BC Report: 2016 Harvest Report
It is mid-September, the sun is shining and the 2016 harvest is now well underway. I thought in this installment of the BC Report I would give an update on the vintage. Of course it’s not over yet, but the quality so far has been excellent, and from most reports the crop is quite large. It is looking like another good year for BC wine.
There are a few misconceptions that I wanted to clarify about vintage quality. The first is that many people, not just in BC but around the world, often link the quality of the vintage to how hot the vintage was. This is a slightly strange phenomenon to me and certainly doesn’t make sense if you consider that wine drinkers are increasingly looking for fresher, more vibrant tasting wines. It is a fallacy linked back to the old world and places like Bordeaux and Burgundy where weather can vary considerably from year to year and the hotter vintages are often the most praised. In the new world, most vineyards have been planted in areas where the weather is sunny, dry and warm and a little more consistent. In these places, the moderate years will often make the best wines.
The misconception is also linked to the perception that only red wine is important, and only full-bodied, rich reds at that. These wines do meet those criteria better in warmer years. But in the changing climate, fast ripening in hot years can often just lead to wines that are all booze with little flavour complexity and, in the case of many red wines, unbalanced tannins and acidity. In hot years, like 2015 in BC, some grapes got away on people and ended up with far too much sugar, either resulting in stuck fermentations or very boozy wines that had to have alcohol removed. The reality is that different grapes in different vineyards with different yields will all have varying ideal temperatures and heat to make great wine. Growers who balance their vineyard and yield to the season, and harvest at optimum ripeness and balance will always make good wine, be it white, red, pink or orange. It is a dance that is not easy to do.
The second misconception is linked to harvest date. An early harvest can sometimes mean it was a hot year and the negative issues described above can be the result. Most important though is the length of the growing season, rather than the harvest date. There are a number of reports out there touting the earliest harvest on record and some are questioning whether the 2016 vintage in BC has been too hot and too early to make quality wine. What many people seem to have forgotten is that in both 2016 and 2015 the vintage started back in the spring as much as a month earlier than normal. So harvesting a month earlier would make sense, and in spite of the date, the length of the growing season may not be out of the ordinary.
Enough with the misconceptions and on to the specifics of 2016. It was looking like 2016 might be one of those very hot (too hot) vintages as the early budbreak and then hot temperatures through April, May and most of June had grapes rushing towards ripeness. The growing degree days were ahead of any other year on record. Mother Nature then stepped in and July ended up being the fourth coolest in Summerland and the third coolest in Osoyoos since 1998. This welcome cool weather and some unseasonal rainfall really put the brakes on the ripening and probably turned the vintage from a potentially dangerously hot one to an almost ideal one. The grapes’ flavour complexity seems to develop more if the growing season is stretched out a bit longer, and the cool July helped to do just that.
August saw temperatures back to their normal levels and ripening resumed at a steadier pace. Although temperatures cooled down in early September and there were a few showers and some worried farmers, things have picked up again and the forecast for the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys is sun and mid-to-high 20s for the next 10 days at least. That will make the vintage shape up very nicely indeed.
Reports that the crop is a good size is also important news at this stage of the game for BC wine. Record numbers of people are coming to BC and many of them are visiting wineries and buying wine. This combined with a few growers deciding to pull out some grapes has sped up the gap between supply and demand and it looks like there is more likely to be a shortage of grapes in the next couple of years rather than a surplus. Winery sales in the recently released July figures show a growth of BC VQA wines sales of 22.74% over July 2015, and growth in other channels of 14.25% at LRS (private liquor stores), 14.44% in licensees (restaurants & pubs) and 27.32% at the BC LDB. Total BC VQA wine market share has grown by 14.83% over the previous year, a rate that is increasing and well above the 9.84% total market growth.
So things are looking pretty good for BC wine. It looks like another good vintage is on the way, sales are growing strongly and hopefully there is enough quality crop to meet the growing demand. Could this be the beginning of the next phase of growth for BC wine?
Rhys Pender MW
Photos: Chardonnay harvest in the Similkameen Valley
WineAlign in BC
In addition to Rhys Pender’s BC Report, we publish the popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide and the Critics’ Picks report which highlights a dozen of our favourites from the last month (at any price point). Treve Ring pens a wandering wine column in Treve’s Travels, capturing her thoughts and tastes from the road and, lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out the month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential critic.