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Washington to supply grapes to BC after frost decimates harvest

A deal is underway that will see Washington growers provide fruit for neighbouring British Columbia following a “deep freeze” in Canada, which rendered much of its harvest “unusable”, db can reveal.

Washington Wine Growers is liaising with Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA)  to green-light an arrangement that will see growers provide grapes to neighbouring British Columbia (BC) to plug an anticipated gap in supply for the Canadian province’s 2024 harvest.

“It’s in the works right now,” Kristina Kelley, executive director for Washington State Wine Commission, confirmed to the drinks business, with “numerous meetings” having taken place already.

The partnership will see Washington supply the fruit at the end of its harvest (around October time), while the resultant wines will “be produced in British Columbia, by their wineries, their people,” Kelley added.

“British Columbia had a significant frost and won’t be able to produce wine from much of its crop,” she explained. “We had some frosts in Washington, too, in January, but it wasn’t the same deep freeze as in Canada.”

In 2023 wine production in BC fell by 54% following a severe freeze. Then on 13 January 2024 the province recorded temperatures of –30 °C, with much of BC experiencing “whiplash weather” of close to 22 °C below average.

Not only will the imminent agreement help BC with much-needed fruit, it will also help Washington “to right-size our business and make sure that the fruit we grow has a home to go to,” said Kelley, nodding to the current over-supply that Washington producers are currently facing.

In a communication from Washington Winegrowers, the organisation stated that Washington has a number of grape varieties “in significant volume”, which can be dispatched to BC  “in order to alleviate a shortage in Canada”.

Absence of red tape

According to the same document, the absence of red tape concerning the export of whole wine grapes to Canada will help to simplify the process as “no specific paperwork or inspection is required by WSDA for Washington export of whole wine grapes into Canada.”

Growers in Washington will work directly with BC producers, with each winery having the opportunity to declare the exact tonnage of grapes it requires for its 2024 harvest production.

Among the varieties that Washington is able to supply are: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Roussanne, Viognier and Muscat, for white wines.

And for red wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Zinfandel, and others.

In February, db reported that BC winegrowers were dealt another blow shortly after the devastating January 2024 frost when fellow Canadian province Alberta issued an edict saying that unless BC ceased its direct-to-consumer sales, Alberta would no longer stock its wines.

BC’s government issued a statement saying that it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“Our wine industry has grappled with unprecedented crop damage caused by two extremely cold winter-freeze events, wildfires and more,” said Roly Russell, British Columbia’s parliamentary secretary for rural development.

Trade body Wines of British Columbia shared its own statement, saying: “It is disheartening for our local growers and producers, who have already suffered great financial hardships over this past year”, and calling for a swift resolution.

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