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Boxes spark controversy

B.C. wine laws move in mysterious ways. Just when the Hired Belly thinks things are getting better, we wind up scratching our head . . .

B.C. wine laws move in mysterious ways.

Just when the Hired Belly thinks things are getting better, we wind up scratching our head . . . Not long ago it wasn't permitted to put VQA (Vintners' Quality Alliance) wines in screwcaps - a rule that changed only when it became obvious just how many folks would rather twist than pull. Now there's a kerfuffle over Summerhill Winery's new Alive organic wines which, in true environmentally responsible fashion come in three-litre bags in boxes. The only problem is, as it turns out, they don't comply with VQA rules.

No question, VQA has been a potent driver in the overall success of B.C. wines. However, the program should first and foremost be grounded in matters of origin -like regulating that all VQA wines truly are 100 per cent B.C. - and perhaps (more contentious), quality.

To deny Summerhill's bag-in-box product the same VQA status accorded its bottles just doesn't make sense. After all, notes Summerhill chief operating officer Ezra Cipes, the wines come from the very same tanks that fill their VQA bottles. He thought bag-in-box would be "a no-brainer - because of the obvious benefits of the package . . . savings we can pass along from not having to buy bottles and corks, the shelf life after opening, and the much reduced environmental impact."

Those savings add up to $40 on the equivalent four bottles - but the 100 per cent B.C. organic wines can't be sold in VQA stores and could wind up beside plonkish "Cellared in Canada" boxes at BC Liquor Stores that masquerade as Canadian wines but are not.

We can only assume that the VQA regulation harks back to a time when the industry was desperate to shed its bulk wine reputation and thereby shunned any suggestion of packaging that might hark back to that less illustrious era, where a box of Hochtaler was the vin du jour for most Wet Coasters. And still, for some, may well be. (BCLS $29.99 for four litres).

However, anyone who's traveled Down Under (where the technology was born) knows Bag-in-Box rightly lost its stigma years ago.

At Hornby Island's Middle Mountain Mead, they can barely keep up with demand for three-litre boxes of their equally environmentally friendly, deliciously lavender-toned Magick Mead. (Only available at the winery).

As far as any issues of spoilage being behind the VQA bag in box denial, the fact is that, thanks to the collapsing bag that keeps oxygen out, the boxed wine is likely to remain fresher for far longer than if in an opened bottle. (Summerhill suggests up to six weeks.) But here's the real irony: If Summerhill had put the wines into much heavier and far less "green" three-litre bottles (allowed under VQA) there wouldn't be a problem.

Only in B.C. Go figure. B.C. wine regulations need to move with the times, especially when it comes to issues surrounding the environment.

Otherwise we'll continue to fall even further behind more forward-thinking regions such as Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

Please, someone, fix the stupid rule.

Belly's Budget Best

- Three Winds Viognier 2010. From Domaine Gayda, the folks who make the very good value Three Winds Syrah, comes a white sibling that's perfect for late summer sipping. Floral notes on the nose followed by a subtle stone-fruit and slightly honey toned palate, with soft acidity and a refreshing end. BCLS $13.99 France.

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