After last year’s earliest start to icewine harvest in the past 10 years, winemakers and viticulturists in B.C. are collectively rejoicing at another early arrival of freezing temperatures.
Cold temperatures prompted wineries in the Okanagan Valley and Similkameen Valley to start picking grapes on Dec. 5 and continuing into the early morning hours on Dec. 6.
“Icewine harvest in B.C. can be as early as November or as late as February,” said Laura Kittmer, media relations manager of the B.C. Wine Institute, in a news release. “Wineries love early harvests as they avoid the risk of losing grapes to challenging weather and hungry animals, and the grapes preserve those pure varietal characters they are looking for.”
Unlike other icewine producing regions of Canada and the world that experience these cold climatic conditions each year, icewine harvest in B.C. is a rarity. The Okanagan Valley and Similkameen Valley are the only wine regions to regularly experience these temperatures in B.C., but it is never a guarantee. Producers wait in anticipation each year for temperatures to drop, not knowing if or when they will have a window of opportunity to complete an icewine harvest that vintage.
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“There are few opportunities here in B.C. where temperatures get cold enough to harvest for icewine,” said Val Tait, viticulturist and winemaker at Bench 1775 Winery on the Naramata Bench. “We track weather systems for early warnings of cold weather and have crews at the ready to pick so we don’t miss that early window. When we get the right conditions, the results are usually spectacular. It’s not common to have a warm enough growing season to develop beautiful fruit flavours and in that same season reach cold enough temperatures to make Icewine. B.C. icewine is very rare and special indeed.”
Tait produces icewine for their Paradise Ranch and Whistler brands, and anticipates picking to begin in late December.
While this year’s harvest so far has been limited to just seven wineries whose mercury dipped and sustained below the required -8 C and whose grapes reached the required 35 Brix, there are 20 wineries registered with the BC Wine Authority to pick an estimated 735 standard tonnes of icewine grapes on an estimated 175 acres. Last year the earliest harvest started on Nov. 5.
So far this year there have been three icewine pickings in the Oliver, West Kelowna, Kelowna and Lake Country areas on Dec. 5, 6 and 9 with temperatures ranging between -14 C and -8 C. An estimated 135 tonnes of grapes have been brought in, leaving approximately 570 tonnes of grapes left to pick, according to the B.C. Wine Authority, the regulatory body for icewine in B.C.
For Inniskillin Okanagan, harvest came about three weeks earlier than last year. Viticulturist Troy Osborne said his crew began picking in the Oliver areas on Black Sage Road North on Dec. 6, starting at 4 a.m. with temperatures ranging from -14 to -10 C. Osborne said the fruit quality so far has been excellent, very clean and intact.
Wine lovers across B.C. can look forward to a crop of new icewine releases in 2019.
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