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British Columbia's wine industry unveils a 10-year strategic plan

by Peter Mitham
March 14, 2019
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Honore Comfort of the Artemis Group and Miles Prodan, president and CEO ofthe BC Wine Institute, toast the release of the new long-term strategic plan.

Penticton, British Columbia – British Columbia’s wine industry is no longer in its infancy, and a 10-year strategic plan unveiled this week aims to chart a course to adulthood for the growing sector.

Commissioned by the B.C. Wine Institute and developed with the help of consultants Honore Comfort, principal of the Artemis Group in Healdsburg, and Steve Burns of O’Donnell-Lane LLC in Glen Ellen, Wine BC 2030 includes five pillars and a dozen strategic recommendations to move the province’s industry forward.

The core is a vision statement developed over the course of the past six months following a broad consultation that included 30 meetings in 12 locations with 650 members of industry and other stakeholders.

“This is really the beacon by which we determine the strategies and the tactics so that we ensure that this plan is following the vision that we heard from you, of how you want B.C. wines to be perceived both here at home and abroad in years to come,” Comfort told the BC Wine Insights Forum that brought together more than 200 people from the province’s four key industry organizations on March 12.

“You would like to see British Columbia transcend the new and old worlds,” Comfort said, reading off a slide that presented the vision statement to industry. “As a wine region, it’s recognized for the diversity and its elevated wines’ super natural terroir, extreme beauty and dedicated people.”

The vision underpins the plan’s five pillars, which include building “brand B.C.,” fostering industry unity, advancing sustainability, executing plans with excellence and celebrating diversity.

It responds to rapid growth in Canada’s second-largest wine region. B.C. is home to 280 grape wineries, up from 170 in 2009. Sales of wine made entirely from B.C.-grown grapes totalled approximately 1.6 million cases in 2018. This is up from approximately 750,000 cases in 2009.

“You are at an inflexion point, you are poised, ready to rise to that next level of prominence in the world’s wine market,” Comfort said. “You recognize that, but the industry itself has been set up, in many ways, for a wine industry that’s in its infancy.”

The comment echoed the findings of Simon Fraser University researcher Anil Hira, who published a report in 2011 examining the competitiveness of the B.C. wine industry as part of an interdisciplinary project funded by Genome BC, Genome Canada, Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. The report noted the important, and protective role, government played in the industry’s development while flagging challenges around the dependence of wineries on domestic markets, tourism and developing alternative markets.

This is where the new plan’s 12 strategic recommendations come into play. These include building a world-class brand for the province’s wines, and increasing demand both at home and abroad for what the province has to offer. While the province’s wines have done well on-premise as by-the-glass pours, the plan challenges industry to boost demand for more expensive local wines, in price segments where imports currently dominate.

The plan also calls for renewal of the industry’s structure, encouraging greater collaboration among industry groups, greater collection and sharing of data within the sector and exemplary leadership. Presenting a united front to government and the world is also among the priorities.

Additional elements of the plan call for ongoing investment in the definition of the identity of B.C. wine, both among consumers an the trade, but also through the creation of new appellations (work already in progress), certification of the origin of local wines, and building recognition of B.C. wine in key export markets.

“[It] will never be the huge sales play, but a very important part of how we are perceived out in the market,” she said “[Ensure] that B.C. wines are on the wine list of key accounts in London, or Hong Kong, or Tokyo, because there are influential customers and influential media in those markets. And as one of the premier wine regions of the world, you deserve to be on those wine lists. You don’t need to own the wine list, but just be there.”

Rounding out the strategy are commendations of excellence in wine tourism as well as sustainability initiatives.

The plan’s implementation will roll out through 2030, beginning this year with work to enhance the alignment of and collaboration between industry organizations, streamlining the collection and availability of key industry information, and establishing a tourism development council. Progress in these areas are projected as milestones for 2020.

Work is also advancing on the other recommendations, said Miles Prodan, president and CEO of the B.C. Wine Institute.

“A lot of what we’re doing falls within this already,” he said, saying the report held, “no big surprises.”

Indeed, development of new appellations is proceeding, with industry recently endorsing creation of the Skaha Bench and Naramata Bench sub-appellations. A sustainable winegrowing initiative that’s been in the works for a decade will launch a pilot program this summer, with a view to a full-fledged launch in spring 2020.

Actions developed under Wine BC 2030 will be incorporated within the BC Wine Institute’s operations plan, and regularly reviewed prior to being measured, evaluated and updated in 2030.

Comfort encouraged the audience to get behind the plan, which was the result of the hopes and aspirations they had expressed during discussions over the past several months. Successfully implementing it could point the way for other regions.

“B.C. has this opportunity to define this new space within this emerging wine world that’s not old world, that’s not new world – it’s unique,” she said. “What you have to offer and bring forward to consumers is truly distinctive. … There’s not another wine region in the world that’s going after this space, and you have the resources to do this.”

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