All about the Naramata Bench Terroir: Part 3 of 3

All about the Naramata Bench Terroir: Part 3 of 3

Part 3 of 3: How the Naramata Bench officially became a Sub-Appellation.

So here we are. You have the background on the Naramata Bench and the BC system of sub-Geographic-Indicators, now it’s time to explore how they came together.

The Naramata Bench wineries were the first in BC to join and pool their marketing efforts through a regional association when the Naramata Bench Wineries Association formed in 2003 as a marketing organization promoting awareness of Naramata Bench wineries throughout BC and Alberta. This vibrant group became well known for “taking it on the road” with spring release trade/media and consumer events in Vancouver and Victoria, and occasionally Calgary and Edmonton, and has become the model for other such associations promoting BC’s sub-regions.

A voluntary association, the NBWA boasts membership of most of the Naramata Bench wineries and also provides a strong social component, as wine tasting and meals almost always accompany general meetings. It includes a wine club “Best of the Bench”, and its renown “Tailgate Party” was an annual sell-out.

For years media and consumers expected Naramata to also be the first sub-GI declared in BC but it was not to be. The Bench is an eclectic mix of wine and winery styles as well as personalities who, while they agree on many things, did not agree on sub-GI’s.

On the heels of the Golden Mile Bench being granted the first sub-GI in BC, serious consideration of creating a certified Naramata Bench sub-GI began through a town-hall style meeting, with a comprehensive contact list invited. This discussion and a subsequent survey indicated that interest in this initiative was strong and widespread, and a committee was formed by principals from Bench 1775, Hillside Winery (yours truly), Laughing Stock and Upper Bench Winery.

This committee commissioned scientists Pat Bowen and Scott Smith to produce the technical report required by the BC Wine Authority which would delineate the boundaries and define the soils and viticulture of the region.

A further, mediated, town-hall style meeting was held in the fall of 2017, sharing the preliminary soils report, survey results, media input (thank you Anthony Gismondi) as well as pros-cons, and FAQs. Interest remained high and a call for financial support received overwhelming response, largely covering the cost of technical consultation.

The committee drew up a formal proposal to be submitted to the BCWA and ultimately to the BC Legislature, then came the real work. At that time there were 40 wineries and 181 vineyard properties within the region to be included in the vote. An absent vote is considered a “nay”, so it was important to solicit every possible vote so that the plebiscite passed—or failed—on the true desires of those involved. The voting period was extended after a small group raised objections with the BCWA.

The wine authority had never had such a complicated situation. The Golden Mile Bench vote required participation of fewer than 12 wineries/vineyards!

Three months elapsed while they crunched numbers in every possible way, each time coming up with a positive result, and finally submitted the proposal to the legislature. On May 13, 2019 I was informed that the OIC (“Order in Council”) had come down from the crown and we could finally legally put “Naramata Bench” on our labels.

In 2011, confident in the quality of the grapes from this region, Hillside made the decision to make wine only from Naramata Bench sourced fruit, and this has been the case since 2013 when the last long-term contract in Oliver lapsed. Until 2018, however, we were not allowed to put “Naramata Bench” on our front label and were reprimanded for using the term in the back “love story”. Thanks to the establishment of our sub-GI we were able to bring “Naramata Bench” front and center in the design of our new labels. In fact, the words are hard-wired into the printing plates—that’s how dedicated we are!

When Vera Klokocka planted her first vines at Hillside back in 1983 she had a dream of the Naramata Bench as a serious destination wine touring region, dotted with farmgate wine shops, small bistros and B&B’s. Those of you who have been to Hillside will agree that her dream has been realized.

We feel honored that this recognition of the Naramata Bench as a unique sub-region has brought Vera’s vision full-circle.

Kathy Malone signature
Kathy Malone, Winemaker

Kathy Malone