BC Wine Report : Midsummer Update

By DJ Kearney

2015 in BC is an Early and Potentially Fine Vintage, if… and it’s a BIG if

Editors note: There have been a number of conflicting news stories published recently in BC about the 2015 vintage and its potential. DJ Kearney was on the ground in the heart of BC wine country last week, investigating firsthand. This is her report on what 2015 looks like, mid-summer. ~ TR.

I toured quickly through the Okanagan and Similkameen in the first week of August, and things are looking potentially mighty fine. Even if you live on the coast in Vancouver, you are likely aware that it’s been an unusually dry and warm season here in BC, starting well back in the spring with the second warmest February and the driest May on record. The sunshine and heat got grapes off to an early start, and the fine conditions guaranteed an even budbreak and complete fertilization.

Okanagan Falls

Okanagan Falls


And then June and July hit like a sledge hammer of dry heat. The last weekend in June saw over 30 high temperature records broken in BC – some of which had stood since the 1890’s. On Saturday, June 27th the mercury reached 40.3 °C in Osoyoos, 36.4 °C in Penticton, 36.1°C in Summerland, and in the emerging region of Creston, it reached 38.1 °C, a full 5 degrees hotter than its 1956 record high. BC received this incredible weather largess while Ontario was experiencing autumn-like temperatures.

Early veraison this summer in BC

Early veraison this summer in BC

In BC, veraison is well under way, even on Vancouver Island where Bailey Williamson of Blue Grouse Winery noted that for once, the pace of ripening is keeping up with the interior. On the Naramata Bench, Oleg Aristarkhov at Moraine showed me early-ripening Dunkelfelder grapes that are already netted (birds know when grapes are ripe for the pickin’), while the malbec, viognier and pinot noir are looking fine. Word up and down the valley is that harvest will be at least two weeks ahead of usual expectations. There have been water restrictions across the province, but nothing that has affected vines so far. In scorching Kamloops, Monte Creek’s winemaker Galen Barnhardt has stated that they practice deficit irrigation anyway on their vineyards, so the torrid heat and aridity is not adding undue water stress.

So what’s the potential problem then? Too much of a good thing. The extreme heat of June and July caused vines to hunker down and marshal their resources, literally ceasing to ripen until the temperatures settled closer to 30 rather than 40°C. On the upside, aridity has lowered the fungal disease pressure and the swarms of wasps and fruit flies that plagued 2013 are not evident. But viticulturists are definitely challenged monitoring irrigation levels and managing canopies.

Canopy management is critical in 2015

Canopy management is critical in 2015

Dave Patterson at Kelowna’s Tantalus Vineyards toured me around and pointed out careful partial leaf-thinning, just enough to let in dappled light, ventilation, and protect riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay from sunburn. Shoulder thinning and bunch thinning will happen in a bit, and he’s happy so far with sugars numbers (Brix) and flavour development.

Over in the Similkameen, John Weber at Orofino told me that the grapes are colouring up nicely and the muscat already tastes sweet. He’s cautious to make any grand claims about a great vintage: “Sugars are already bolting ahead of phenolic ripeness. We have already seen sunburn on our pinot noir and I would be very happy to see a steady 20°C for the next two months to slow it down. This year could be a struggle keeping the alcohol levels down. I hate having to pick due to high sugars.” The Similkameen Valley’s trump card is the non-stop wind that freshens each day, and keeps disease pressure low.

A quick and compressed harvest as vintners race to keep ahead of sugar levels could be a reality. August 5th and 6th saw a little sporadic rain and welcome cloud cover and two days of cool temperature, but more is needed. The fires? No concern about smoke taint, or lack of sun penetration so far, but there is still lots of summer left. Everyone I spoke to agreed with Dave Patterson’s cautious caveat: it could be an excellent vintage, but we need a few weeks of cooler temperatures – especially at nighttime. It is far too early to tell now.

Orofino Vineyards

Orofino Vineyards

I did have a chance to taste a few barrel/tank samples from the good-looking 2014 vintage:

Tantalus Chardonnay 2014:  still cloudy; streamlined apple/pear fruit with sharply chiseled acidity and obvious oak that will start to melt into the wine until release.

Tantalus Juveniles Pinot Noir 2014 – the 4th vintage of the Juveniles bottling, these are the newest Dijon clone plantings; gorgeously fragrant with violets and raspberry scents; compact ripe cherry fruit with dazzling acidity and a delicate suggestion of oak.

Moraine Pinot Noir 2014: I predict a stunner when this is a finished wine. Ridiculously perfumed nose – the kind of floral/earthy smell that seems sucked straight out of the earth. Smooth palate of ripe red berries and fruit-coated polished tannins; already dripping with finesse and elegance.

Moraine Malbec 2014: impossibly perfumed with potent dark berried fruit, plush, plush palate and juicy acidity.

Moraine Syrah 2014: showing more cracked pepper than the 2013, with explosive floral fragrance orange oil note, rich plummy fruit, and fresh, crunchy acidity.


WineAlign in BC

In addition to our monthly BC Wine Industry Report, WineAlign West publishes the popular 20 Under $20 shopping guide highlighting widely available wines at VQA & BCLS stores, as well as our Critics’ Picks report, focusing on wines across any price point and channel that excite us each month. Lastly, Anthony Gismondi closes out each month with his Final Blend column – an expert insight into wine culture and trends, honed by more than 25 years experience as an influential and global critic.