As spring was ushered in, the 11 wineries of the Golden Mile Bench received long-awaited news that they were officially declared as British Columbia’s first official sub-appellation. The announcement came from Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick March 30 at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver.
“Anyone can tell a story about their area, but a sub-appellation allows us to characterize unique geological characteristics that tie us all together,” says Sandra Oldfield, Tinhorn Creek’s president and CEO. “In addition
, the consumer now has the confidence that the grapes [at least 95 percent] came from that specific area on the label and they can start seeing how these wines relate to one another over time.”
The designation is a significant step for the province, as it’s the first major change the B.C. wine map has seen since the early 1990s, when the five current wine regions were carved out: Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands.
These regions are vast, however, and carry many geographical differences even within themselves. Breaking them into smaller zones allows producers to build a more meaningful reputation on the global market by demonstrating the wine style, varietal or characteristics unique to more specific appellations.
It took over six years for proponents of the Golden Mile Bench to systematically delineate why the area is distinctly separate from others in the region, but their efforts have at last paid off.
“The British Columbia Wine Authority . . . conducted a review of the application made by wineries from the area and recommended that the B.C. government approve the new sub-geographical indicator,” says Dave Townsend, government communications officer for the Ministry of Agriculture.
Criteria that the Golden Mile had to meet included grape production at commercially viable levels, a geographically distinct area with clearly defined boundaries, and wines consistently demonstrating distinctive characteristics relating to shared soil, topography and climate.
“Our grapes grow on a series of alluvial fan material that is very rocky with amazing minerality,” says Oldfield. “The soil is not from glacial deposits and silts as the majority of the valley is, but from the mountain ridge the Golden Mile Bench backs up onto. The area is defined not only by its unique alluvial fan soil but also as an east-facing bench, higher elevation off the valley floor and a 5-15 percent slope allowing for frost-free growing conditions.”