Wine harvest starts early
Casey Richardson - Sep 18, 2023 - Biz Releases

“We’re seeing the valleys in a bit of a rush right now trying to get fruit off.”

Harvest season is in full swing across the Okanagan, as grapes are at peak ripeness much earlier than normal this year.

Winemakers from Bella Wines, Tightrope Winery and Three Sisters Winery have been working on picking since mid-August.

“We’ve seen quite a fun little pendulum swing when it comes to harvest dates and picks. Our last fruit came in the middle of October last year. And now it’ll be the middle of September this year, so a good month ahead,” Bella Winemaker Jay Drysdale said.

He added that there’s good colour coming from the grapes thanks to the lasting heat over the past month.

“So very little skin contact extracts a fair bit of colour. So that tells me the ripeness is there. Acids have been falling rather quickly lately, obviously, with the heat, and we’re still getting warm nights into September, which normally we get down to like last night where it hits about 10 Celsius. But when it starts hovering above 15 Celsius, then we find our acids are moving pretty quickly, too,” he said.

Three Sisters winemaker Matthew Mikulic said they are also picking a month earlier than last year.

“I’ve never picked this early,” he said. “Our first fruit came off August 26 this year, and I think before this the earliest we were picking was September 10 or 11. Something like that. Yeah. So it’s just unheard of. I’ve been here 10 years now.”

After last winter’s cold snap, where the region saw periods of extreme cold that killed vines in droves, there are many who are grateful to see the grapes coming.

“It really hurt a lot of the vines. A lot of the primary and secondary buds just didn’t come out. Nothing was fruitful. So tertiary buds are here, and we have some canopy. Most of the properties that even don’t have any fruit still have some canopy so we’re hoping for next year to bounce back,” Mikulic said.

The saving grace is the fruit that is coming in has been good quality.

“So we’re happy with that,” Mikulic added.

Tightrope Winery GM Colin Ross said they were lucky with winter damage being minimal along their vines in the Naramata Bench, with the proximity of the lake and being higher up.

“Volume-wise, we are pretty much on par with an average year, maybe a little bit less than last year, which was a huge year,” he said.

Drysdale said he expects to be down a good 40% in grape yield compared to last year’s numbers.

“So it’s definitely going to be a bit of a hit,” he added. “I’m grateful for what we do have. I have heard other horror stories that it’s pretty slim pickings out there for fruit, and happy to see a few things pop up on the interwebs lately. I think it’s gonna be a tough year for volume, that’s for sure anyway.”

A small boutique winery in Oliver reported earlier this summer that all its vines were decimated and produced zero grapes this year as a result of the freeze.

“It’s a tough year growing-wise, really tough on the farmers and tough on the wineries to get fruit in, but at the end of the day it could be a lot worse,” Mikulic said. “We make wine for a living. So whatever fruit we get into, we just got to make sure it’s really top-quality stuff.”

With a hit to the wineries also coming from the intense wildfire season, highway closures and brief travel bans, all are hoping to see more tourists and locals come out.

“This is a very busy time of year for the winemakers and the wineries in general. But it’s also kind of a celebratory time of year because we’ve worked sort of for the last year basically to get to this point,” Ross said.

“If you can come up now, this is the time. The big, busy crowds have gone home. The weather’s beautiful, it’s nice and warm and sunny, and there’s lots going on at all the wineries, so you get to see a bit of action on your travels.”

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