Regulating quality is the key to Arizona wines success

The recent success of Arizona wines in the Judgment of Arizona 2010 highlights Arizona wine makers ability to compete with the big names in the industry.   This event has gone a long way to educate the public on the ability of Arizona wine makers to compete.  Public perception of the quality of Arizona wines is still skeptical and Arizona wine makers still have work to do in improving that public perception. A perfect case study of this point is the British Columbia wine industry, in Canada.  The interior of British Columbia has a dry and warm climate by Canadian standards and is capable of producing wine.  For many years the industry was based on  producing cheap low quality table wine for the local market and shipping low-grade grapes to the United States.  I spent 20 years in BC and the attitude toward their wine industry almost mirrors the perceptions of Arizonans regarding their own wine industry.  The BC wine industry underwent radical changes with implementation of NAFTA.  The industry had been protected from cheaper higher quality imports by tariffs.  Faced with the impending onslaught  of cheaper higher quality wines British Columbian wine producers were forced to make significant improvements  in order to compete.  In fact they were forced by the government through an act of legislation.

The VQA label is a sign of quality wine

The government developed a certification process called the British Columbia Vitners Quality Alliance (VQA), which is similar to the  regulatory systems of the AOC in France and the DOC in Italy and  the VQA system in Ontario, Canada.  VQA is quite different from the American Viticultural Area (A.V.A.) designation.  The A.V.A. does not regulate the type of grapes or method of vinification.  A.V.A. designation refers more to the geographical boundaries and unique characteristics of the terroir.  I doubt whether a similar act of legislation would ever pass in Arizona but that doesn’t mean that a voluntary quality assurance code and certification couldn’t be developed.  Currently the system in British Columbia is no longer mandatory and is  being regulated by the British Columbia Wine Authority.  In order to be VQA certified 100% of the grapes must be from British Columbia and the wines are screened by a professional tasting panel.  Wines that are found to be faulty cannot be sold as VQA certified.  The VQA label appears on the bottle of certified wines and helps consumers identify quality locally made wines.

Here is a summary of the British Columbia VQA Standards and Certification as stated by the BC Wine Institute:

Quality standards
The BC VQA controls minimum Brix levels at harvest, states acceptable oenological practices, prohibits the addition of water, limits the levels of chaptalization (chapitalization is the practice of adding more sugar to the ‘must’ than was developed naturally in the grapes that have been crushed), controls the use of sweet reserve wine additions, and prohibits the practice of fortification other than in wines labeled as such.

Geographic region
Only wines made from grapes grown exclusively in a specific region such as the Okanagan Valley, Fraser Valley, Similkameen Valley, Gulf Islands or Vancouver Island can display the name of the region on a wine label.

Vineyard designation
Only grapes grown exclusively from a designated vineyard can be named on a wine label.

Estate bottled
Only wines made exclusively from grapes grown, produced and bottled on an estate may be labeled as “estate bottled”. This can be land owned, or controlled, by a winery.

Wine category
Determines how the wine is made and labeled: Table Wine, Icewine, Botrytized, Late Harvest, Nouveau, Sparkling, Fortified or Liqueur.

Labeling guidelines
Determines if a wine is to be labeled as a single varietal, dual varietal, blend, vintage dated, and includes sugar content and sweetness descriptors. Labeling regulations also control the use of Geographic Indicators.

Application
Each application for BC VQA must be accompanied by a signed affidavit that the wine has been made according to BC VQA standards from 100 per cent BC grapes. It is signed by the winemaker and the company officer.

Winery audits
Wineries must keep production records for each wine and make them available to the BC Wine Authority upon request.

Laboratory analysis
Wineries must submit a laboratory analysis with each submission to the BC VQA panel.

Label approval
Each wine application must be accompanied by a label, which is reviewed for accuracy.

Packaging
BC VQA wines must bear “BC VQA” on the principal label and be closed with cork or another approved closure.

Wine audits
At the discretion of the BCWA, wines bearing BC VQA are independently audited to certify wine quality.

Tasting/Evaluation Panel
All wines are tasted blind by a six-person panel of trained judges. The wines are screened for defects and character.

Icewines
Icewine must be made exclusively from British Columbia grapes, and from authorized grape varieties. The grapes must be naturally frozen on the vine, and processed while the air temperature is minus 8 degrees Celsius or lower.

Artificial refrigeration of the grapes or the juice, must or wine for the purpose of increasing must weight is prohibited at any point in the production process except for temperature control during fermentation and cold stabilization prior to bottling.

1990 before the establishment of the VQA British Columbia was producing about 600,000 litres, or about 159,000 gallons of wine.  In 2008 production was up to about 6.6 million litres or about 1.75 million gallons, that is an increase of more than 1000%, and I bet you the wines taste 1000 times better as well!

2 comments

  1. Nice piece! Love to see the Arizona wine scene booming! So many great wineries and wines right here in Arizona! If you are a fan of AZ wines, you will want to check our the AZ Wine Travel Card. I bought one at Sonoita Vineyards and have used it a ton! Saved me a lot of $$.

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