In late June, wineries and related tourism operators in the Kamloops region celebrated their five year anniversary, as the summer tourism season took its first steps to reopen during the current pandemic.

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Despite the challenges due the COVID-19 pandemic, Harper’s Trail Winery, a pioneer in the wine industry in Kamloops, alongside other members of the Kamloops Wine Trail, have adapted to the new tourism environment and recently celebrated the trail’s five year anniversary. 

Since its launch in 2015, the Kamloops Wine Trail has become an important component of tourism in the region with 15 per cent growth in vineyard plantations, 200 per cent increase in wine production and 150 plus medals awarded to local wineries.

The Kamloops Wine Trail showcases four Thompson Valley wineries, and was officially recognized as a B.C. designated wine region in 2018. The five year anniversary coincided with the revealing of a new logo and website. With the emergence of five wine tour operations, many wineries saw great success and last year, the trail had over 16,000 wine visitors. 

Throughout the pandemic local wineries have shown ingenuity by utilizing curbside pick up and online ordering throughout the last few months. As the province announced phase 3 of the reopening, wineries began opening their tasting rooms with new guidelines in place to keep guests and employees safe and to avoid the frustration of line ups. 

Harper’s Trails is one of those wineries. 

“Our vision moving forward is to continue to produce quality wines in the Thompson Valley, growing grapes and showcasing to B.C. and Canada that the Thompson Valley is here to stay,” said Carrie Neal, tasting manager for Harper’s Trail. “We can grow grapes and we can make great wine.” 

Harper’s Trail winery has seen significant growth since its inception in 2011, despite initial skepticism regarding the viability of a thriving wine industry in Kamloops. 

“Right from the beginning,” said Neal. “People thought that Ed and Vicky were crazy, you know, you’re going to put a winery above the 50th parallel? You’re going to grow grapes?”

But the wine pioneers held firm to the dream, invested in the knowledge of veteran winemakers and travelled across the world to other wineries. 

The 25.5 acre vineyard continues to show the promise of growing wine in the Thompson Valley, making huge strides in recent years to become an award winning winery.

On Father’s Day weekend Harper’s Trail celebrated the five year anniversary of the Kamloops Wine Trail and restarted offering tastings that weekend. It came with some big changes. 

“We really had to scale it back especially with physical distancing,” Neal said, of adapting to pandemic protocols.  

Harper’s Trail has moved to doing outdoor tastings on their patio, with limited spaces for groups of no more than six people. Thirty minute time slots can be booked online. 

“Wine tasting is supposed to be that fun, hanging-out-with-your-friends kind of experience, and it still is but it’s changed, and not just at Harper’s Trail, the whole industry across British Columbia has definitely changed,” she said. “It’s become more of an experience rather than a belly-up-to-the-bar situation.”

The future of Thompson Valley wine country looks promising and many have high hopes it will continue to see growth despite the pandemic, however there are challenges. Harper’s Trail has decreased capacities to no more than 50 people on the property, and has protocols and spacing guidelines inside the shop. 

“We’re a small tasting room so we have, you know, the dots on the floor space six feet apart,” said Neal.

Following more safety protocols, Harper’s Trail has installed signage asking customers to request assistance to get what is needed and if it’s busy staff will do the shopping for them. There is also a plexiglass divide at the till. 

The patio is now strictly for tastings and the grassy area adjacent to the patio has been opened up for picnicking. 

According to Neal, many people are booking wine and brewery tours, as Kamloops now has five breweries, who are working together to strengthen the overall tourist experience and draw to the region.

Harper’s Trails approached Iron Road Brewing to do a wine-beer collaboration and last fall they released “Crossing Paths,” an Iron Road’s farmhouse ale-saison mixed with Harper’s Trail Riesling juice.

“They carry our wine, we carry their beer,” said Neal, adding the two offerings are complementary to each other as guests split their days between touring wineries and breweries. 

For more information on Kamloops Wine Trail go to www.kamloopswinetrail.com.

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