Selfridges adds new range of ‘up-and-coming’ Canadian wines

Upmarket London retailer Selfridges has launched a 20-strong range of wines from the Okanagan in Canada, tipping the up-and-coming region for growth.

The wines, which are now on shelf, come from the 50th Parallel Estate Winery, Culmina, CedarCreek Estate Winery, CheckMate Artisanal Winery, Free Form Wines, Haywire Wines and Mission Hill Family Estate, and will be available at the prestigious retailer on London’s Oxford Street until July, after which, only some of the wines will be carried on.

Prices range from £18.99 for Poplar Grove’s Pinot Gris to £94.99 for Mission Hill Family Estate’s flagship Bordeaux red blend, Oculus 2014. Other wines being listed include a 2015 Pinot Noir from 50th Parallel Estate (£27.99) in the central Okanagan Valley, Painted Rock Estate Winery’s Red Icon 2016, a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec blend from Skaha Bench (£27.99), Haywire’s sparkling VIntage Bub 2013, from Oliver (£26.99) and Culmina Family Estate Winery’s Unicus Gruner Veltliner 2017 and the Thesis 2012.

Speaking at a tasting in London last month, Selfridges wine and spirits buyer Terry Threfall, who grew up in the Okanagan, said he had been amazed to see the evolution of the region.

“Okanagan has grown over the last 10-15 year and it is very exciting,” he said.

Threlfall said it had always been “a dream” to bring wines from the Okanagan to a wider audience, but admitted that fifteen years ago, it simply wouldn’t have been possible.

Selfridges, Oxford St. (credit: Andrew Meredith)

“It’s developed so much. They are not trying to be a Burgundy or like this or that, but what it is,” he said. “We’re seeing that these wines are more about the terroir, they’re super fresh. The evolution is that we didn’t know the terroir. Now it’s about stepping back into the winery and letting the wines speak.”

Christine Coletta of Okanagan Crush Pad and Haywire Wines, Sara Triggs from Culmina Family Estate Winery, Darryl Brooker of CheckMate Artisanal Winery, Graham Nordin of CedarCreek and Mission Hill Family Estate were in London for the launch, along with renowned Canadian wine journalist, Anthony Gismondi.

Gismondi said the region was moving ahead “with breakneck speed”, pointing to a raft of new, young producers who were taking wine more seriously and bring new influences and methods learned outside Canada to their wines.

“After years of average viticulture, you now have a great range – and there’s a lot more coming through,” he said.

Discerning customers

Threlfall explained that Selfridges customers were discerning and often seeking a gift of something that they’ve never had before. “We want to be the place you can find that stuff,” he said.  “We’re the one place on Oxford Street where you can get the best of the best.”

The retailer, which is owned by is British-Canadian businessman and philanthropist Galen Weston, has been in talks with marketing body the Okanagan Wine Initiative for a couple of years ahead of the launch, Threlfall said.

There had been been slow progress of Canadian wines in the on-trade but he said the UK and London market was one of the most difficult in the world to crack. Currently exports only account for around 5% of Canada’s wines, and while the strength and demand of the domestic market meant there was not the same imperative push to export, producers were increasingly realising the importance of showing their wines on the international stage, getting connected and fighting in other markets to produce a better product.

“It’s about getting the prices right, which is not an easy conversation as producers can sell the wines easily in the domestic market, and some are even allocated,” he said. “Hopefully it’s just the start.”

He admitted the wines were likely to be a hand-sell, although he admitted that much of what Selfridges sells is.

“But that’s what we do well,” he explained.  “We do what everyone else isn’t doing, we look for the exclusive and things that are new and different.”

“It’s hard keeping up with our restaurant friends, who are way ahead of the curve, but it’s hard [as a retailer] becuase in a restaurant you can taste the wine and see whether you like it. So it’s a bit of an experiment for us, but I think the way forward is to engage the customer and have fun with them, be honest and informative and allow them to decide.”

“Brexit was/is looming, but it’s important for us to look at what’s new and fun.”

Supplier Nik Darlington of supplier Red Squirrel pointed out although the majority of UK consumers had “no idea that Canada produces wine”, unlike some wine producing countries in the Eastern Mediterranean such as Molodova, Croatia or Turkey, there was already a degree of familiarity and affinity with Canada and this “soft power” could be useful to the country’s fledgling wine industry to grow in the UK and US.

Last month the region doubled its number of designation viticulture areas after Naramata Bench and Skaha Bench were confirmed as new sub-geographical indications (GIs).

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