailing wind direction, even cultural considerations.

Old world growing regions tend to have extremely well-defined GI’s as centuries of grape growing have honed practices to take best advantage of regionally-specific conditions. Many of these areas have established a very complex set of regulations governing their GI including what to plant and how, when to water, when to pick etc, and whether these restrictions are necessary, or fair, has been hotly debated…also for centuries.

When BC was established as a serious, quality-driven wine-producing area, the VQA (Vintners’ Quality Alliance) program was formed to create consistent standards governing quality and truth-in-labelling so that the consumer can have a clear understanding of the origin of their wine and confidence in its quality.

Five GI-Geographic Indicators-were defined at that time: Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, and Gulf Islands. As new regions were planted, this list expanded to include Lillooet, Thompson Valley, Shuswap and the Kootenays.

In 2006 the BC Wine Authority (BCWA) was established and became the body governing the certification of wines within these regions, as well as the formation of any further regions or sub-regions. The requirements for establishing a sub-GI are well-defined and include mapping, technical reports with soils and viticulture data as well as in-depth consultation with all growers, winery owners and other stakeholders within the proposed boundaries.

Once the application is submitted, the BCWA conducts further stakeholder outreach and finally a plebiscite amongst growers/winery owners that must pass by a 65%double (by number and by production level) majority. This vote is a major challenge, as the number of growers may be significant, many farm at a distance, and a non-vote is considered a “nay”.

After a sub-GI is certified, the use of its name is restricted by the governing authority (BCWA for us) and producers are subject to an audit to demonstrate origins of fruit and wines must be tasted to determine they are fault-free.

In the Part 3 of the this series, we will explore the journey to achieving the “Naramata Bench” sub-GI.

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Kathy Malone, Winemaker

Kathy Malone