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Okanagan Chambers call on province to support vineyards ‘devastated’ by winter cold snap

FILE PHOTO – Rain falls on a vineyard overlooking Skaha Lake.
FILE PHOTO – Rain falls on a vineyard overlooking Skaha Lake.

Wineries in the Okanagan and Similkameen that were devastated by a harsh winter could use some help from the province, according to two different chambers of commerce.

The Chambers from Penticton and South Okanagan issued a joint statement calling on financial and legislative assistance.

“Crops that were destroyed will need to be replanted, and it takes up to five years before they are at full growing production,” Katie O’Kell, Penticton Chamber director and co-owner of Serendipity Winery, said in a media release. “Not only does that have massive financial impact between the added labour to nurture the new vines to maturity and the lost revenue in between, but wineries who saw a third or more of their crops destroyed may not be able to ferment enough grapes to keep their wine manufacturing license while waiting for their crops to grow back.”

The release points out how B.C. wineries are mandated to produce 4,500 litres of wine per year and a minimum of 25% of grapes have to be grown on the same acreage.

"The majority of wineries in the South Okanagan are classified as land based, meaning that on top of using 25% of grapes from your own vineyard, you must supplement the rest of your order with other B.C. grown grapes,” Penticton Chamber president Nicole Clark said in the release. “Before this cold snap, B.C. grapes were already 10 times more expensive than grapes produced in places like Chile. Now with 2023’s supply significantly impacted; we are seeing that cost increase up to 15 times higher than out-of-country grapes.”

READ MORE: Winter cold snap in Okanagan cut 2023 grape crop by up to 56 per cent: growers

The release says B.C.’s wine industry is worth $3.75 billion per year, and around 90% of the province’s vineyards are in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.

Michael Magnusson, executive director for the Penticton Chamber, has two suggestions: “reduce minimum production to zero litres over the next three to five years for all of those wineries who are now in the process of regrowing a third or more of their crops, as well as suspending the requirement for affected wineries to use 25% of their own grapes in production, so long as their production level does not exceed previous years,” he said in the release. “It is going to be hard enough for these wineries to bounce back, and the last thing they should have to worry about is the threat of losing their license because they can’t temporarily meet minimum thresholds.”

The release also calls upon the federal government to offer “no-to-low interest loans … during these difficult times.”

— Story corrected at 1:55 p.m. on July 24 as the original version included incorrect titles of Chamber members.

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