August 20, 2012

On the Vine

B.C. wines win for excellence


When Red Rooster Winery won a Lieutenant-Governor’s Award of Excellence in 2003 for a gewürztraminer, Prudence Mahrer, one of the owners, rushed to buy a new dress because the awards ceremony was in the intimidating ballroom of Government House in Victoria. In late July this year, Mahrer accepted her third Lieutenant-Governor’s Award, this time in the informal tasting room at Ruby Blues Winery, her new winery on Naramata Road, in Penticton. “I still haven’t got anything decent to wear,” she joked.

The competition, designed to draw attention to the rising quality of British Columbia wines, was launched in 2003 by Iona Campagnolo, who was lieutenant-governor at the time. For the first few years, only 30 or so wineries entered. Winning proprietors often just sent their sales agents to pick up the awards at Government House, in a stuffy ceremony ignored by the media.

In 2005 the lieutenant-governor decided to present the awards in person at each winning winery. Taking the prestige of the office directly to wine country, to receptions hosted by the winners, succeeded in putting the spotlight on the wineries and the industry. This has become arguably the most important B.C. wine competition – and it has been copied by the Ontario lieutenant-governor.

“The award has so much credibility internationally, especially with our Chinese clients,” says John Skinner, the owner of Painted Rock Estate Winery, in Penticton, and a double award-winner both this year and in 2010. “It is formal and it has the stamp of government.” In 2012, a record 94 wineries entered 347 wines (there is no entry fee), competing hard for just 11 Awards of Excellence. There are seldom more than a dozen awards handed out. Some wineries have won repeatedly, indicating that excellence is not an accident, and the number of new winners each year shows rising excellence. The list of winners is a good place to shop for wine.


The 2011 winners are available only at the wineries or in select private wine stores (* = first-time winners):

*EauVivre Winery Pinot Noir 2009 ($19). Silky textured wine with cherry and strawberry flavours.

*Gold Hill Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 ($25). Bold, with ripe, spicy brambleberry flavours.

*Hester Creek Estate Winery Reserve Merlot 2008 ($26.99). Rich texture, flavours of blackcurrants, plum, mocha, coffee.

Jackson-Triggs Entourage Sparkling Chardonnay 2008 ($29.99). Toasty, creamy, Champagne-like elegance.

Laughing Stock Vineyards Syrah 2010 ($34). Generous red with white pepper, plum and black cherry flavours.

Painted Rock Estate Winery Syrah 2009 ($40). Almost jammy with flavours of black cherry, fig, plum, chocolate and licorice.

Painted Rock Estate Winery Red Icon 2009 ($55). Powerful, elegant, with spicy aromas and flavours of blackberry, plum, dark chocolate, vanilla.

Poplar Grove Winery Cabernet Franc 2009 ($35). Brambly flavours of raspberry, redcurrant, cherry, vanilla.

Road 13 Vineyards Jackpot Viognier Rousanne Marsanne 2011 ($29). Crisp, fresh, a bowl of tropical fruit flavours.

* Ruby Blues Winery Viognier 2011 ($25). Laser-like crispness, with flavours of pineapple, citrus and apricot.

Thornhaven Estates Winery Gewürztraminer 2011 ($17.90). Rich and spicy with lychee flavours.

– John Schreiner


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