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I was on twitter a couple of weeks ago talking to Jayson Bryant from New Zealand (twitter: @jayson_bryant) about wine when it struck me that the selection of white wine from NZ  relative to Australian white wine on our shelves had changed rather dramatically over the 3 years I have been in the store.

Today, our selection ratio of NZ to Australian wine is less than 1:2. 3 years ago it would have been more like 1:5. I thought that we on Bowen might not be representative of the general Vancouver market so decided to check things out in downtown Vancouver.

Much to my surprise, our ratio is not markedly different to most stores. The 5 private wine stores I visited had ratios varying from 1:1 to 1:2 and then I visited the big BCLDB flagship store on Bute and Alberni. Their selection was very much closer to 1:1 and, checking the BCLDB website, the actual listings in BC for NZ white to Australian whites is 54 to 73 or very nearly 1:1!

This is a dramatic shift in market balance from years ago when the Australian powerhouse dominated the two countries white wine sales in BC. How has this come about?

Firstly, although there have been an increase in NZ wine selection, the primary reason the ratio is closing is that there has been a marked reduction in Australian whites in the market here. This is reflective of the shift away from all those heavily-oaked Aussie chardonnays so popular in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Secondly, here in BC, New Zealand was the theme country for the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (VPIWF) this year so NZ received lots of local exposure for their increasingly diverse selection of both red and white wines.

Both countries still make great wines but the trend is very much in favour of NZ at the moment. While NZ is hugely strong with their Sauvignon Blancs, I was really impressed with the Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminers and Rieslings I tasted at VPIWF plus NZ Pinot Noirs are coming on in leaps and bounds with Syrahs not far behind.

There are potentially lessons for the BC wine industry here too. Although our industry is younger than NZ’s, the total population of NZ is the same as BC’s and their domestic wine consumption is almost the same per capita as here. NZ is growing now on the strength of its export prowess not so much on its local support. Perhaps it is time that the BC wine industry focuses more on exporting than on local marketing – after all, we should have huge advantages in being next door to the USA whereas NZ is 20ookm away from its nearest large market and major competitor – Australia.

On Bowen, we have already increased our NZ selection in both reds and whites and more to come in our new store (opening January 2011) I think the white ratio will drop much closer to 1:1 then. Maybe we’ll even start to see the selection ratio on the reds starting to shift too.

Update 23/11/10: BC breathalysers are being recalibrated to o.o6. The law about 0.05 is unchanged so blow 0.06+ and you will be subject to new penalties. What happens between 0.05 and 0.06 is unclear but very much depends on the discretion of the police officer. I have checked with local RCMP and even they have no clear guidelines on this situation.

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Now the new drinking driving 0.05 rules are here, it is even more important to know about alcohol consumption and blood alcohol count (BAC). Exceeding the new lower level has serious consequences if you are caught and here on Bowen our local RCMP detachment seems to have become extra zealous.

First, this link will open the Official BC BAC chart. With this you, in theory, can calculate whether your consumption will take you over the 0.05 limit and how long before you’ll be back under it. However, there is a HIDDEN TRAP if you rely on this solely.

Note that the chart is based on standard drinks. For the record a standard drink is reckoned as either a) 12oz beer or b) 1.5oz of spirits or c) 5 oz of wine (roughly equivalent to one fifth of a standard 750ml bottle). However, for the purposes of setting standard drink sizes the servings make an assumption about alcohol levels in each serving. For beer that is 5%, spirits 40% and wine 12%.

The hidden problem is that your actual drink at standard serving size may contain considerably more or less alcohol than given in these charts. In some cases this may mean you are consuming more alcohol than you think.

Consider the following:

Most spirits and beer servings contain exactly the alcohol prescribed in the standard servings. Some beers especially IPAs and specialty imports can have more alcohol though. For instance Quebec’s Fin du Monde has 9% so one glass of that is nearly the equivalent of 2 beers.

Wine, however is a different matter altogether. Looking around our store I’d estimate the average bottle of wine runs to about 13%, no big deal – but variations can be significant. Those big Australian Shiraz can often come in at 15% or above, so one glass is the equivalent of 1.25 standard servings in alcohol content. If you are a 125lb female just one glass of this wine will push you to 0.05%. A 175lb male drinking two of these would be well advised to not drive for 2 hours from the time of the first drink.

So what can you do?

1. Ask the server what the ABV (alcohol by volume) on the bottle is and factor that in to your calculations. The ABV is displayed on every bottle. If you are a bar or restaurant you should be considering adding ABV information to your drinks lists.

