There are probably a few reasons you ended up in Kelowna at UBC Okanagan. The nice weather, the access to the lake, the excellent market for lifted pickup trucks. While I can’t say what drew you here, I’m confident that the access to an incredible density of wineries in the Okanagan is probably not one of the things that deterred you from coming.
It turns out that not only is Kelowna arguably the epicentre of wine in Canada (contending with the Niagara, Ontario region), with the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys producing 90% of British Columbia’s wine, but UBC Okanagan is home to a major player in the scholarly world of wine: the UBC Wine Research Centre.
Founded in 1999 at the Vancouver campus, the Wine Research Centre (WRC) reimagined its scope and goals in 2020, a move that included relocating the centre’s headquarters to UBCO. As a collaboration between the Vancouver campus Faculty of Land and Food Systems and the Okanagan campus’ Faculty of Science and Faculty of Management, the WRC is one of the leaders for wine research in Canada.
WRC Director Jacques-Olivier Pesme has big goals for the future of wine at UBCO and says moving the centre to Kelowna was a no-brainer. Major wine research centres in France, Australia, and California are all just steps from wineries. As Pesme says:
You cannot be a research centre dedicated to wine and be disconnected geographically to the main wine region.
And UBCO is without a doubt geographically connected to wine. In case you were wondering, the closest winery to UBCO is the Ancient Hill Winery, located east of the airport, just four kilometres from the school. Perhaps the easiest winery to get to by bus is the Summerhill Pyramid Winery, which you can get to by taking the number 1 bus from downtown (in case you need to go there for educational or research purposes).
As a major centre of thought for wine, the goals of the WRC are diverse. Through its history, its work has focused on an impressively diverse array of researchers from both UBC campuses. According to Pesme, research in wine has historically focused on two things: viticulture, the study of the cultivation and harvesting of grapes, which is based on agronomy research; and enology, the study of winemaking, which has its roots in chemistry. But now, wine research has diversified heavily, professors working with the WRC included those who study business, ecology, chemistry, genetics, and physiology.
Pesme says this diversity in research is a necessity in the complicated world of wine. Given the economic and sociological impacts of wine, he emphasizes the importance of social science and business approaches to studying wine. According to Pesme, 98% of the volume of wine consumed in Canada comes from grapes grown outside the country, and as an alcoholic product, economic and political decisions related to wine are related to issues like social welfare and public health. Therefore, he says:
These aspects, these questions, need to be investigated: how does [the industry] work, how can you make the wine industry more competitive, what makes a wine region successful, how can you improve the performance of a winery for its consumers but also for its distribution around the world. These questions are related to the social sciences disciplines, but they are also directly linked with wine quality concerns, making a multidisciplinary approach always preferable in the wine sector.”
Though the WRC has historically centred on research, Pesme says that education is a major goal of both his and the centre’s moving forward. Already courses are available at UBCO, including Enology (BIOC 307), Wine Geographies (GEOG 435), and a field class (BIOL 420) which involves “field trips,” in case you’re interested. Pesme is particularly proud of the Wine Co-op program, which places students working in the wine industry, providing both students and local wineries exciting opportunities. Moving forward, Pemse says:
If we want to be nothing less than one of the most well-known wine research centres in the world – and because UBC is a world class university we have no other option – we need to consistently be producing good research, which is already the case, but we also need to be able to deliver wine programs for our students in order to serve well the interests of the BC and Canadian wine industries and to remain closely connected with the wine sector.”
In an effort to best support industry, providing well educated and motivated students is a focus of the WRC going forward. And it’s safe to assume that there’s at least a few students at UBCO eager to help.