Early harvest hits Okanagan’s 2015 vintage

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      This week’s column is being filed from the Okanagan Valley. I’ve been travelling through the region, catching up with wineries as they head toward the home stretch of vintage 2015. Here’s what folks are buzzing about in B.C. wine country.

      Being “Ahead”

      It’s been a long, hot summer, yet we’re still in the depths of August. What this means in the wine world is that the vintage has been accelerated and grapes are ripening quicker than usual—the same reason we’ve been able to pick blackberries in Vancouver since July. The heat has been unprecedented in the city, and it’s been no different in the countryside. If you look at the average timing of the growing season over the last couple decades, 2015 is currently (and exceptionally) three weeks ahead of schedule; at some wineries, harvests that usually start in September have already begun. “This year we’ll be harvesting in shorts and flip-flops, when normally we’re keeping tabs on the snow pack at Big White,” said proprietor Andy Gebert when I visited Kelowna’s St. Hubertus Estate Winery.

      There are pros and cons to this. On one side, there isn’t the concern that exists in cooler years of not being able to properly ripen grapes. However, as grapes ripen on the vine, the sugars can rise quite high, which can make for a sweeter, more boozy end product that’s low on acid, resulting in poor structure. To avoid this, wineries harvest sooner rather than later, when sugar levels are optimal and haven’t yet skyrocketed. The problem is that grapes need the cooler fall weather for their seeds and skins to evolve and for flavour and tannins to develop, a condition called phenolic ripeness.

      So what happens when they have to harvest before that phenolic ripeness is reached?

      “This year we’re concerned about the temperature at harvest, especially of the whites, so we may have to chill down the grapes after picking before we press them,” said Lyndsay O’Rourke, winemaker at Naramata’s Tightrope Winery. “This will preserve the delicate aromatics.”

      Another issue is practical matters of juggling an early harvest. “I’m committed to bottling our 2013 vintage reds in mid-September,” said Kraze Legz winemaker Gerry Thygesen at his Kaleden winery. “But things are going to be tight, because I have to get wine from barrels to tanks to bottles before this year’s vintage comes in and that’s the only tank space I have.”

      Of course, the weather could suddenly change; a cold front could come in out of nowhere and much of this concern could suddenly be off the table.

      Matt Sherlock of Naramata’s Lock & Worth Winery said it best when I asked what’s going to happen winewise as a result of this oddly hot and condensed vintage: “Dude, I have no idea.”


      The results are in for Wine-Align’s National Wine Awards of Canada, arguably the most renowned competition in the country, with over 1,400 entries from 205 Canadian wineries. While many classic front-runners like Mission Hill Family Estate and Ontario’s Tawse Winery nabbed a bunch of medals, there were also a good number of new kids on the block in the top 25 lauded wineries. The above-mentioned Tightrope Winery garnered seven medals, with its Rieslings most crowned, while Oliver’s C.C. Jentsch Cellars and Naramata’s Deep Roots Winery edged out perennial standouts like Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and Ontario’s Creekside Estate Winery. Yes, it seems like every week there are new B.C. wineries opening up; hey, I do this for a living and even I find it difficult to keep track of them all. When wineries load up their trophy shelf this quickly, though, it’s definitely a strong hint that they should be piquing your interest. For the full results of these awards, head to WineAlign.com/.

      B.C. Pinot Noir Celebration

      Courtesy of a breadth of microclimates in our winegrowing regions, we do well with a good range of grape varieties here in the province. While Merlot and Pinot Gris are our most planted and commercially successful varieties, the quartet that seems to garner the most critical acclaim is Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Pinot Noir is one of those varieties that seem to hit many close to the heart, and if you’re one of those, drop everything and nab the last few tickets that are still available for the B.C. Pinot Noir Celebration, happening this Saturday (August 22) in Kaleden, south of Penticton. Over two dozen local wineries will be flexing their Pinot muscles in tastings, seminars, a big feast, and more. Hit up the BC Pinot Noir website for details and start packin’ your bags!