2. Try wines that have less alcohol. For instance the very popular Dr. Loosen Riesling has only 8.5% ABV (most Rieslings run between 8 and 11%). That’s just about 1/3 less than the standard measure so not only is it reasonably safe to have one glass – at any weight – and drive straight away, for most it will allow you to have a couple and not run the risk of blowing over o.o5 (but check your weight against the BAC chart first). Another suggestion is one of our best selling white wines, the Gazela Vinho Verde that has only 9% ABV.

Nowadays you really have to be very scrupulous about not only how much you drink but what you drink. There is precious little margin of error at 0.05 and the Holiday Season roadchecks are coming up fast so there’ll be even more chances to lose your car and license. Your best choice at any time is simply not to drink and drive. Take Transit, a cab or nominate a DD from your party.

If you are in our store please ask us to recommend good lower alcohol wines for your party or event.

We’ll be opening three Sauvignon Blancs for tasting on Saturday. One each from Chile, France and BC. Look forward to seeing you.

In our annual customer survey we asked a series of questions about BC wine. In addition, we put up an on-line poll using SurveyMonkey and asked twitter followers to vote on one of the questions and to nominate their favourite three BC wines. Across the two polls we received 105 responses to this question.

“Compared to wines from other countries, do you think 100% BC wines offer good value for your money?”

39% of voters categorically agree that BC wine provides good value. Another 39% believes that there are some good value wines out there. This is good news for BC wine. On Bowen the ratio of the Yes/No votes (a “No” means the buyer is unlikely to buy BC wine at all) was 4:1 in favour of BC, but on twitter 2:1 against. It would have been nice to know if a larger response on twitter would have changed the ratio but it is a pointer towards the turbulent winds buffeting the BC wine industry in the past year.

Respondents were also asked to name up to 3 favourite BC wineries. Ranking of the responses is the simple count of mentions of the winery name. 51 wineries received a mention, a creditable spread as that accounts for about 1/3 of the total wineries in BC! Of these 51, 19 were unique to the twitter response set and 10 were unique to Bowen Island customers. The rest received mentions from both sets.

So, with a flourish of the drums, let me introduce…

Top BC 10 Wineries – A Popular Poll

#1                   Burrowing Owl

#2 (tied)    Mission Hill, Quails Gate

#4                   Cedar Creek

#5                    Joie

#6 (tied)      Gray Monk, Hester Creek, La Frenz, Sumac Ridge, Township 7

Tied votes are presented in alphabetical order. Burrowing Owl was #1 on Bowen and Quails Gate #1 on Twitter.

Sundry Notes & Observations on the Poll

  • 75% of the total voters are 40+ years old, 42% of the twitter voters are under 40 years old
  • Median price of wine purchased is $15-$20 in both sets of responses. 60% of voters say their average expenditure per bottle is in this range.
  • 40% of all voters and 77% of twitter voters visited a BC winery in past 12 months.
  • Total response was 105 (79 Bowen Island, 26 twitter).  While results from Bowen have some statistical accuracy, none can be claimed for the twitter responses – so the outcome does not necessarily reflect an accurate opinion on the BC wine industry.

Thanks for visiting. Please take our quick web survey on BC wine by clicking on the link below.

Click here to take survey

Note to Bowen Island customers:

If you already filled in our in-store annual customer survey in February, there’s no need to take this version we have your answers already. If you didn’t take part in the survey, now’s your chance to chime in 🙂

Note we have pushed this tasting back to new time and day as original Feb 7 date clashed with the Superbowl.

Where

Bowen Island Cold Beer and Wine

479 Government Road, Bowen Island, BC (under the pub at the crossroads)

When

Friday 19 February 2010 4pm to 6pm+

To launch our 2010 selection of British Columbian wines we are pleased to bring Quinta Ferreira to the store for the first time. The Quinta Ferreira winery is located in Oliver, BC in the Black Sage Bench area, well known for producing very high quality grapes.The winery owners John and Maria Ferreira immigrated from Portugal in 1979 and have been growing grapes since 1999. They now produce VQA wines. As I’m a great fan of Portuguese wine, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try these out.

On our shelves from February 1, will be their Viognier, Chardonnay, Mistura Branca blend (Muscat/Gewurztraminer), Obra-Prima – Portuguese for “Masterpiece” – bordeaux style blend, Mistura Tinto (blend of merlot, cab sauv, cab franc, syrah, malbec, p. verdot.) and Rosé.

We are delighted that the tasting will be hosted by Nicole Ferreira, one of the the winemaker’s daughters. We will be opening four of the above wines and look forward to having you join us.

Quinta Ferreira are donating 10% of their wine sales to the Red Cross for HAITI disaster relief from January 15 to February 15, 2010. Taste some great wine and support a very worthy cause by taking some home with you too. Give $5  to the Red Cross at the store on the day and we will match it.

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