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Oliver wineries confident wildfires won't affect quality of crop

A helicopter buckets water along the Testalinden Creek fire front to protect a vineyard on Saturday morning, Aug. 15. High winds kept smoke off the valley floor, helping to spare this year's vintage from smoke damage.
August 18, 2015 - 10:34 AM

OKANAGAN - The full effects of Friday’s wildfires on Oliver wineries may not be known for awhile but winery owners are breathing a sigh of relief no wineries have been lost during the blazes.

Fire crews continue to make progress in their efforts to quench the Testalinden Creek and Wilsons Mountain fires this week.

What still remains to be seen is how the grapes fared during the fire, though hopes are high the short duration of the firestorm spared the quality of this year’s crop.

Rhys Pender, the master of wine for Little Farm Winery in Cawston, can recall several East Kelowna wineries suffering from smoke tainted wine following the production of the 2003 vintage, the year of the Okanagan Mountain Park fire. He believes only consistent, long term smoke would be an issue for vineyards.

“It can definitely damage grapes, but it depends on what stage they’re at. From what I understand, it’s only during the later stages of ripening they are more susceptible,” he says, noting Friday's fires in Oliver did not cause a lengthy outbreak of smoke. “It was all so fast, on Friday. The Okanagan Mountain fire went on for days and days. This seems to be a different scenario — pretty quick, it blew down the hill, then back up, so it might not have done its bit.” 

Tinhorn Creek Winery manager Sandra Oldfield agrees with Pender, noting the smoke from the Oliver fires didn't last long.

“Studies have shown smoke has to be right in the vineyard and remain there for quite a while. There’s been a lot of research on this from Australia, obviously where there are a lot of fires. The smoke has to be pervasive, and we didn’t have any of that on Friday,” she says.

Wineries closest to the fire were dealing with winds that blew the smoke to the south, not the east, which would have been into the vineyards, she says.

“I spoke to winery owners who weren’t even getting sore eyes from the smoke, because it was all blowing away from them. I’m really convinced, although you never really know until all the grapes come in, but I’m pretty convinced we’re not going to see any smoke taint here. I’d be shocked if we did,” Oldfield says.

Tinhorn Creek Winery wasn’t as close to the flames as other wineries, but Oldfield says in her conversations with them, they observed similar smoke conditions.

“Research has shown the  smoke has to settle in over a vineyard for days to cause an issue. We’ve had blue skies since Saturday morning,” Oldfield adds. "There were a lot of bullets dodged Friday night, not just vineyards, orchards and homes, but secondary issues like these — I just don’t think we’re going to see it.” 

To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at sarstad@infonews.ca or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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