BC Wine Report – First Look at the 2014 Vintage
by DJ Kearney
Could be a thriller. Warm but balanced, long from start to finish and uniquely even across all six of British Columbia’s winegrowing areas, 2014 looks like a stunner… and a keeper. We are understated Canadians after all, but a mild euphoria seems to have spread across BC’s wine lands about the 2014 vintage.
The Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys are where 90% of all vines grow and 2014 presented a long and very warm and steady growing season compared to other years. And here in this unique area with its short, hot growing season and desert-like conditions, a little extra hang time for grapes makes all the difference. The last four vintages have been a study in the kind of variation that marginal regions experience: the cool, clipped 2010 and 2011 seasons, solid 2012 that started wet but ended dry and temperate, and 2013 that turned out very well but threw everything possible at winegrowers from wet, hail, sizzling heat, wasps and cool October weather that shut down the vintage early. In comparison, 2014 rates as one of the warmest, but rather than heat spikes, the temperatures were steady and cool at just the right times. Number-wise, 2014 joins 1998 and 2003 as vintages defined by heat and length. “Might be the best vintage of the early part of the century” wryly opined Tantalus’ viticulturist Warwick Shaw. There seems little doubt that wines have the structure, concentration and balance to dazzle now, but also the potential to age particularly well. Disease pressure was low, aromatic and flavour development was unparalleled and tannins ripened supremely well – even for cabernet sauvignon.
Despite being one of the warmest summers on record, Shaw pointed out that the outcome is not what you expect from the hot weather of the 2014 growing season. Grape ripening actually slows down when the heat gets to 35°C, because vines shift into a languid dormancy until temperatures drop, putting the brakes on brix (building sugars) and the plummeting of vital acids. This, combined with early bud burst, flowering and fertilization, steady summer heat, a cool September and long, warm October harvest window added up to some very singular conditions in 2014. It was dry too; between July and September in Kelowna there were just 11mm of rain, and even less in the South Okanagan.
Throughout the valley whites show beautiful aromatics, flavours and great acid levels and should age exceptionally well because of it. The rosés I’ve sampled are flavour-packed and they burst with juicy vibrancy. But the reds may prove the show-stoppers. September’s cooler temperatures slowed down sugar development, but flavours and tannins kept maturing, while cool nights promoted sharply tuned acids. For reds, especially late ripening grapes like cabernet sauvignon, the conjunction of complete flavour and tannin development at lower alcohol levels will be a strong feature of this vintage.
Rhys Pender MW of Little Farm in Cawston farms riesling and chardonnay, and said “2014 was an excellent vintage. There was enough heat to be able to pick at optimum ripeness. It was quite early. We were all done mid-September with harvest. Even though the heat units, harvest dates and numbers were similar to 2013, the wines taste very different. There seems to be more intense fruitiness in the wines naturally from 2014”.
Vancouver Island had a few more curve balls. Chris Turyk of Unsworth Vineyards in the Cowichan Valley said: “we were challenged on all fronts, with vineyard management and timing of vineyard tasks… It was a nice early and long gentle flowering due to the nice spring so it looked great… rain in early October condensed harvest into a short couple weeks. Same amount of work, in half the time. Late nights and early mornings with fruit constantly coming in. This meant there was less time to baby the more challenging fruit through ferment. We had average to average plus yields. Ripeness was good across the board.”
How much wine was made in 2014? Lots. From 10,260 planted acres (4,152 hectares) tonnage was high at 37,919 short tons, which is 6,000 more than 2013, and more than double that of the scant 2010 vintage (17,778 short tons). Yet again merlot (30 % of all red grapes planted) and pinot gris (22%) topped the list, with pinot noir in second place at 21% and chardonnay at 20%. Icewine looks to be stellar too, with an early Arctic outflow that allowed for the second earliest start since 2003. Tantalus picked on November 13th at 4am, and Kathy Malone of Hillside Winery said: “We picked gamay icewine during the second cold weather event on November 30th, and actually broke the cast iron head of our hand basket press on it. Suffice to say it’s one of our highest brix icewines to date. The date—well past normal harvest, but pre-Christmas, was particularly advantageous to red grape icewine production”.
As with all vintages, the proof will be in the wineglass, but as Jacquie Kemp of Moraine Winery summed up, “when you have everything handed to you on a plate, there’s no reason to NOT have everything in the bottle.”
Some of the stunning 2014’s from BC to watch for:
Editors Note: You can read DJ’s complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names or bottle images above. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great BC wines!
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