I attended online Part II of the BC Virtual 2019 Vintage Preview which welcomed winemakers from the Similkameen Valley, South Okanagan Valley (Golden Mile Bench) and BC’s new Sub-GI, Naramata Bench. It was interesting to hear the differences and similarities between the cooler regions in BC and the warmer regions. We again had Barbara Philip, MW as our moderator, and she guided the discussion with our panellists:
- Naramata Bench: Graham & Lyndsay O’Rourke, Proprietors, Grapegrower, Winemaker, Tightrope Winery
- South Okanagan Valley (Golden Mile Bench) & Similkameen Valley: Jeff Hundertmark, Director of Winemaking, Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery
- Similkameen Valley: Charlie Baessler, Owner, Winemaker, Manager, Corcelettes Estate Winery
In Part I of the vintage preview we learned that 2019 was an overall cooler vintage compared to recent years, plus had problems with a warm January followed by a cold snap that damaged some of the grapevines. That being said the weather during the growing season was sunny which resulted in wines with juicy and vibrant fruit, crisp acidity, balanced alcohol levels, (and ripe tannins in the red wines). The second week of September saw the weather change, becoming cooler with small amounts of rainfall slowing ripening and drawing out the harvest for later ripening grape varieties. This resulted in slightly lower sugar levels in the grapes than would be expected but allowed plenty of time for the tannins to develop.
Graham & Lyndsay O’Rourke from Tightrope Winery started off today’s discussion. They are located on the Naramata Bench, which is north of Penticton, on the east side of Lake Okanagan. They noted that the Bench is hilly which gives you lots of different slope directions and amounts of steepness so that you can grow different varieties of grapes, depending on the vine’s preferences for sun and drainage. They noted that there are vineyards on the east and west side of Naramata Road. West of the road, nearest to the lake, the land is glacial silts and hilly (where their 10-acre vineyard is located), while on the east side of the road, furthest from the lake, it is gravel, that has a lower pH soil and a very steep slope. This steeper side is better for growing Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Their vineyards did suffer winter damage as other vineyards did over this past winter. The weather in September was cool and wet, and it made their picking decisions difficult. They mentioned that Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes are prone to rot. So they needed to figure out what the peak ripeness is for these grapes before things like rot set in. Luckily half of October warmed up and was sunny that helped with the later ripening varieties, but the frost on Thanksgiving ended canopy maturation. The year was OK until September and then became trickier. The Sauvignon Blanc ripened less evenly so that they had to pick these grapes over a longer time period.
Barbara Philip asked Graham and Lyndsay about the Barbera grapes that they had planted and that are part of the blend for their Rosé wine. Barbera for those that don’t know is an indigenous Italian grape. Graham and Lyndsay noted that they had tried a Barbera wine while they were travelling in New Zealand and liked the flavour so when they moved to BC they planted this grape variety. They noted that Barbera adds acidity, tannin, and spiciness to wine. You can taste their Barbera as I mentioned from their Tightrope Winery Rosé 2019, which has 7% Barbera and 93% Pinot Noir.
