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Between the Vines

Hectic first year for

BCWA boss

RetiredMountie is no wine snob, and it’s his job tomake sure standards set for the province’s commercial producers are upheld. By Judie Steeves


tephan Berney admits it’s been a steep learning curve the past year—his first as head of the province’s new B.C. Wine Authority.

With a background in the RCMP, he found early retirement left him with enough energy to do something other than home renovations and his hobby doing artistic welding. Even after retirement, he served as an RCMP reservist for three years, mentoring detachment commanders, but by 2010, he was ready for something new. That was when his wife spotted the ad looking for someone to head up the new BCWA. He applied, along with 50 or so others, and ended up with a new, full-time job. Ironically, he doesn’t cook and is not a wine drinker, yet he’s now charged with administering the province’s new regulatory body responsible for upholding the standards of commercial winemaking in B.C.

Only members may use the term B.C. Wine of Distinction on their labels and they are eligible to apply to have their wines judged for certification as a B.C. Vintner’s Quality Alliance or VQA wine.

Only members may use terms such as icewine, British Columbia, Okanagan Valley and other designations on their wine labels.

When Berney came on board the new body was starting almost from scratch to establish files and protocols; to hire judges who are completely independent of industry and train them; to establish a baseline for winery inspections, forms and requirements for the new authority to function. So, it’s been a hectic year.

The BCWA is a non-profit society, so its income must come from the membership to operate the testing facility and do the inspections.

At present there are 113 member wineries, including all the major wineries in the province, and there were 145 last year. Since then, a group of wineries has gone out of business and not all the new wineries, including some Vancouver Island ones, have joined.

Members are assessed $10 for each ton of grapes that will be used to produce a wine of distinction or VQA wine.

Steve Berney, general manager of the B.C. Wine Authority, holds the internationally- approved glasses for judging wine, including a black one for tank

samples so colour and clarity are not factors.


Berney acts as secretary and administrator for the three- member board, which receives proposals from the Wine Industry Advisory Committee. Its members are Jeff Martin of La Frenz Winery (representing the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys), Andy Johnston of Averill Creek Vineyard (Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands), Eugene Kwan of Domaine de Chaberton Winery (the Fraser Valley and other regions), Tyler Galts of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery (mid-sized wineries) and Derek Kontkanen of Vincor (large wineries).

Both Galts and Kontkanen are up for re-election at the June annual general meeting, as are the three board members: chairman Jeffrey Thomas, Layne Marshal and Hugh Gordon. Those three directors can be re-elected three more times for one-year terms. They were all acclaimed at the last AGM. The WIAC has proposed a number of changes to the Agri-food Choice and Quality Act, which contains the regulations governing the industry. During the past two years most wineries have undergone inspections by the BCWA to ensure they comply with all the regulations. Inspections should be done at least every third year, he said.

In all, 63 were done last year. That job is contracted out to experienced government inspectors.

However, it can be challenging to arrange inspections. It’s preferable if a group can be arranged in one geographical area for a day to reduce the amount of time spent driving.

Although most wineries are very cooperative, it’s British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2011 25

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