BC Food & Wine Trails has reached a significant milestone in Canadian wine publishing. At 25 years old, it is the longest running publication devoted to the BC wine industry. How did this publication, known within the industry as “Wine Trails”, get its start and why?
The wine industry in 1990 was dismally pessimistic. It had been just over a year after beginning of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and the prospects for any kind of wine industry in B.C. appeared bleak at best. Growers had been paid to rip up their vines. The glorious vineyards on Black Sage road south of Oliver had been replanted with alfalfa and other crops. More than two thirds of all the Okanagan’s vineyards had been removed; replanted with other agricultural crops or simply grubbed up and abandoned. The local grape growing and wine industry appeared to be doomed.
Where most people saw defeat, a few saw opportunity. The big influence was a tiny group of small-production estate wineries like Sumac Ridge, Gray Monk, Gehringer Brothers, and CedarCreek who were making quality wines using vinifera grapes. That first generation had been in business for almost a decade by 1990 and became the template for others to create their own new wineries. At the same time, the BC government created a new smaller winery license called a Farmgate license. With vineyard land selling at highly reduced prices, abandoned vineyards were soon purchased and replanted by these new farmgate and estate wineries at an increasing rate that exceeded anyone’s predictions. Wild Goose, Lang, Hillside, Kettle Valley, and Poplar Grove all got their start at this period in the early 1990s.
Okanagan journalist David Gamble witnessed this change. In his jobs at CKOK radio and editing two community newspapers, Gamble had his ear firmly to the ground for 20 years when it came to the state of the Okanagan’s wine industry. After selling two Summerland community newspapers in 1990, he planted grape vines on his Summerland property with the intention of becoming a grape grower. In seeking vineyard advice from his many contacts in the grape and wine industry, he soon discovered that they all had a unique story to tell.
He left the grape growing and winemaking to be a serious hobby and returned to the newspaper world in 1991 with the first edition of British Columbia Wine Trails. As Gamble recalls, he designed it “to tell the stories of the industry”.
“Such an interesting story was taking place and we were in the position to become a chronicler,” says Gamble. New wineries were emerging more quickly with each year. In the pre-Google world of the early 1990’s, people only heard about BC wine through mainstream media. Wine was usually confined to special-interest wine columns and the very occasional major news story.
A few people wanted to know and, more importantly, the growing wine industry wanted to tell their story. The timing couldn’t have been better for a new publication. British Columbia Wine Trails was ready to document an inside look into the re-birth of the local wine industry.
Such an interesting story was taking place and we were in the position to become a chronicler.
(Part one of a four part story – stay tuned for the May/June edition of Food & Wine Trails Magazine.)