A Late Start to the British Columbia Grape Harvest

Note: This is a report prepared by the B.C. Wine Institute on the grape harvest in British Columbia.

After a tumultuous summer, the British Columbia grape harvest is underway across the province, and, despite the hardships of Mother Nature, the grape quality is fantastic!

The 2010 harvest was off to a late start with the first grapes being picked the week of September 15; two weeks behind harvest last year. Although the majority of BC wineries started picking after September 24, some have not even begun to bring in fruit, giving 2010 the distinction of one of the latest harvests on record.

By all accounts, it has been a precarious year for vintners in BC, proving that we truly do test the limits of cool-climate viticulture. Cynthia Enns, Proprietor of Laughing Stock Vineyards in Naramata aptly described vintage 2010, “welcome to the reality of cool-climate grape growing. We push the limits and are now facing the realities of Mother Nature.”

Despite the cooler-than-normal temperatures and higher levels of precipitation this growing season, the hot, dry weather at the end of September was a slight comfort to grapegrowers and winemakers. Temperatures at the end of September were as much as 10 degrees above normal, though a few weeks of ripening are still needed around the province.

In the North Okanagan, the 2010 harvest at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery began on October 4. Winemaker Grant Stanley indicates that, “field sampling of early ripening varietals, Marechal Foch, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, have indicated that there are good, ripe flavours and relatively moderate sugar levels combined with  good acidity. A very late budburst and cooler than average spring provided many challenges in the vineyard with early shoot thinning followed by aggressive crop thinning after fruit set. This work has resulted in our vines carrying the smallest crop through to harvest than ever before, and we will be rewarded for our efforts with good ripeness across all varietals in this cool year.”

Sandra Oldfield, Winemaker at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, has completed 30% of their harvest, “our whites are harvested and we were lucky enough to have no rot in our vineyards. With delicious, mature flavours, this looks to be a really good year for white wines.” The red harvest certainly looks to be more harrowing, as heat-units drop and temperatures dip closer to zero explains Oldfield, “we have just brought in the first of our Merlot and the quality is exceptional and we will have all of our Merlot and Pinot Noir in within a week. Late-ripening varietals like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc still require a few weeks, even in the South Okanagan.”

In the Similkameen valley, those wineries that have not yet begun their harvest expect to do so after Thanksgiving weekend. Ann Heinecke, Winemaker at Crowsnest Vineyards, and her team began their harvest on October 5 with Pinot Auxerrois, but the remainder of their crop won’t be harvested until the end of October.

Similar stories are being told in the Lower Mainland with early-ripening varietals being harvested.  Vista D’oro Winery in Langley started their harvest on October 4, bringing in some excellent quality Marechal Foch, and Neck of the Woods Winery in Langley has brought in their Siegerrebe, but the remainder of their harvest won’t begin for at least another week.

On Vancouver Island, Mark Holford from Rocky Creek Winery is hoping that the warm weather continues. Their harvest began this week with Ortega, and although they expect Siegerrebe to be picked in the upcoming week, Holford will wait as long as possible for his Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to ripen, anticipating that harvest will continue until early November.

Despite the challenges presented this year, vintners agree that vintage 2010 will still produce some outstanding wines and, although there may be slightly less of it to go around, it will be a particularly good year for white wines.

For the latest harvest updates, follow @winebcdotcom and #BCharvest2010 on Twitter.