Looking Ahead to the Grape Harvest in BC

As we ease back into our work week after a long weekend to celebrate this great province, we reflect on how it has been a long, warm spring and summer across BC.

Weather, growing conditions, watering restrictions and threat of fire all could impact the upcoming grape harvest, depending on which grape growing region you are in.

Could this be one of the earliest harvests on record in BC? How are things looking so far?

Laura Kittmer, media relations manager at the British Columbia Wine Institute states “It’s been a very hot summer in BC this year; many wineries are reporting their grapevines to be about two weeks ahead right now, which could mean early wine harvest.”

We checked in with our clients in different parts of the province for an update, which follows.

Let us know if you need more info, photos, or wish to interview anyone quoted below. Amy @ townhallbrands.com / 604-321-3295

Okanagan – Summerland – Okanagan Crush Pad – Christine Coletta, owner

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“At Okanagan Crush Pad we are more than half way into yet another great season in the Okanagan. But as we like to remember, it isn’t over until it’s over, and the next three months are the most crucial to shaping vintage. Will we get those cooler fall days with cold nights that allow for hang time that creates the phenolic* ripeness and natural acidity that we all crave? Or will there be a quick, sharp finish to the growing year that leaves us with high sugars, resulting in wines with higher than normal alcohol levels? Time will tell.

An early spring and unseasonably warm summer has challenged viticulturists throughout the valley. We did not get the typical rainfall we expect in June and the rest of the summer has been dry and hot. A careful watch on irrigation levels has been required.

Bountiful crop sets with large cluster formations and small berry size should result in some excellent wines next year. The early spring start will guarantee that most crops will finish on time and viticulturists will surely be pleased about that. With veraison** starting we anticipate a late September /early October harvest. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that the weather continues to co-operate as we eagerly anticipate yet another outstanding year.

As far as water use goes, vineyards used significantly less water than tree fruits, and vineyards with drip irrigation, even less than vineyards with overhead irrigation. Our home organic vineyard, Switchback Vineyard, used seven inches of irrigation water a year compared to the standard 19 inches. At this point the Okanagan is on water restrictions, but this is an annual occurrence and nothing out of the ordinary as is being experienced in the lower mainland.

From the forest fire situation, there has been absolutely zero impact from fires and smoke in our area. A few people have said on social media that they are concerned that the smoke can impact the harvest. This kind of talk is a little on the sensational side as smoke would have to be within close proximity (not 50 km away) and for an extended period of time (not a day or two) to have any impact on grape quality.”

Vancouver Island – Blue Grouse – Bailey Williamson, winemaker

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“Many in the Cowichan Valley have long stood by the ideology of dry farming, and this year they may reconsider this dogma.

At Blue Grouse we hope to have drip irrigation throughout the whole vineyard by next season; we have been irrigating where we can, and it shows a marked difference in the vine health.

Smoke has not been an issue for us as the fires are not burning close by or the smoke is blowing the other way.

Our issue is that vineyard labour has always been a huge issue and will be for the foreseeable future. In a small grape growing region it is even more of a challenge because there is no labour pool to draw from: seasonal, foreign or otherwise.

Very often we pick the grapes based on disease pressure, and hope for phenolic ripeness. At this moment the extreme heat has given way to more seasonal averages which could very well have us harvest a bit early, but not super early. If the rain holds off and the grapes are a week ahead of usual we could be picking in the sun rather than the rain. This would be a great boon for both quality and morale.

I generally don’t like to count my chickens before they hatch, and Mother Nature always has a trick or two up her sleeve, so I am cautiously optimistic, and hopeful.”

Okanagan – Naramata – Serendipity Winery – Judy Kingston, owner

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“At Serendipity we are lucky that there are no water restrictions on agricultural properties in the Naramata bench.

The smoke cover here was far less than in most parts of the province, almost to the point that it was less than normal. We had maybe five days of smoke, and the kind of smoke damage that CedarCreek and St Hubertus had in 2003 is not anticipated at this time. That was a rare occurrence.

We have seen few if any 40 degree days on the Naramata bench, we had a few that were kissing 40 degrees. The south valley has seen a few. We haven’t seen the vines shut down yet, but we have in past seasons. At this point, veraison is just kicking in, showing up in our Pinot Noir field and our Syrah field. Southern regions have veraison in full-swing.

Everyone needs to take a reminder that grape vines are one of the most adaptive species out there. They can withstand stress or difficult conditions.

This year’s harvest looks great. We knew at the beginning of the season that it was going to be an early start to the growing year and a hotter year, so we have taken measures to make sure that the grapes mature properly and not too quickly. Without careful farming practices, there could be a risk that the brix*** accumulate in the berries faster than the phenolics do. This year’s harvest could be fantastic, but it is impossible to say how the harvest is going to be until the grapes are in the press. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

We look forward to picking the Pinot for bubble in the last week of August. Katie is looking forward to harvesting in shorts and a tee shirt, as we anticipate harvest for our regular table wines to start in early September, well ahead of schedule.”

Fraser Valley – Singletree – Andrew Etsell, viticulturist

View More: http://typeaphotography.pass.us/onetree

“This year has the potential to be the best year I have seen in a decade. The grapes are 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule. At Singletree our Siegerrebe is already at verasion and the lack of rain has made mould a non-issue. This is the first year I have seen the Fraser Valley grapes keeping pace with the Okanagan. The only issue I foresee is that with so little rain our tonnage will be down from last year, but the quality of grapes will be far superior to what we have seen in the past from the Valley.”

Kamloops – Monte Creek Ranch – Galen Barnhardt, winemaker

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“The 2015 at Monte Creek Ranch season got off to a roaring start, bud break arrived 10 days early and an unbelievably hot start to the summer has pushed us 2.5 to 3 weeks ahead of schedule at veraison. The period between veraison and harvest is the most crucial by far, we are hoping for more moderate temperatures so that phenolic ripeness will occur before sugar levels get too high.

Though there have been many water restrictions in the province, we are fortunate that grapes are quite drought resistant. We practice deficit irrigation within our own vineyards and typically only use 20% of our water license in any given season. We have also been quite lucky and have avoided any smoke taint so far – a bit of recent rain should help matters. If Mother Nature can play nice for another six weeks then we should have a phenomenal harvest.”

So there you have it; no one has a crystal ball, but things are looking good so far for the 2015 BC grape harvest.

*Phenolic – are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in grapes, which give a wine its profile; includes tannins that occur in grape skins, seeds and stems as well as other complex chemical compounds that will help to define a wine’s character

**Veraison – a grape-growing term meaning when the grapes change colour – the onset of ripening in the grapes.

***Brix – the measure of sugar

Written by Leeann Froese of Town Hall Brands