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Cold weather great for icewine crop but there's a downside

Summerhill Pyramid Winery hopes this week's cold weather will be sufficient to complete the year's icewine harvest.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery hopes this week's cold weather will be sufficient to complete the year's icewine harvest.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Summerhlll Pyramid Winery Facebook page

There’s good news and bad news for grape growers in the cold weather forecast for the Okanagan and Thompson regions this week.

With earlier weekend predictions for temperatures to drop to the mid -20 C and even as low as -30 Celsius, vineyard owners and grape growers have been keeping an eye on the thermometer and the weather forecast.

However, for grape growers harvesting icewine, this week’s sharp drop in temperatures is made to order for completing the picking.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery winemaker Michael Alexander says the winery began picking icewine grapes last night around 11 p.m.

“They were at it all night. It’s supposed to be below -8 C for the next three days, so we’ll be picking until we’ve completed the harvest,” Alexander says. “It’s an advantage being able to pick during the day, an odd luxury. It sucks when it’s this cold, but nice to be able to do it when you can see without a headlamp.”

But Alexander says when temperatures start to get in to the -20 C range, there is always the possibility of some bud damage.

"- 20 C is not too bad, -25 C or -30 C and I start to worry,” he says. “There may be some primary bud damage. We haven’t started a lot of our pruning, so if we see bud damage we can change our pruning method. It’s always a risk when it gets cold.”

Blasted Church vineyard manager John Bayley says buds are hardy this time of year and there are a number of factors at play, but at temperatures around -23 C there is a chance of bud damage for most varietals grown in the Okanagan.

Earlier forecasts called for overnight lows between -20 and -30 for the Thompson and Okanagan, but updated forecasts have moderated temperatures somewhat, now calling for lows between -13 C and -25 C for Tuesday through Thursday night.

“Duration of the cold weather can also factor into bud damage. There could be some damage, but hopefully not a significant amount in terms of altering pruning methods for the upcoming crop. I think we’ll probably be okay,” he says.

Temperatures are expected to climb back close to the freezing mark by Sunday, according to Environment Canada.

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