BC’s wine regions, in my opinion, can be categorized as either a very cool, cool, warm, or hot climate. Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley I’d put into the very cool category. Lake Country would be cool. North Okanagan and the Kootenays, I’d regard as cool to warm. South Okanagan, Similkameen, and Kamloops to Lillooet as hot. These regions can each experience difference in their vintage due to the weather conditions from the winter through the spring, summer, and fall. Part 1 of BC’s virtual 2019 vintage preview, covered the very cool to cool regions in BC, with presentations by Nikki Callaway, Winemaker, O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars in Lake Country, David Paterson, Winemaker, Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna and Chris Turyk, Marketing Specialist, Unsworth Vineyards from Vancouver Island. Barbara Philip, MW was the host for this online presentation.
Barbara started off giving us a general overview of the 2019 vintage across BC, with some stats for the Summerland region. Barbara noted that 2019 was viewed as a cooler vintage based on things such as Growing Degree Days (GDD) but does that tell the whole story about the 2019 year? January started off warm above 10 degrees Celcius some days in the Okanagan which made the vines wake up early, but then became colder and caused some vine damage. May and June were warm and flowering time was normal. July and August were warm but had no heat spikes which can shut down vine growth and maturation. We luckily avoided a major fire season with smoke. Mid-September was cool and rainy but then October was sunny and dry up till Thanksgiving when a frost came killing the vines’ leaves and stopping the grape maturation.
We did have reduced yields this year in part due to the cooler growing season but also because of the winter damage to the vines. The grapes had a long growing season, but as David Paterson from Tantalus Vineyards mentioned this season came down to sugar accumulation. The cooler weather let the grapes pack on flavour but not as much sugar. For David this year they had their lowest sugar yields ever. Barbara and the other panelists overall noted that their wines had juicy, vibrant fruits, and crisp acidity. As we were talking about the cooler regions of BC, the wines that Barbara and the panelists spoke about were white still, sparkling, and rosé. The warmer regions and red wine discussion will happen next week.
Chris from Unsworth Vineyards noted that Pinot Noir is the workhorse grape on Vancouver Island. It can be made into still, rosé, and sparkling wines, so depending on the weather for the growing season and your micro-terroir in your plots you will always have winemaking options. He mentioned that although the Growing Degree Days were showing as being lower, their grapes were riper than would be expected. Chris noted that sugar levels were not as high as the 2015 or 2017 vintages. He felt that their sparkling and rosé wines for 2019 are outstanding. The growing season produced an even vintage, with regularly spaced rain, and finished with spot-on acidity. A classic, not exceptional vintage.
Nikki, although having experience at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery and at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, was having her first vintage at Lake Country with O’Rourke’s Peak Cellars so was getting to know their site. All the wines are from 100% estate fruit. The vines are still young, being planted between 2013 and 2015. Nikki noted that a cooler vintage is better for younger vines that still have low vigour and yield. The vines do not get overly stressed when they are still young. She noted that she wants balance and flavour in her wines and 2019 provided both. She has both lower alcohol levels in these wines plus finesse; you can taste the tension and elegance in the glass. To demonstrate this she talked about her Rosé wine made from the 828 clone Pinot Noir. This is the first vintage for these vines. You get texture and redcurrant and red fruit flavours and hints to the potential richness of these grapes when the vines become more mature. She also talked about their Gewurztraminer, from 7-8-year-old vines. The wine does have some skin contact before being fermented in a combination of steel tank and oak barrels. The wine has a soft nose, the palate has weight but is austere. It is not like past cloying Gewurztraminers that you may have tasted and made you not want to try Gewurztraminer again.
David from Tantalus Vineyards did say that their vines were affected by the warm followed by cold temperatures in the winter. In some pockets in their vineyards, there was complete top death of the vines and that tertiary buds were 2-3 weeks behind the other buds on the vines. That being said, having some grapes maturing later gave David time to experiment with the layers of flavours in the grapes caused by different harvest dates. David mentioned that 2005, 2008, 2011, and now 2019 are his favourite vintages as they are all cool, which is great for Riesling. The alcohol content for this vintage is at 12% as opposed to warmer vintages at 13-14%, but the wine still has weight and tension. It was a challenging time in the vineyard, so you needed a good viticulturalist who knew what they were doing, and you had to pick at the right time. David noted that he has 2-3 short windows to pick the grapes for optimum flavour. This vintage as mentioned earlier has the lowest sugar levels and acidity, and David thinks that these Rieslings will age very well and will be a great buy. Besides speaking about Riesling, David also spoke about their Rose wine, which is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The rose wine was made by harvesting the Pinot Meunier, and then cold-soaking those 4-5 days on the skin for the colour. The Pinot Noir was picked and crushed whole bunch with no skin contact. So the colour of the wine plus the texture and flavour came from the Pinot Meunier, while the freshness and vibrancy wine came from the Pinot Noir grapes. The wines were primarily fermented in stainless steel, with 15% fermented in neutral Pinot Noir barrels. The result is a wine with a crisp, dry, light style. 1.2g residual sugar and slightly higher acidity.
So to summarize, the 2019 vintage was overall cooler compared to recent years, producing white and rose wines with juicy and vibrant fruit and crisp acidity. What will BC winemakers say about their red wines from the warmer/hotter regions in BC. Stay tuned for my next article next week. All pictures above come from the video conference call. Thank you to the BC Wine Institute for putting on this seminar.