Here’s the cost of saving BC’s damaged wine crops

Industry needs up to $317 million to replant vines

With the industry saying it is facing an unprecedented crisis, a new report suggests it’ll cost between $162 million and $317 million to replant vast amounts of BC’s damaged wine crops.

Extreme weather and disease are the key factors that have created serious economic challenges.

“We really are [facing a crisis],” Wine Growers BC board chair Christa-Lee McWatters told Kelowna10. “We haven’t seen anything like this, ever, in our industry.”

The study, commissioned by the BC Wine Grape Council (BCWGC), found 29 per cent of the industry’s 12,681 acres are estimated to have succumbed to winter damage.

McWatters, who is the general manager of he TIME Family of wines in Penticton, pointed to the extreme early cold event of -30C in December 2022. That happened soon after a late harvest, so the crops had yet to properly hibernate when the frigid temperatures hit.

Growers had already contended with the heat dome year of 2021, and McWatters added this year’s wildfires, and the associated travel bans, also hurt.

Wine is major economic driver

But it’s not just climate change burning the industry.

The study also found 30 per cent of crops are estimated to suffer from permanent viral disease and require replanting to avoid mass spreading.

The cost of up to $317 million to replant isn’t small, but McWatters points to a 2019 study showing the BC wine industry’s total economic impact was $3.75 billion, with $440 million generated in annual taxes.

The BC government meanwhile, said many grape growers are participating in their $15 million crop renewal program and they expect to make about $22 million in insurance claim payments this year.

But McWatters said while the industry has had good talks with the premier and minister of agriculture, more funding is needed.

“We’re really asking the government to put back the money we have been raising [through taxes] all of these years, because we really do need the assistance now,” she explained. “We’re an economic driver and we need their assistance to drive the industry forward.”

With a view to eradicating the widespread viruses plaguing many growers, McWatters said the massive replant program being called for would include specific guidelines to ensure the health and vitality of new plantings.

She also said ensuring the right grapes are grown in the right region is also important, and conceded there had been much experimentation in the past – with good and bad results - in what is still a young industry in BC.

“As we have evolved and we’re growing up, we’re seeing what varietals are working in better places,” she explained. “We’ll be working collaboratively to make sure we’re planting the right varietals in the right site.”

Published 2023-11-17 by Glenn Hicks

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