B.C.’s 2012 Vintage: When Average Equals Amazing
With the 2012 whites and sparklings now arriving in British Columbia to slake summer thirst Victoria’s Treve Ring picks some favourites (see links below) and explains how and why they may differ from the previous year’s crop. Treve joins WineAlign as a critic this summer, posting both local and international reviews to the database. With an armload of wine ed honours and a busy travel schedule to the world’s wine region, Treve is also the Drink Editor for EAT Magazine, B.C. Regional Editor for SIP Northwest Magazine and Director of Liquid Assets for Edible Canada. Treve will be joined by two other prominent B.C. wine voices – DJ Kearney and Rhys Pender MW – in the weeks ahead.
It’s a funny thing. When you’re talking to winemakers and grape growers about vintages, it’s quickly apparent that the best vintages are not those that stand out for a specific reason. In fact, an ideal vintage is one that is “average”. No baking heat spells, no nail-biting frosts, no unexpected hailstorms during spring flowering. Nope – the best vintages, according to the people that work around Mother Nature’s schedule, are those that are average. Slow and steady, extremes eradicated. In British Columbia, by and large 2012 was (joyously) average.
Though 2010 and 2011 were widely recognized as “challenging” vintages, the wines from these cooler years ultimately yielded wines of bright acidity, low alcohol and a clean refinement. However, the hard-earned quality from some progressively minded growers came at a cost – quantities were way down, and some vineyards, especially those on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, had little to nothing to harvest. Fortunately, after last year’s aforementioned “average” vintage, the 2012 BDO B.C. Wine Grape Crop Report shows that the total tonnage has returned to normal levels, increasing by 17% over the previous year, from 22,722 tons in 2011 to 27,257 in 2012.
Merlot continues to dominate in B.C. with 5,639 tons harvested in 2012 and accounting for just over 40% of the black grapes overall. Chardonnay followed at 2,979 tons (and taking 23% of white grapes), with Pinot Gris (2,787 tons), Pinot Noir (1,981 tons) and Cabernet Sauvignon (1,964 tons) rounding out top 5 grapes harvested last year.
2011 was one of the coolest vintages on record in B.C. In contrast, 2012 was much warmer, though not excessively or damagingly so. After a mild winter, healthy rains in the spring and into June provided ample water to the growing vines, and importantly, at opportune times. Summerhill Pyramid Winery vineyard manager Harold Gaudy notes that “while the rain at the beginning of the year was disappointing, our flowering didn’t occur during the big rains and wasn’t affected.”
A warm and dry summer carried through into September and the start of the 2012 harvest in the southern Okanagan Valley, on September 9.
Though in many regards 2012 was a textbook year for B.C., we all know that nature always has final edit power, and a penchant for plot twists. Heavy rainfall during the last two weeks of the harvest in the Okanagan twisted many growers into knots. While most of the white grapes were in, the majority of the black grapes were still on vine when the rains hit, leaving some wineries in a scramble to pick or gamble on the wet conditions. Soggy grapes are no good; neither in the winery (think adding a splash of water to your glass of Riesling) nor hanging on the vine (dampness can lead to disease and rot).
Fortunately, however, last summer’s extended warmth has translated to riper, fruit-expressive wines. Watch for a bit more tropical fruit in the whites, and plumper roundness in many of the reds. Rhys Pender, MW and Similkameen Valley grape grower/winemaker thinks that 2012 is “A very good quality warm vintage with consistent quality across all grape varieties” and that the warm and dry summer meant that “growers could pick at optimum ripeness with very good flavours”. According to Pender, “most wineries experienced increased yields. In 2012 there should be lots of B.C. wine and it should be very good.”
Wine-savvy consumers may notice a difference in comparison to the leanness of 2011, and will most certainly notice a difference in the amount of B.C. wine available for purchase.
And, hopefully, for cellaring.
Okanagan Crush Pad winemaker Michael Bartier summed up the vintage succinctly. “2012 is a baby. I’m drinking 2007 B.C. wines right now. They’re really good.”
First Tastes from 2012
To learn more about Treve Ring, and for the complete list of her reviews, visit our Critic’s profile page: Treve Ring