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Okanagan winemaker reflects on 30 years of the VQA

Howard Soon is pictured in this undated file photo.
Howard Soon is pictured in this undated file photo.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Vanessa Vineyard

B.C.’s Vintners Quality Alliance is celebrating its 30th anniversary and an Okanagan winemaker who has been in the industry since the VQA’s inception believes it will help propel the industry into the future.

Howard Soon, longtime winemaker in the Okanagan Valley was a key player in the development of the Okanagan wine industry. He started his career at Calona Wines in the 1980s and sat on a quality control panel for the VQA, from 1989 to 2007. He's now working at Vanessa Vineyard in the Lower Similkameen.

“I’m (one of the last guys) you’ve got from the pioneer days,” he said.

“Some people are saying we’re all grown up now, we don’t need (the VQA). Well, VQA for me is all about truth in labelling, it’s about British Columbia wine being British Columbia wine,” he said.

The intention of VQA was to establish a way to hold Okanagan wines to a professional standard, he said, and it’s a way to ensure it’s from B.C. grown grapes. Beforehand, there was no governing system, and Okanagan wines had a sour reputation.

“I think it’s important to have that, no matter how big you are or how small you are,” he said. “It’s true to what the people in B.C. want to buy.”

Other wine industries in the world have this, he said. In France, it’s an appellation system.

And the VQA has been a success, he said. Back when he was working at Calona Wines, management questioned if VQA would last. He said there’s a need for the VQA and a tasting panel.

“You ask any winemaker if they believe in B.C. grown grapes and they’ll tell you ‘yes,’” he said.

The B.C. wine industry brings $3 billion to the provincial economy. 

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