Smoky skies are delaying the Okanagan's grape harvest - InfoNews

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Smoky skies are delaying the Okanagan's grape harvest

This week's thick blanket of smoke is slowing down the ripening process for Okanagan grapes.
September 15, 2020 - 7:30 PM

The Okanagan valley’s grape growers were enjoying last month’s heat and sunshine that carried into September, helping make up for a cool and overly wet start to the grape growing season.

That enthusiasm has waned this week, as heavy smoke from thousands of wildfires in the U.S. combined with a southerly air flow to inundate Okanagan vineyards with sun-dissipating smoke.

"It’s like a big filter right now," says Ralph Suremann of Pegasus Vineyard on the Naramata Bench. "Photosynthesis is not going directly to the fruit. Even though we are having sunny days, the degree days (heat) will be less than we expect and we still need to catch up by a week to 10 days on the average degree days for the season.”

Suremann says the “heavier red” varieties, the grapes that need longer hang time to ripen, might be an issue to get to full ripeness this year.

“The mid season whites and early reds, I don’t think there is an issue,” he says, adding cool days and evenings help to enhance colour. “We still need the heat."

Suremann grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Gamay and Pinot Meunier. He says in a normal growing year, he can count on a rise in Brix - sugar levels in the grape - of roughly 2 to 2 1/2 Brix per week this time of year.

“From the test I did last Tuesday to today, I only gained about a Brix. It’s a slow ripening process right now,” he says.

Suremann says it will likely be mid October or even until the leaves drop before harvest of the later varieties can take place this year.

“I think it’s going to be a late year, for sure, for the reds, and a week or so later for the whites,” he says. “Hopefully the smoke will disappear in the next two or three days, and then there is still some good weather in the forecast. Unfortunately, it’s nothing we can change."

Kelowna’s Summerhill Pyramid Winery winemaker Michael Alexander says harvest is underway for the winery’s sparkling wines.

“It was a bit of slow start to the season with the rain and cool weather we had, but with some of those heat waves, we’ve caught up. Hopefully the smoke will blow off and we can get back to sunny days," he says. "What has been coming in has been ripe and ready. The smoke is heavy but it isn’t mixed with ash, so I’m not concerned about smoke taint. It’s really just the sun that we need, but I’m not worried, yet."


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