Wineries are working landscapes, and many communities in Canada are dependent on wine production for their survival. The wine industry covers three sectors of the economy: agriculture, manufacturing and trade.

Vintners Quality Alliance is a regulatory system which guarantees the high quality and authenticity of origin for Canadian wines. Only two Canadian provinces have adopted the VQA system: Ontario in 1988 and B.C. in 1990.

VQA is similar to regulatory systems in France (AOC), Spain (DO), Italy (DOC) and Germany (QmP). The VQA system allows for sub-appellations, from which the grapes for wines are sourced from extremely specific geographical locations with different soil and climate characteristics. This is in accordance with the concept of terroir.

There are other classifications of wine in Canada. B.C. has a category known as “Wines of Distinction,” Nova Scotia has “Wines of Nova Scotia,” and Quebec has “Vins du Québec.” They must be 100% made from grapes grown in B.C., Nova Scotia or Quebec. Cellared in Canada is a completely separate category.

BC VQA certified wines must meet standards with respect to their origin, vintage and varietals. These wines are assessed by a qualified panel and must meet the criteria for quality characteristics before they can be designated as BC VQA. To put it simply, when you see BC VQA on a bottle, it is your guarantee that you’re sipping a wine that is 100% grown and made in British Columbia. The BC VQA regulations is governed by the BC Wine Authority.

British Columbia VQA Wine Standards

 100% British Columbia grown grapes. No concentrates are permitted. Grapes used must meet a quality standard for each variety, which is measured by natural sugar content in the ripe grapes
• There are nine geographical indications (GI)

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• There are four sub-geographical indications: Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Falls, Skaha Bench and Naramata Bench
• 95% of grapes must come from specific region mentioned on the label
• 85% of grapes must come from the vintage stated on the label
• 85% of grapes must be the stated varietal
• Labels must be truthful and accurately represent the wine in the bottle

How to Read a VQA Wine Label

The label on a VQA wine can tell you a lot about what is in the bottle. VQA sets standards for label claims about origin, grape variety content and vintage along with other things, such as the accuracy of alcohol content. Every label is reviewed to ensure it matches the wine in the bottle and is compliant with VQA standards. This is what appears on a BC VQA wine label:
• Name of winery
• Vintage year
• Name of wine or varietal
• VQA BC appellation of origin, or where the grapes were grown
• Vineyard designation, which is optional if 100% of the wine came from one vineyard
• Assurance of quality origin

Shannan Schimmelmann first fell in love with B.C. wine and spirits while studying hospitality at Camosun College in Victoria, and she has spent the past two decades exploring more than 100 wineries and distilleries in B.C. and beyond. She is a business leader and consultant skilled at partnership development, export strategy and supply chain management. She has an MBA from Royal Roads University, a wine business management certificate from Sonoma State University, a restaurant management diploma from Camosun College and Canadian Wine Scholar WSET-1 accreditation.