Wine Without Borders

There are few feelings more frustrating than finding a wine you like, only to realize that it's impossible to buy in your city. Fortunately, that's rarely a concern in Seattle; the maturation of our wine industry has meant that many wines which were unavailable a decade ago can now be found, at least if you look hard for them. Yet it's still undeniable that there are many great wine nations and regions who are woefully under-represented here: Australia, Greece, and South Africa come to mind right away. While wineries there very much want to be in the United States, importers and distributors have been unable to find a market for more than a token few wines from each nation, and that's the simple explanation.

Quail's Gate Winery in West Kelowna

Far more galling is the lack of wine from British Columbia, given both the proximity and the relative quality of the wine. Here, the struggle is inverted: there might well be a market, but wineries in BC are unwilling to discount their wine in order to bring it into the US at a competitive price. For most of the industry's history, wineries have survived by selling virtually all of their wine within Canada as a whole, if not the province itself. Many of those sales happened at the wineries, meaning that they were able to profit at a much higher rate than they would be selling wines to a distributor. Yet as the industry continues to grow, a select few wineries are starting to wonder if that felicitous situation will last forever.

To continue to grow, not just in terms of sales but in terms of stature, those wines need to be put on a global stage, to be offered (and judged) alongside great wines from every other corner of the globe. Doing so will require accepting a lower sale price for wines, and for the fact that promoting those wines will require more than just the natural beauty of British Columbia as a selling point. The good news, at least to my eyes, is that winemakers at a number of wineries like Clos du Soleil, Tantalus, and Summerhill Pyramid seemed well-aware of those facts, and interested in exploring the broader market, confident that their wines can stand up to the increased competition. From what I tasted, I'd say they're right.


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