When you think about what goes into making a bottle of wine, it truly is an amazing process. From planting to tending vines, to harvesting grapes, to the winemaker creating the best possible beverage from those grapes, and finally, bottling it for your sipping pleasure.
While the sun is shining and spring is in the air, you may not think about what those vines go through during the winter. Winter can make or break a harvest. In the past nine years, grape growers have seen about a 30 per cent drop in the number of grapes harvested. This is due primarily to our changing climate. Years ago, temperatures of -20°C or -25°C were unheard of, especially in the Okanagan. And that’s exactly what happened in December 2022 in the Okanagan.
Unfortunately, grape growers across the province have reported damaged vines and are expecting up to a 50% reduction in grapes for 2023. So what does that mean to you, the consumer? The math is simple, fewer grapes equal fewer bottles of wine. However, many wineries have decided not to pass along the cost of making that wine to the consumer.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There are plans for government programs to help grape growers rebound from the loss. Plus, lower yields do not equal poor quality. The vines that survive will produce some incredibly hearty grapes that, no doubt, will create some fabulous wines. We won’t know until late May how bad the winter kill was.
People in the wine industry are there because of their love for wine and love of the land. They do it because they want to share their wines with people who love wine. What has died will be replaced with stronger vines, and those that survived will produce fabulous fruit.
At this time of year, people are busy in the vineyards pruning before bud break. You may see them out there tying canes to trellises and cutting any branches that grow along the main canes.
Here’s a bit of trivia to pull out during your next dinner party. Two-year and older wood is not fruitful. Vintners must prune the old wood. If left unpruned, the vines may produce more grapes than the plant can ripen, and that weakens the plant. You may also see them out there planting new plants for harvesting in future years.
Spring is also the time of year when weeds start to pop up, and since weeds use the nutrients in the soil, they are removed to give the vines their best chance. You’ll also see various methods of watering to ensure the vines get the amount they need. At least 15 ml of water per week is required for young vines, less for the older ones. Then there are the nutrients added, like nitrogen and compost.
Spring is also when new releases are made available to the public. Whites and rosés are the most common spring releases, but you will find the odd red released at this time.
Grape vines love the heat. Temperatures that range from 25°C to 32°C are optimal for grape growing. Which, coincidentally, is the temperature most of us love in the summer. It’s not just the heat that the vines love, it’s also the sunshine. Grape vines need full sun, at least seven or eight hours a day, to produce the luscious grapes needed for fabulous BC wines.
There are several appellations or wine-growing regions in BC and each one has a grape that thrives in them. For example, reds do extremely well in the southernmost part of the Okanagan. Long summers, heat and great soil produce some of the world’s finest red wine grapes.
The further north you go in the Okanagan, the cooler the temperatures. It’s here where you’ll find great Chardonnay, Syrah and Riesling. It has been said (and experienced) that some of the best Syrah wines come from this region.
Here’s another bit of trivia for the next dinner party. The Okanagan Valley is warmer and more arid than the Napa Valley in California. In fact, it gets two more hours of sunlight per day during our peak growing seasons.
The temperatures are cooler in the Fraser Valley, and they get more rain than in the Okanagan. While temperatures do get in the mid to high 20s there, the lower temps are perfect for growing wines like Chardonnay, Riesling and Bacchus.
Cooler temperatures and changing leaves mean it’s time for harvest. This may well be the busiest time for wineries. Not only are they harvesting, but their wine shops are busy too as fall wine tasting is a favourite for many people. Gorgeous autumn colours, cooler temperatures, and new releases abound.
This is the time of year when many reds are released to the public. It’s the perfect time to find your favourite winter wine for all the celebrating you’ll do in the months to come.
Time in a Bottle
As you enjoy our wine festivals and take in a wine tour or six, think about all that goes into making that wine you just tasted.
Its vines were planted years ago, meticulously tended to by people who love the land. The grapes that made it were harvested in anticipation of the best vintage yet. Winemakers spent sleepless nights creating the right conditions to make what they feel is their best vintage ever.
The wines themselves have travelled all over the country, and the world, to be tasted, sampled and judged. Only the best are given awards; however, those that didn’t get a gold, silver or bronze star, are still fabulous. That’s because BC wines, regardless of awards, are some of the best on the planet.
Should you be given the chance to sample one of these wines, savour it. Close your eyes and taste the results of the time, energy and love that have gone into making that wine. Imagine the sun beating down on the vines and the workers in the vineyard. Feel the coolness in the cellars where winemakers tend to the barrels and lovingly coax the best flavours from the wines. Then open your eyes and look around. That tasting room, these people, they rely on wine lovers, like you, to let them continue doing what they love.
Whenever you go wine tasting, whatever wines you sample, enjoy them with all your senses and remember what went into making them.