2021 was a year of extreme weather conditions in BC, which had an impact on BC grapes and wine production. Temperature records were shattered in many regions. I’ve been told that Kelowna, Kamloops, Osoyoos, and Lillooet were among 60 cities that broke temperature records. The heat dome in the summer causes grapevines to shut down until the weather cools off. The hot conditions in BC generally lead to an early harvest with fewer clusters of grapes and smaller berries in each cluster. Smaller berries mean more skin to pulp which leads to more intense powerful wines, especially for the red wines.
This is some of the information I received at the Wines of BC 2021 Vintage Preview. The presenter for this seminar was Barb Philip MW. We also had a panel of five BC winemakers, each of who brought 2 different wines from the 2021 vintage for us to try and for them to talk about. Barb also had other miscellaneous questions to ask the winemakers. The winemakers were:
- Mark Holford, Rocky Creek Winery (Vancouver Island)
- Mary McDermott, Township 7 Winery & Vineyards (Okanagan and Fraser Valley)
- Galen Barnhardt, Monte Creek Winery (Kamloops/Thompson Valley and Similkameen Valley)
- Dwight Sick, Seven Stones Winery (Similkameen Valley)
- Lyndsay O’Rourke, Tightrope Winery (Okanagan – Naramata Bench)
- Chris Tolley, Moon Curser Vineyards (Osoyoos/Okanagan)
Barb started off this session by giving us an overview of the temperatures that we experienced in BC last year and how it affected grape and bunch size, and then harvest. The winemakers echoed her comments when they spoke about the grapes in their vineyards. Although there was a 30-40% reduction in harvest the winemakers said that the quality of grapes was high for both white and red grapes. Not much rain meant that there was little risk of mould or mildew damaging the grapes. Harvest was earlier than usual.
The only other wrinkle in this vintage was smoke from forest fires. Forest fire smoke is more critical during the time of veraison when the grapes change from tiny green marbles to plump grapes full of sugar. Forest fire smoke spread across different areas across the interior of BC and was affected by valley orientation and wind. Dwight Sick, from Seven Stones, mentioned that as he drove from the Osoyoos area to the winery in the Similkameen, a 40-minute drive, he drove through areas with smoke and then other areas with clear sky. So smoke can move around and hit different areas with more or less impact.
As such, we cannot say that all BC wineries were affected by smoke taint. It is more a patchwork. You may see some wineries posting on their website if they were affected by forest fire smoke and which wines they are releasing that were not affected or were minimally affected. In some cases, a little bit of forest fire smoke can add a point of interest to the flavour of a wine, similar to how ageing a wine in oak barrel adds some of the barrel’s character to it, or how Brettanomyces adds an earthy / barnyard character to a wine (a character noted for many Pinot Noir in Burgundy). But too much smoke/oak/Brettanomyces can overpower a wine’s flavours. It will be interesting to see how many wineries are affected and are not affected by smoke in the 2021 vintage. I’m hoping more will be unaffected. There was some discussion on what some wineries do to try to remove the smoke taint from wines as well as noting that research is ongoing worldwide about this problem.
All interior wine regions had a hot growing season and earlier harvest. The coast regions, the Fraser Valley, Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island, had their summer temperatures moderated by the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Georgia. The temperatures were higher than average on the coast, but not as challenging as in the interior. Let me tell you about their wines and some of their answers to Barb’s questions.
My Wine Tasting Notes
Rocky Creek Winery TLC White Blend 2021 (Vancouver Island) $22 – A unique blend of 49% Madeleine Sylvander, 33% Pinot Auxerrois, 4% Viognier, 1% Albarino, and 13% Blattner varietals. Deep bright lemon colour. Medium intensity sweet stonefruit nose plus a hint of lime. Dry, soft with light acidity and linear mouthfeel. Floral and stone fruit flavours to start and then finishes with tart apples and citrus. Medium length. Starts soft and finishes tart.
It was interesting to hear from Mark Holford as most of their vineyard is planted with hybrid varieties, not the traditional vitis vinifera we are more familiar with. These hybrid grapes are more disease and cold resistant and are early ripening. Mark noted that people coming to their winery to taste wines really enjoy the hybrids. Also, being on Vancouver Island with the coolest climate for grape growing, the extreme heat did affect their vines with only 50% of the normal amount of grapes produced and harvested.
