Joie’s Heidi Noble As Globe & Mail “Flashpoint”
There was something odd when I read Alexandra Gill’s column today, and I’m not talking about her anaesthetic-free disembowelment of Market.
I’m instead referring to her other piece, a fine read on BC wines and the Wine Fest called BC Wines Face Homecoming Test. Buried in it was something strange that has been eating at me all afternoon. It was when she quoted JoieFarms winemaker Heidi Noble as saying: “B.C. is not good value.”
It’s a ballsy quote for a BC winemaker to give a reporter. True or not, can you imagine the CEO of Jaguar saying the same thing about his cars? I mean, not only does Noble now have to face her peers (whose products she just pooh-poohed) for the rest of the week at Wine Fest, she also has to explain herself to all of her customers who might be wondering why they should buy Joie at all if it is “not good value”. You follow?
About fifteen minutes ago I received an email from JoieFarms. With their permission, I’m printing it in its entirety:
Dear JoieFarm Supporters,
We wish to address a quote attributed to us in the Globe & Mail’s March 25, 2009 article “BC Wines Face Homecoming Test”. For those of you that read Alexandra Gill’s article, we are certain you raised an eyebrow when Heidi was quoted as saying “BC Wines are not good value” in an article addressing this years theme country of BC headlining the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. This quote was not only taken out of context, but presented entirely without context for such a complex subject.
We wish to express our excitement to be participating in this years Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival and are proud to have taken our own table in the main tasting room to stand up with the best of the BC wine industry representing the quality wines of our region.
We value your support and wish to thank you for helping us to sell out the 2008 vintage of our wines. We are proud to celebrate our 5th anniversary of JoieFarm wines this year and are committed to making more great wines of quality and value, this year and beyond.
After having spoken with Ms. Gill about the article, she thought using Heidi’s quote would be a “flashpoint” for conversation. We absolutely agree with the immediacy of the topic and for those of you interested in the nature of that complex subject… here are our (missing) thoughts below:
The question of whether BC wine is good value or not needs to be contextualized from the standpoint of cost. As former sommeliers, import wine salespeople and now wine producers we are well-versed in the realities of global wine production. The Okanagan Valley is amongst the most, if not the most, expensive, of all wine producing regions in the world. Three major factors contribute to this situation, the extremely high costs of land, labour & equipment.
As the winery business is quite new in the Okanagan, we do not have centuries of tradition where vineyards and wineries have been passed down through families for generations. Most of the actual investment has taken place over the last 20 years.
The Okanagan Valley is quite small with much of the available valley floor taken up by lakes that make grape growing possible at such a northern latitude. Tourism and development compete with agriculture for the land and as such this has driven up the price fivefold in the past 7 years. The rising demand for BC wine has resulted in the demand for more grapes than are available. The price for an unplanted acre of appropriate vineyard land ranges from $140,000 – $300,000/acre. An additional $25,000/acre needs to be spent on planting the vineyard and it takes 4 years until the vineyard is in full production. These prices are far beyond almost every wine producing region in the world.
The booming economy of the past several years has led to a shortage of agricultural labour. Basic farm labour costs us, at JoieFarm, between $15-$17/hr, much more than the pennies per hour paid in areas such as Argentina, Chile or Eastern Europe.
All of our equipment and most of our packaging needs to be imported and paid for in either Euros or US$, both of which are currencies that significantly exceed the Canadian dollar. Most of our winery equipment comes from Italy, France, Germany or Switzerland. The remainder comes from California. All of our bottles come from Europe, Asia or Mexico. We are in the most remote part of North America and increasing fuel prices have driven transportation costs through the roof on all of these items.
In conclusion, cost is only one factor when considering the actual “value” of a wine. Quality, authenticity and relationship to the place of origin are also significant factors. From a purely dollar standpoint, BC wines are challenged to compete with large scale areas such as Argentina, Chile, Spain and Australia, especially at the lower price points, but this is the reality of the global economy versus regional pride and a sense of place.
Heidi Noble & Michael Dinn
On behalf of everyone here at Scout, a hearty congratulations to Heidi Noble, this week’s Globe and Mail “flashpoint”.