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by Evan Duggan

VANCOUVER, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- Standing with her mother in front of a wine-sample tasting table, Kristine Russell takes a sip of red wine from her glass and holds it up to the light, examining the ruby-red color.

"We are trying the Laughing Stock Syrah," she said on Saturday evening at the Vancouver International Wine Festival, a win-sampling tasting event.

Russell and her mother had kept coming to the week-long festival each year for about four years. Each time, they spent the evening tasting their way through various wines from places like Chile, Spain and the United States.

Now in its 38th year, the eight-day festival brings nearly 160 global wineries and their wine-makers together with 25,000 people who want to get a taste of a world's-worth of wines -- all in one room.

This year, Russell and her mother were focused on tasting Canadian wines, and more specifically, wines made in the Western province of British Columbia (B.C.).

"There are a lot of wines here that aren't available in liquor stores, so it's an opportunity to taste them and try them and buy them," Russell told Xinhua, "I love B.C. wines so we typically travel up to the Okanagan to try out B.C. wines."

The Okanagan Valley, located in the B.C. interior about 350 km east of Vancouver, remains the province's top wine-producing region.

Though still relatively small compared to other wine producing areas such as California or Spain, B.C. has been going through a boom in its own right in wine industry.

"In 1988, (B.C.) had 14 wineries," says Christa-Lee McWatters Bond, the chair of the B.C. Wine Institute.

"Right now -- the number changes every day -- but the latest numbers are 347 licensed wineries in the province," she said, "Every week there seems to be more wineries, which is really exciting."

McWatters Bond said there are about 80 different types of grapes grown in B.C. that are made into wine. "I think the exciting thing about British Columbia wines is we can grow everything," she said, highlighting popular varietals such as Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

She said certified made-in-B.C. wines marked an 11 percent increase in sales over the last year, and wine has become a 2.6-billion-U.S.-dollar industry in the province.

It has also created a tourist hub in the sunny Okanagan Valley. Each year B.C. wineries welcome more than 800,000 visitors.

She said the best time to visit is from the middle of April to the end of October, when all of the wineries are open and the vineyards are producing grapes. Daily flights easily link Vancouver to Kelowna, the Okanagan Valley's largest city.

One of the oldest and largest B.C. wineries is Mission Hill Winery located in the city of West Kelowna. Launched in 1981, the winery is the most-visited one in the province, said Darryl Brooker, the winery's chief wine-maker.

He agreed that the best time for tourists to visit is during the summer months to enjoy wine tours, restaurants and tasting events up and down the Okanagan Valley.

"The weather is beautiful and regularly above 30 degrees Celsius," he said, "Really nice weather. Stable. We get very very little rain fall."

He said B.C. wineries can't compete in terms of volume with other top international wine regions, but it can compete on quality.

"We're a small (industry). We're only 10 percent of the size of New Zealand, so we've turned our focus on high quality wines. We're seeing that across the board."

At the next tasting table over, Cynthia Enns was pouring glasses of her own winery's vintage for customers.

She started Laughing Stock Vineyards 15 years ago on the Naramata Bench, a section of vineyards and farms perched above Lake Okanagan near the city of Penticton. When they started, Laughing Stock was one of only nine wineries in the area. Now there are 37, she said.

In recent years, visitors to their winery's tasting room have been changing.

"They're getting younger than I am," she said, "I think there is the millennial trend of younger people discovering wine and learning about it."

She said there is also a real movement happening for B.C. wine lovers to visit their own vineyards and wine-makers. "There's a real support and love for what's grown and made in B.C."

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