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British Columbia’s wine, beer, cider, and spirits industries have a new source of support, courtesy of an initiative by Okanagan College and funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
Canada’s Minister of Science and Sport, the Hon. Kirsty Duncan, announced funding for 12 technology access centres on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario. Okanagan College’s proposed BC Beverage Technology Access Centre (BCBTAC) is among them. With $1.75 million in funding over five years, it will be headquartered at the College’s Penticton campus and will be providing testing and business services and applied research assistance to the wine, beer, cider and spirits industries in the region and throughout the province.
The TAC Concept
TACs are expected “to enhance the ability of companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to become more productive and innovative by enabling them to readily access college expertise, technology and equipment.” TACs are funded to help defray the fees for their services and assist with grant applications for applied research. In general, the TAC can provide an array of services (from research to product development to business expertise) to act as a catalyst for the growth of the industry in the region.
Okanagan College is establishing the BC Beverage Technology Access Centre. The TAC will provide services to the wine, beer, spirits, cider and beverage industries through new and existing product development, production and testing technology and market and consumer research and analysis.
Located at Okanagan College in Penticton, with initial outreach through OC’s campuses and partner organizations throughout the Okanagan and Shuswap, the Centre will work with wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries to meet their needs and enhance their economic viability. The Centre will develop limited-scale facilities that can render proof-of-concept production of wine, beer, cider, spirits and other beverages as well as labs (microbiology, chemistry, food quality and shelf-life, and sensory analysis and consumer testing) that can undertake required research and analysis. The TAC will also provide services to assist clients in understanding their current and potential markets and consumer preferences, and provide operational and brand support.
Okanagan College has a long history of developing and delivering graduates and expertise for the industries that fuel the economy of the region. For example, the viticulture and wine-related training began 27 years ago, with hundreds of alumni now employed in the fields, cellars, and wine shops of the Okanagan and the nation. In 2017 the viticulture technician diploma came on line, developed in conjunction with the B.C. Wine Grape Council. In 2015, OC opened (with support from the B.C. Wine Information Society) a state-of-the-art sensory laboratory used for training and research purposes. The College has a growing research profile, with federally- and industry-funded research that speaks directly to the needs of industry, and we have partnered with organizations such as the BC Wine Institute to develop specific online training tools. In addition to its reputation for educational excellence, the College has a well-developed corporate training arm and a number of researchers who have extensive experience with projects pertaining to the value-added agricultural sector.
The wine industry in the Okanagan dates back to 1859, when the first grapes were planted by a missionary to the area. It has grown substantially and today there are approximately 219 wineries located within the College’s catchment area. There are 24 craft breweries, 16 distilleries and 19 cideries and a major privately-owned international beverage producer, SunRype, with estimated annual revenues of approximately $138 million. (SunRype, after 70 years in business, has recently branched into production of hard ciders.)
The vast majority of the wineries, breweries and distilleries can be classed as SMEs, but their economic impact is substantial: a 2017 report prepared for the Canadian Vintners Association, the B.C. Wine Institute and others revealed the economic impact of the wine industry in B.C. was estimated to be $2.77 billion.