The results of the 2017 Lieutenant Governor’s Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Wine are now in! Congratulations to all of this year’s winners:
The Aristocrat Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Nobilus Merlot 2013
Castoro de Oro Estate Winery
Crimson Rhapsody 2014
Gray Monk Estate Winery
Odyssey White Brut 2014
Crown + Thieves “The Broken Barrel” Syrah 2013
Howling Bluff Estate Winery
Century Block Pinot Noir 2013
Maverick Estate Winery
Bush Vine Syrah 2014
Noble Ridge Vineyards and Winery
“The One” Sparkling 2012
Upper Bench Estate Winery
Upper Bench Estate Chardonnay 2015
As someone who has been somewhat obsessively gathering information about this particular award for the past few years, I eagerly look forward to seeing the results. I was also lucky enough to have been a witness to this year’s judging first-hand for a short time on the second day of judging.
There are quite a few interesting bits of information about this year’s list of winners. All are from the Okanagan Valley. I personally have enjoyed seeing winners from all of the regions of BC’s wine country represented somehow. So far Vancouver Island (Enrico in 2015), the Fraser Valley (Domaine de Chaberton in ’05 and ’06), the Similkameen Valley (Eau Vivre in ’12 and ’13), and Lillooet (Fort Berens in 2014) are the only non-Okanagan wines to win at this competition. Based on some of my travels to other regions over the past couple of years, I predict that this will change. However, since the bulk of production is still in the Okanagan Valley, the odds are still more favourable to wins coming from there.
Gray Monk takes their second-only LG award for the 2014 Odyssey White Brut sparkling wine. For such an esteemed first-generation estate winery, it seems entirely odd to me that they have not won more often in the past. Their previous win was for the 2007 vintage of the same sparkling wine seven years ago. Similarly, sparkling wine has helped Noble Ridge win one for “The One” 2012, which makes “The One” a two-time winner in three years. (Yes, I enjoyed writing that particular sentence…)
Cassini Cellars won two awards, both for big red single-varieties. Though that is not frequent, a double win like that has happened before and usually demonstrates that a winery is getting very good at establishing a particular style. The Hatch and Perseus wineries, both owned by Terabella Wineries, shows that promising things are happening within that organization as well. Both Terabella properties are first-time winners as are many of the other wineries in this set while Cassini has won previously for a 2012 Cabernet Franc in 2015.
As I see it, the most significant fact for this year is that for the first time ever, there are no large commercial wineries present among the winners. Andrew Peller Ltd. received an award last year (through Red Rooster’s win for the 2012 Reserve Merlot) and each of the previous years have seen at least one win by a commercial production winery. In the early days of the LG awards, commercial wineries dominated the awards, winning multiple awards each year and often for the same wines again and again. Sumac Ridge and Jackson-Triggs (both Vincor brands) dominated the early competitions. Between 2008 and 2012, this slowly began to change and the smaller production wineries began to take over the winners’ circle to a point where the commercial wineries were shut out this year.
Why has this been the case? Two things spring to mind. The first, and probably least probable, is that the depth and quality of the smaller producers is swaying the judges’ opinions. While it is possible to see great quality wines from commercial producers, the attention to detail in small-production batches has really caught on in the past decade. The second, and probably more likely, is that the larger commercial wineries simply don’t bother submitting their wines to the LG awards. Vincor’s many awards pretty much stopped when Constellation took over and in the tumult since that time, the realignment of their brands has seen some get neglected, for lack of a better word. Powerhouse LG award-winners Sumac Ridge (who still hold more LG awards than any other winery – 10) were dismembered into Stellar’s Jay and Black Sage Vineyards premium lines while the Sumac Ridge branding took on the lowest-priced value line. The once-great original estate winery survives in name only with little chance for a future LG award at all and with no impetus from their parent company to want to enter them into it.
Mission Hill has never entered anything into the LG’s, or at least has not won anything which seems unlikely given the high quality of wines produced by that company. Now that four-time winner CedarCreek is under their portfolio, that name is unlikely to appear on a plaque in the near future as well.
I have written posts at the LG awards in years past (see 2014, 2015, and 2016) and there will be more about it in my upcoming book about the history of wine in BC. I very much wish that more wineries would participate in it but in many ways, that would make it more complicated to conduct and may require additional resources on the part of Government House. As it is, the competition is already a very large process. The judging takes place over three days and seems (from my own observations at least) to be far less rushed and more thorough than other competitions. With only a dozen winners in any given year and 486 wines entered this year, the actual odds of winning an award is staggeringly low compared to other competitions.
From an observer’s point of view though, that exactly what makes them all the more exciting and interesting! Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!
Cheers from wine country!