Summer is a glorious time to be in wine country. The vines are full and green, berries are just starting véraison (colour change) and we’re still on friendly terms with the bees and birds. I spent the last week driving through the Okanagan and Similkameen, with plans as casually laid out as my wardrobe (read only sundresses & flipflops) and chatting with winemakers about how 2014 harvest is going so far.
It’s not just the grapes that are happy – the hot summer is great for tourism, and nearly every second license plate was from AB traffic. Last week’s announcement that the Okanagan Valley was voted the second best wine region to visit amongst 20 worldwide nominees by the USA Today Readers' Choice 2014 Awards will certainly only bump those numbers up in future.
During my weeklong visit, temperatures spiked to 39C during the day and cooled to 15C in the evening, winds were gentle and the skies were dry and bright. Late spring rains have provided a little buffer for vineyards to see through this heat, though in certain places, the high temperatures have hindered more than they’ve helped. When some grapes get over 32/35 C, they shut down and effectively go to sleep, meaning in a super hot summer, there may be delayed maturity. David Paterson, winemaker at East Kelowna’s Tantalus Vineyards predicts that there will be many “green wines” in 2014 because the grapes aren’t getting the time to fully mature during their afternoon siestas. If this hot spell continues, he expects more tropical notes in the Riesling, and hopefully be fully finished vintage (well, save for their unique syrah icewine) pre-Thanksgiving.
A little further south, in Okanagan Falls, Liquidity Wines winemaker Matt Holmes reports that the grapes are almost 10 days ahead in some parts of their estates. Their highly regarded viognier, in particular, soaks up the heat, though most white grapes prefer a slightly cooler summer to preserve fresh acidity. Like everyone else I spoke with, he is careful to hedge his bets. “So far so good” he notes optimistically, though “nothing is for sure until the last grape comes in.”
From his point of view overseeing the tasting room and events at Summerland’s Okanagan Crush Pad, operations manager Julian Scholefield notes that the type of visitor to the winery has changed noticeably this year. “In the past, people were just stumbling upon us, following the signs, and looking totally confused when they arrived. This summer, nearly everyone has heard about us, the wines, the concrete program, and are here to taste, ask and buy.” Of course they’ve heard about the innovative wines from winemakers Mike Bartier and Matt Dumayne, who are busy expanding their hugely popular sparkling program with the addition of one cute little gyropalette, and their vineyard menagerie with Babydoll Sheep (pictured), Indian Runner Ducks and more natural helpers.
As one long time grape grower told me, “Unfortunately, if it’s good for forest fires, it’s good for grapes.” The warm, dry summer was reflected in the number of water bombers flying over my head, and hopefully we’ll see it reflected in the high quality of wines from this vintage.
Treve Ring is a wine journalist, editor, judge, traveller, lover with an alphabet of diplomas and over a dozen years in the industry. Learn more about her at Treve.ca and find her on Twitter at @treve_ring, plus Instagram at @trevering.