By Joel Barde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sun Peaks Independent News
Despite challenges associated with COVID-19, Kamloops wineries appear to be thriving.
“The Kamloops Wine Trail wineries had record breaking summers,” said Trish Morelli, executive director of the Kamloops Wine Trail.
Morelli said this positive experience owed to pivoted marketing campaigns, innovation on the part of wineries, and a desire among British Columbians to support local businesses.
Morelli said sales were up 12 per cent between January and August this year compared to last, and that direct-to-consumer sales were up 61 per cent for July and August, which is effectively the height of the wine tourism season.
Morelli said while early on in the pandemic there was panic among local wineries at what the future had in store, they were able to quickly transition.
Like other establishments, before reopening in late April they installed signage to ensure proper social distancing and instituted new measures to restrict the spread of the virus.
Morelli said they operated at around half of normal capacity.
With more one-on-one time with winemakers, the public seemed to have enjoyed the experience.
“People were generally actually having better experiences,” said Morelli.
Morelli added the wineries owe their success to the support they received from Kamloops area residents.
“The local support was out of this world.”
She added the positive experience in the Kamloops region isn’t necessarily indicative of the industry at large, with the pandemic having a “horrific” impact on some wineries that weren’t able to open this summer.
The challenges facing the industry were captured in an August survey of winemakers published by the B.C. Wine Institute, a body that represents B.C. wineries.
While liquor sales have increased across the board, this hasn’t been the case for B.C. wines, explained Miles Prodan, president and chief executive officer of the BCWI.
Much of the increased sales of wine have been for cheaper wines made out of the country rather than B.C.-made wines, he said.
“It’s impossible for the province’s small producers to compete with the low price point of `bag-in-a-box’ producers,” he said.
“Other farms around the world have acres and acres of mechanically produced .125fields.375, and they can .125rely on to.375 get that cost down,” said Prodan.
Prodan said B.C. wineries have had to transition quickly to new COVID-19 restrictions. That said, Prodan said that some numbers are in fact up, and some wineries are doing well.
“I think anecdotally, what we’re seeing is that the quantity of people was down, but the quality of purchases was up,” he said. “So we’re thinking that not as many people visited, but hopefully as much wine was purchased in the end, because .125guests.375 got a chance to really experience it with that reservation time.”
In August, the BCWI engaged a market research and analytics company, Leger Marketing, to conduct an industry-wide survey to help understand and assess the impact of COVID-19 on the B.C. wine industry.
It found that one in 10 B.C. wineries and grape growers reported being at risk of closing due to COVID-19, with 58 per cent seeing a loss in revenue and 55 per cent having reduced access to customers.
Prodan said thankfully the industry has been experiencing somewhat of a recovery since then. The institute plans on commissioning a new survey in November once the province’s grapes are fully collected.
“Anecdotally, we know that visitors came to wine country and did stop at wineries to visit and buy wine, so we’re hoping it’s not as bad as what they were thinking,” said Prodan. “But we’ll wait till the end of this harvest to see when we go back and redo the survey.”
Prodan added many of the issues related to the wine industry resulted from challenges with distribution, as restaurants and wineries closed for an extended period of time it impacted the ability of wineries to get their product out.
With provincial health orders already tightening up on restaurants and bars again this fall, it’s imperative that the support of B.C.’s local wine industry and related businesses continues, he said.
Prodan recommended purchasing wines with the BC Vintners Quality Alliance (BC VQA), which means that it was produced in British Columbia.
“The end value product is a beautiful bottle of wine, but it’s the same dirt and hard, Mother Nature effective process that every farmer goes through. So buying a BC VQA wine not only ensures you have a quality product, but you’re also supporting agriculture and buying locally here in the province,” he said.