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Wide variety of opinions from winemakers on this year's Okanagan vintage

Okanagan grape vines are mostly picked, except for ice wine grapes, and ready for winter.
Okanagan grape vines are mostly picked, except for ice wine grapes, and ready for winter.

OKANAGAN - The grape growing season in the Okanagan is just wrapping up, and it appears growers and winemakers have widely varying opinions on the quality of this years harvest.

Winemakers were asked to comment on the season in a recent online edition of B.C. Wine Trends, where a small sample survey asked the question: Was the 2018 harvest better than most years? Only about 25 per cent of respondents agreed the year was better than most, while 43 per cent disagreed it was a better year than most.

Most winemakers agreed wildfire smoke in August had an effect of some sort on the fruit, mostly in terms of delayed veraison or the onset of ripening. Few believe smoke taint is an issue in this year’s vintage, even though early testing indicated it might be.

Adrian Baker of The Chase Wines in Lake Country said August smoke decreased the average daily temperature by five or six degrees, and the smoke filtered out ultraviolet light from the sun, which had a negative effect on ripening tannins and phenolics in black grape skins. Baker said September’s wet and cool weather affected “growing energy” but helped aromatic wines and certain whites.

Sheri Painter from Off the Grid Organic Winery in West Kelowna said the August smoke “seemed to pause all grapes, and as the smoke lifted, things seemed to speed up in unusual ways.” Painter said certain vines ripened out of turn.

Bradley Cooper of Daum Cooper Winery Services in Naramata felt the overall vintage “looked pretty good.” He said he had not come across any smoke taint, although early testing revealed “some moderate presences of smoke taint but it hasn’t surfaced yet.”

Larry Gerelus of Stag’s Hollow Winery of Okanagan Falls said May’s hot weather resulted in an earlier than normal bloom date followed by a moderate June and a warm and dry July moved the vines toward an early veraison this year. He said the August smoke, although more dense and worrisome than last year’s smoke may have slowed ripening and allowed maturity to finish in cooler conditions.

“I feel we got lucky with a warm and sunny October, producing some very fine grapes in the end for those that waited it out. At the beginning of October, several of our grapes were showing acids that would have made a winemaker’s life difficult. By the end of October, they were picked with nice acid levels and fantastic flavours,” Gerelus said.

Michal Mosny of Winemaker’s Cut in Oliver says this year’s vintage was influenced by two major things, forest fires creating dense smoke and a grape shortage which resulted in some high prices. He said overcropping was “a pretty common word during this harvest.”

Deborah Wilde of Hidden Chapel Winery north of Oliver said the season got off to a slow start "but took off quickly once bud break happened.” She said the heavy August smoke caused mildew and late veraison in some vineyards. Wilde says her winery was happy with brix and acid levels, but tonnage was down by about 10 per cent over average yields.

“A cool end of September and beginning of October had some growers worried as the numbers weren’t there. A warm, sunny end of October contributed to a good harvest in the end, at least for our growers in the South Okanagan area,” she said, adding some grapes were harvested as much as three weeks later than recent years.

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