Why you'll want to reserve your Okanagan red wines this year | Penticton News | iNFOnews

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Why you'll want to reserve your Okanagan red wines this year

August 12, 2015 - 9:00 PM

THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - All through the Okanagan region, winemakers are getting excited about prospects for this year’s grape crop.

Hot, sunny days that have been relatively constant since early June have brought this year’s vintage along at blazing speed, and Okanagan winemakers believe the conditions are right for one of the best vintages ever.

“It’s definitely earlier, in fact, it’s the earliest I can remember,” Gustav Allander of Foxtrot Vineyards says.

He expects to be harvesting his Pinot Noir in the first week of October. Normally the varietal is harvested towards the end of the month.

Allander says the challenge to winemakers during the heat is to retain acidity in the grape as a result of the early ripening.

“We’re  carrying a heavier crop load and doing less thinning in order to delay the rise of sugars and retain acidity,” he says.

He says leaf pulling to expose the fruit, normally performed on both the north and south sides of the row, is only being done on the north side this year, in order to prevent light sensitive Pinot Noir from getting sunburned.

“We’re trying to slow down the ripening process,” he explains, adding Pinot Noir could be adversely affected by continuing heat into fall.

Allander says the vineyard’s white grape — Chardonnay — is also ripening quickly, and early.

"In 2003, another hot year, Chardonnay began veraison in the first week of August, but it didn’t progress as quickly as this year,” he says.

Foxtrot Vineyards winemaker Gustav Allander.
Foxtrot Vineyards winemaker Gustav Allander.

The hot weather has also resulted in less disease pressure on the plants. Powdery mildew is one type of disease that doesn’t spread as quickly in hot weather. 

Foxtrot Vineyards has also made adjustments in irrigation practice to handle the hot weather. While consumption hasn’t increased, frequency of watering at lower amounts has increased.

“Instead of watering every third day, we’re watering each day for less time,” Allander says, noting it seems to have had a positive effect on the plants. “Overall, I think it’s going to be fantastic vintage for reds. It might be a challenge to control acidity levels in whites, and keep them up, at the same time keeping sugars down."

For Bobby Ginta, the proprietor of Volcanic Hills Estate Winery in West Kelowna, watering restrictions haven't put a damper on grapes, but he says cutting back on water is a challenge when it comes to making the wine and cleaning up afterwards. He notes the winery does its best to reuse water with a waste water production facility.

Ginta says this year's vintage could be one of the best in years for many winemakers. The dry, hot weather will strengthen the vines causing the root system to expand in the soil and in the future will yield better crops, he says.

“My family has been farming probably about 50 years now in the Okanagan - specifically in West Kelowna. This has probably been the earliest year that we’ve ever had (a harvest) as far as my dad can remember," Ginta says.

Further south, at Hillside Winery, winemaker Kathy Malone says the vineyard has experienced an 'ideal year' so far, with no real problems to manage.

“We are super excited about the reds. This year there has been enough heat to ripen anything,” Malone says.

The next few weeks will decide the fate of the whites, she says, noting 'balance' could be a challenge.

“It looks like the weather is expected to return to more temperate conditions in the next few weeks, so that should help,” she says.

In the meantime, the hot summer has given winemakers some breathing room, in that harvest should easily be attainable before first frost this year, Malone says.

“Winemakers can afford to be fussy about flavours now. The early season heat is a bonus for winemakers,” she says.

Malone believes the biggest issues to be faced by valley winemakers will be about strategizing how the crop will be harvested, noting the early harvest may put pressure on the labour force, making finding pickers more competitive.

“As a winemaker, it’s a matter of triage for me, which varieties to pick first,” she says. “But as far as quality of the crop and being a memorable vintage this year? I can’t imagine it not being."

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.

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