May 25, 2017

On the vine: The fruit wine convert

Northern Lights’ Pat Bell goes beyond the grape—and thinks you should, too

By John Schreiner

Pat Bell became a fan of B.C. grape wines when he was Minister of Agriculture from 2005 to 2008. However, he once left a winery without buying when he discovered it was a fruit winery.

Bell is embarrassed to admit that now. In 2013, he and his family launched Northern Lights Estate Winery in Prince George, making fruit wines. And this spring, he emerged as the leader to create an association encompassing B.C.’s 25 licensed fruit wineries. The objective: to raise the anemic profile of fruit wines, which have just one per cent of the sales of all B.C.-grown wines.

The forceful Bell is just the man to do it. The owner of two Wendy’s franchises in Prince George, he had four portfolios, including tourism, during his12 years in the provincial legislature. His extensive contacts in business, government and the bureaucrats controlling liquor policy allow him to open all sorts of doors for fruit wineries.

Initially, Bell is trying to fold fruit wineries into the British Columbia Wine Institute, with access to VQA standards and sales channels. If that does not work, the nascent fruit wineries association might develop its own quality standards with the British Columbia Wine Authority.

The challenge is to get fruit wines taken seriously, with effective consumer education that has been lacking. Those who avoid fruit wines, thinking they are all sweet, would be surprised to learn that many are dry enough to be food friendly. Many fruit wines pair especially well with Asian cuisine, if only those restaurants had them on their wine lists—and advocated for them.

Bell’s Northern Lights, which opened its elegant wine shop in 2015 on the shore of the Nechako River, has quickly become one of B.C.’s leading fruit wineries. If Bell’s industry-wide efforts succeed, look for more fruit wineries in the B.C. interior where grapes do not grow.

Three to try

Elephant Island Cherry 2015 ($18.39)

This popular Naramata fruit winery recommends this dry red wine for those who suffer from headaches when consuming dry red grape wines. The cherry flavours are slightly tart. The wine has the weight of a Beaujolais.

Krause Sparkling Blueberry ($28.75)

This is one of four sparkling wines made at Krause Berry Farms near Langley. The wine is festive in the glass with aromas and flavours of freshly picked blueberries. It is well balanced with a dry and refreshing finish.

Northern Lights Heritage Haskap ($23.99)

This is a full-bodied, age-worthy dry red. Some blueberry has been added to the blend, which has been aged in Hungarian oak. The wine begins with aromas of cherry. On the palate, there are notes of cherry and mocha. Haskap berry is the blue honeysuckle traditional in northern Japan. Varieties for Western Canada plantings have been developed at the University of Saskatchewan

New book for B.C. wine collectors

On The Vine columnist John Schreiner has just released Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries (Touchwood Editions, $40). It is a 332-page hardcover with full-colour photos. The book has vintage notes, current and historical, on more than 100 of B.C.’s most collected wines. It helps consumers select these world-class wines and cellar them for vertical tastings.

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