Jeff Hundertmark from Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery is a recent addition to the BC winemaking scene. He previously worked in Ontario. This was his first vintage in the Okanagan as the head winemaker and had no previous years to compare with, so could not say whether this was a more difficult vintage compared to previous vintages. He did say that he wanted to make some big red wines, but the cooler year throttled that back. Let’s hope for a warmer year for Jeff in the 2020 vintage. Jeff noted that they have vineyards throughout the Okanagan and in the Similkameen Valley. He also mentioned that they hired a new vineyard manager last year to rehab the vines and to replant vines in their Similkameen property. Luckily the pruning and other agricultural practices taken on by the vineyard manager helped to minimize the effects of the winter kill. Although the frost during Thanksgiving did stop the grapes from maturing, Jeff’s team was still able to continue picking their red grapes into November. He noted that the cool evenings in the Fall helped to retain the acidity in the grapes and their later maturing red varieties did reach phenolic ripeness. He said that their Cab Sauv and Cab Franc from the Similkameen is very good and ripe and is looking forward to releasing these wines in the future. He noted that the reds are not big wines; the alcohol levels stayed between 12.5-13.5%. They did, due to the cooler conditions, have to pick through each block several times, each time picking the ripe grapes and letting the others mature. Jeff talked to us about two of the wines they vinified. The first is their Original Vines Gewurztraminer 2019. This is a new line of wines for Mt. Boucherie, using grapes from old original vines, some back to the 1970s. Some are from vineyards that they have bought along the way. The Gewurztraminer grapes are from the Golden Mile, Rust Co. property planted 1973. The Gew was full skin contact fermented and was treated like a red wine. Barbara noted that the wine was very full-bodied and was made in an Alsatian style. The other wine he talked about was their Rust Wine Co Gamay 2019; the grapes coming from the Similkameen Valley. The wine is made in a Beaujolais Cru style with the grapes undergoing 100% carbonic maceration, spontaneous fermentation starting and then adding cultured yeast to have the wine finish dry, and a little bit of oak ageing. A smashable wine. Expect pepper, tobacco, and chipotle pepper flavours.
Lastly, we had Charlie Baessler from Corcelettes Estate Winery talk to us about his experience in the Similkameen Valley. Charlie noted that the Similkameen Valley can’t be classified as strictly hot, warm, or cool. Depending on where you are in the valley you could fit into one of those categories. So some wineries can have a better vintage than others depending on the year. He noted that this year their Spring weather was average, but that the GDD seemed to pile up primarily in July in August (about 60% of the GDD for the year), so very intense maturation in a short time period. He said that they were lucky that their vineyards did not suffer any winter damage. Their vines this past year were expertly pruned by sheep that they brought in. The sheep removed leaves on the vine that let in more sunlight and airflow into the canopy. They had picked their white grapes before the Thanksgiving frost. One thing that I found very interesting is that he said that the frost “burned” away the herbaceous flavours in the red grapes and resulting red wines were more delicate. I will have to try their 2019 reds. Charlie talked about two wines from this vintage; their Oracle Rosé and their Pinot Noir 2019. The Rosé is a whole cluster fermentation with Pinot Noir and Syrah grapes. It is lower alcohol, floral; made in a Provencal style. The Pinot Noir is made with a quick fermentation, starting with indigenous yeast, then adding cultured yeast to finish it dry. It underwent full malolactic fermentation and 4 months in French oak. Charlie characterized this as is a juicy delicate red.
Not covered in today’s video presentation was the harvest from the Thompson Valley (Kamloops area). It was reported that there some winter damage from the cold temperatures in February. From the BC Wine Institute 2019 Vintage report I read, “We’re pleased with the wines we made,” said Galen Barnhardt, Winemaker, Monte Creek Ranch Winery. “We focused on aromatic whites and produced a lot of bubble this year, which is well-suited for a cool 2019 vintage. Riesling and Chardonnay seem to be the standouts of the vintage at this stage.”
Also from the BC Wine Institute 2019 Vintage Report, it noted that Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands GDD were both slightly cooler than the recent average with 1054 GDD in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island and 996 on Saturna Island in the Gulf Islands. The Fraser Valley saw its coolest vintage since 2012 with 932 GDD recorded at the Langley Central weather station. A relatively dry March led to an early budbreak with flowering following along slightly early as well. June and July were a little wetter but warm enough for ripening to progress at a rate similar to recent vintages. Around the second week of September, frequent rain events began, increasing disease pressure. Still, early October saw drier conditions return with most fruit harvested from the end of September through to the middle of October.
So you are now caught up on the state of the BC 2019 vintage. If you want more to read, here is my interview with 4 BC winemakers that I wrote in December 2019. Enjoy!