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Feds buoy wine research with $2 million in the Okanagan

Mike Watson, the chairperson of the BC Wine Grape Council, toasts a $2 million dedication of funds from the federal government at Grey Monk Estate Winery with a glass of pinot gris; the owner of Grey Monk was the first to grow the varietal in Canada, planting the vines in 1976.  - Jennifer Smith
Mike Watson, the chairperson of the BC Wine Grape Council, toasts a $2 million dedication of funds from the federal government at Grey Monk Estate Winery with a glass of pinot gris; the owner of Grey Monk was the first to grow the varietal in Canada, planting the vines in 1976.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

It takes two hands to count all the research projects the BC Wine and Grape Council will support thanks to an influx of funding from the Canadian government announced on Earth Day.

Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan visited Grey Monk Estate Winery, Tuesday, for a press conference trumpeting a $2 million dedication from the five-year Growing Forward 2 initiative, fostering innovation in agriculture.

The wine industry contributes $2 billion to B.C.'s economy and generates $8 million in exports nationally—four times what it did six years ago—and Cannan congratulated the researchers and industry insiders gathered on a job well done.

"Your industry captures value and keeps it right here where it belongs, in the Okanagan, and B.C.," said Cannon. "That's why our government continues to work with the BC Wine and Grape Council to help you complete your growth and grow your markets here in Canada and around the world,"

Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz has just returned from South Korea, the country with the highest price-point for red wine in the world, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement on March 11, Cannan said.

The trade agreement is one of nine free trade agreements the government has signed in the last seven years as it moves forward with an aggressive trade agenda, and the first in Asia.

For the wine industry, it should level the playing field for products previously under large tariffs, like ice wine, making it easier to compete with the United States and Europe—areas already signed to liberal trade agreements with the region.

Meantime, it's hoped this funding announcement will help improve the quality of B.C. wines, lower production costs and offer an eco-friendly spin wineries can use in marketing their product to its affluent target audience.

"I think we all agree innovation is the hallmark to success for industry and it's no exception within the Canadian grapes and wine industry,"  said Cannan.

The money will be used to support ongoing efforts to control disease, lift harvest yields, minimize water use and improve the overall environmental footprint of the industry, according to Mike Watson, chairperson of the BCWGC.

"We've created a certification program where we have parameters so wineries can go out and self-assess themselves on sustainability measures," Watson said.

The certification system focuses on the social, economic and environmentally responsible production a winery employs.

B.C. is becoming a research node for this industry with scientists at the Wine Research Centre at UBC Vancouver, those on the university's Okanagan campus and at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland all working on different aspects of grape growth.

It's a huge asset, according to winemaker Roger Wong, who crafts 26 products for Grey Monk, one of the pioneers in the valley.

"We have about 50 acres on site right here at the winery, but we have grapes all the way from Vernon down to the border," said Wong. "So were looking at irrigation issues. We have different soil types throughout the valley and different grapes styles…

"That's the importance of local research," he said. "It looks at the affects of our climate on our varieties in our geography."

The research this announcement will support includes:

  • a ground-cover vegetation study looking at beneficial crops to use in the vineyard to promote healthy vines and reduce pests, like cutworm
  • world-renown Leafroll virus researcher José Ramón Urbez-Torres's studies on the disease
  • research into grapevine trunk diseases, which have a severe economic impact in the Okanagan
  • bud hardiness studies and plant management practices that affect the bud hardiness of vines in the winter
  • irrigation management advances
  • leaf removal and other canopy management techniques impacting the quality of the vine
  • research on spontaneous and natural fermentation from yeast existing in the vineyard
  • classical breeding of yeast to produce lower volatile acidity and hydrogen sulphate to produce better quality wine

Some $2 million was also dedicated to B.C.'s viticulture research under Growing Forward 1; the Growing Forward 2 program includes $3 billion set aside for agricultural innovation.

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