BC is a large province, with a varied climate from maritime to alpine. Our grape growing regions for wine production vary from the coast, to slightly inland (think the Fraser Valley), to our hot interior (the Okanagan or Kamloops for example). With all this variability in climate, you would think that grape harvests would all vary and the wines that are produced. I thought with the sunny, hot weather for our Summer and Fall that I should interview some wine makers from these different regions and see how harvest went for them.
The 3 wine makers, and wineries I interviewed are:
- Bailey E. Williamson from Blue Grouse Estate Winery on Vancouver Island
- Andrew Etsell from Singletree Winery in the Fraser Valley
- Lawrence Buhler from ENCORE Vineyards (TIME Estate Winery) in the Central Okanagan
Where are These Wineries?
Just to place things in your mind, here is a map that shows the location of the three wineries. Note the difference in latitude and closeness to the coast. Blue Grouse is the furthest south at 48.7241° N, Singletree is at 49.1072° N, and ENCORE Vineyards is at 49.6018° N. Singletree is ~43 km north of Blue Grouse, and ENCORE is 55 km north of Singletree. All together we have a latitude distance of 98 km which is close to 1 degree of latitude (which is approximately 111 km). Did latitude and climate affect harvest date and grape quality for these 3 wineries? I posed 9 questions to these wine makers. Let’s find out about their harvests.
1. When did you start harvesting grapes and when did you finish picking? Was this your earliest start and finish?
Bailey: Siegerrebe Sept. 10 – Pinot Noir on the 5 Oct. We picked Siegerrebe earlier by a few days, end of harvest is not determined by phenolic ripeness but rain pressure and disease. This past Oct was the rainiest on record and so if the grapes were not in there was very little ripening happening past the second week of Oct.
Lawrence: We started August 17th with sparkling and finished on November 1st. This was my earliest start so far.
Andrew: We started harvesting our Siegerrebe on August 25Th. I had to come back from a family road trip to harvest. This was our earliest harvest yet. This was two weeks earlier that 2015.
<MyWinePal note: Lawrence in the Okanagan started harvest first, followed by Andrew in the Fraser Valley, then Bailey on Vancouver Island.>
2. Any issues with getting enough people to help in the harvest, or equipment needed?
Bailey: Labour at harvest or any time is an issue in the farming sector and does not look to get better any time soon especially on the Island due to there not being a critical mass of farms that require labour seasonal or otherwise. We are always trying to find and improve equipment that takes up some of the labour requirements but grapes can be a very labour intense product unless you have very large vineyards that can support full mechanization.
Lawrence: No issues.
Andrew: We had no problem getting enough people or equipment to harvest this year.
3. Were there any technical issues?
Bailey: There has to be at least one per harvest, no? There were no technical issues, the growing season provided well-adjusted fruit, the analysis parameters required no intervention in the cellar, no stuck ferments.
Lawrence: We had one press issue but fixed in a short time and did not cause any significant delays in processing.
Andrew: The only technical Issue we had this year was finding transportation for my grapes to the winery. Most years I drive my grapes to Okanagan Crush Pad myself but this year my truck decided it didn’t want to make the trip. Luckily I have great brother-in-laws that were able to truck the grapes to the winery for me.
4. Would you like all the harvests in the future to be like this one?
Bailey: No, even if you tried to script it mother nature would not allow it, I enjoy the fact there is no cookie cutter way and every year is a bit different.
Lawrence: This harvest was great but I hope every harvest is different…keeps life interesting.
Andrew: It seems to me that each harvest I do gets better and easier. The first couple of harvest I always seemed to be behind the eight ball, but this year was on track and everything went according to plan.
5. What surprised you about this year’s harvest?
Bailey: Quality, if global warming continues we may be the biggest benefactor, I always knew growing grapes on the Island was possible and now I am sure we can produce high quality wine.
Lawrence: How early it started.
Andrew: This year’s surprise was the extremely early start to the season. March, April and May all had above average temperatures. This jump started the season in the Fraser Valley and allowed me to have and extended season which is great for the 2016 wines.
<MyWinePal note: The last 3 years now have had hot summers. I wonder if this trend will continue?>
6. What was the quality of the grapes this year for red and white?
Bailey: Previous, whites were well-balanced and the reds received 1300 growing degree days which was perfect for Pinot Noir and Gamay which in my estimation are the only two reds worth growing on the Island, unless global warming truly ramps up.
Lawrence: Both look great so far.
Andrew: 2016 will be another great year for Singletree wines. The reds that were grown for us in the Okanagan are turning out great and are showing great potential. The white from our estate vineyard are the best to date.
7. What’s the most exciting thing about harvest this year?
Bailey: Like every year, the chance to make wine again.
Lawrence: Not one thing in particular…just a well-rounded harvest with diversity in flavours.
Andrew: The most exciting thing this harvest is all the new wines we have created this year, while I have continued to make our popular whites, I have also made three new wines this year. We have started a traditional Blanc de Noir sparkling, made from grapes grown at our Mt.Lehman Vineyard. I also made a single varietal Gruner Veltliner which has amazing flavour and aroma. Lastly while I have continued to make our award-winning Siegerrebe, I took a small amount and did a wild ferment, extended skin contact Siggy that I can’t wait to release.
8. What’s the scariest thing about harvest?
Bailey: The finality of it, there is no undoing what you do. Be clear about what you do and where you are going with each lot of fruit before it arrives on the crush deck.
Lawrence: Typically I lose a bit of sleep over the weather, always trying to ensure we harvest at just the right time to make the best quality wine.
Andrew: I don’t find anything scary about harvest, it is more of a relief when it is over, you spend all season tending to the grapes making sure they are the best they can be and then harvest comes and it is an accumulation of the entire seasons hard work. I look forward to harvest and the work that comes along with it.
9. Do you have any Harvest traditions?
Bailey: Suck up to my family early because the next 2-3 month are a mess and challenge the family unit to the breaking point.
Lawrence: We always celebrate the first pick by sharing a bottle of sparkling with our team…and a bit of wine making into the first press load.
Andrew: Harvest has become a family event. Everyone pitches in where they can, my sons Cooper and Noah even get in to the harvest spirit and we allow them to take the day off school and help pick grapes and be part of the harvest. The whole family is involved somehow, be it picking the grapes, running the forklift of transporting the grapes we all have a part.
MyWinePal: Thank you all for your insights into this year’s harvest. I look forward to trying your wines over the next few years. Cheers.