Rocky Creek Winery Pinot Gris 2021 (Vancouver Island) $22 – This wine started off with a novel non-Saccharomyces yeast to ferment down to about 7% alcohol then added two different Saccharomyces (traditional cultured yeast) to complete the fermentation. Each yeast brings out different characteristics in the wine. This wine has a light, bright wild rose petal colour. Light strawberries and red delicious apple aromas. Dry, medium-plus body, round with a thicker mouthfeel and bright acidity. Crisp red apples and a mix of tart red fruit flavours. –
Township 7 Winery Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (North Oliver) $31.97 – 100% barrel fermented (new and used oak) and aged for 7 months. Lees stirring weekly during fermentation to add mouthfeel. Bright lemon colour. Pronounced herbaceous, pine needles, and apricot aromas. Medium body, semi-round, softer mouthfeel but still good acid backbone. Citrus, stone fruit, green fruit and butter flavours. The buttery flavour I believe comes from the lees stirring that was done to this wine in barrel. A touch of pepperiness on the finish. Medium length. –
Township 7 Winery Reserve Pinot Gris 2021 (Naramata Bench) $31.97 – 100% barrel fermented in neutral French oak. Also underwent lees stirring. A lighter, bright lemon colour. Light aromas of stonefruit and honey. Also light body. Dry, lean with medium-plus crisp acidity. Tart stone fruit flavours. Medium length with mouthwatering peach flavour on the finish. –
One thing mentioned by Mary McDermott and others is that even with the high temperatures in 2021 that the wines still in general had a high level of crisp acidity.
Monte Creek Winery Ancient Waters Riesling 2021 (Thompson Valley) – a barrel sample. Ancient waters refer to the complex geology and diversity of soils left in the valley after the glaciers retreated. Grapes were fermented in stainless steel for 5 months before ageing on their lees. A duller medium lemon colour, with the dullness coming from the fact that this is a barrel sample, so did not undergo any fining or filtering. Medium intensity aromas of oranges and stone fruits. Dry, medium-minus body, with a lean mouthfeel. Higher acidity. Oranges and lime flavours. Medium-plus length. Needs to age with the high acidity or eat with seafood. –
Monte Creek Winery Pinot Noir 2021 (Similkameen Valley) – a barrel sample. The berries were left uncrushed when they were fermented and used indigenous yeasts. Medium garnet, translucent. Medium-minus intensity aromas. Pretty scents of red cherries and floral. Dry and soft mouthfeel. Lightly round. Candied red cherries, cinnamon and other sweet spices. A touch of oak dryness and vanilla on the finish. -
Seven Stones Winery Rain Stone White 2021 (Similkameen Valley) – 96% Chardonnay and 4% Orange Muscat in this blend. A cool ferment in stainless steel. A medium-plus bright lemon colour with a tinge of green. Stone fruits, green fruits, tropical fruits and a hint of orange on the nose. Medium-plus body, smooth and round with medium acidity. Stone fruits to start with tropical fruits on the mid-palate to the finish, plus a hint of orange on the finish. Nice labels from Seven Stones Winery. –
Seven Stones Winery Pebble Beach Rosé 2021 (Similkameen Valley) – Medium intensity bright salmon colour. Bright red fruit plus a bramble stem / woody scent. Medium-minus body, smooth with medium-plus acidity. Light flavours of red cherries and tart red fruits, plus a touch of floral and pepperiness. An interesting wine. Very enjoyable.
Tightrope Winery Riesling 2021 (Naramata Bench) $24 – The grapes ripened with higher brix than usual so after fermentation, some residual sugar in stainless steel was complete some residual sugar was left which balances out the acidity in this wine. It has a deeper lemon with green tint colour. Lychee, spearmint, and stone fruit aromas. Medium-plus body, more than off-dry. Round and soft with medium acidity. The wine is smooth to start with a thicker mouthfeel then gets tarter toward the finish. Stone fruit flavours.
Tightrope Winery Sauvignon Blanc – Semillon 2021 (Naramata Bench) $24 – The grapes were picked, crushed, and fermented separately before being blended. It has a lighter, bright lemon colour. Medium-minus intensity herbaceous and flinty aromas. Dry and smooth with medium-plus acidity. Green fruit and herbaceous flavours primarily along with a touch of stone fruit. Medium length with a dry finish. –
Moon Curser Vineyards Viognier 2021 (Osoyoos) $23.99 – Cool fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Medium-plus bright lemon colour. Lots of tropical fruit aromas, plus pears and a touch of stone fruits. Medium body, smooth with a thicker mouthfeel. Medium acidity. Tropical fruits, mineral and a touch of pepperiness on the palate. A medium-minus length. –
Moon Curser Vineyards Dolcetto 2021 (Osoyoos) $28.99 – A cool fermentation in stainless steel tanks. No oak. This wine does show some effect from forest fire smoke. It has a medium-plus deeper garnet colour. Lots of juicy berries aromas plus a touch of smoke. Dry, medium-minus body with tart red and purple berries, plus bacon/smoke/butter on the mid-palate to the finish. Medium length. The bacon/smoke/butter combined flavour comes from the forest fire smoke. Some people may enjoy this flavour. It is similar, yet different from a newer oak flavour imparted to a wine.
Thank you to the winemakers for bringing their wines for us to sample and sharing their insights about this challenging vintage. Also thank you to the Wines of British Columbia for putting on this seminar.