Icewine harvest begins for BC wine industry

By on November 27, 2015
British Columbia ice wine harvest

Grapes are harvested for icewine at Tantalus Vineyards in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. (Photo courtesy of the B.C. Wine Institute)

KELOWNA, British Columbia — Six winemakers in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley gave thanks early Wednesday for the frigid temperatures that allowed them to begin icewine harvest on Thanksgiving Eve in the United States.

Volcanic Hills Estate Winery in West Kelowna was the first in the province to bring in a crop, taking four tons of Chardonnay at 40 percent sugar and four tons of Pinot Noir when the temperature hit -13 Celsius at 6 a.m., according to the British Columbia Wine Institute.

“Being such a hot year, I thought a lot of the crop would’ve fallen off, but the large clusters of grapes were all hanging in there and I’m seeing nice sugars in the fruit,” Volcanic Hills President Bobby Gidda told the BC Wine Institute. “I think it’s going to be a very good vintage for icewine.”

Grapes must register as sweet as 35 Brix taken after temperatures plummet to at least -8 Celsius (17.6 Fahrenheit) for the government to certify an icewine pick. That combination allows the winery to label the wine as icewine.

The BC Wine Authority reports 20 wineries have registered plans with it to make icewine from the 2015 vintage. The combined 169 acres of vineyard set aside this fall may yield as much as 722 tons of icewine grapes. That would denote a drop of 17 percent — 122 tons from last year.

This marks the third straight year for a November harvest of icewine in British Columbia, and Gidda sent a crew back out early Thursday to pick five tons of Riesling.

Early pick means higher yields for BC wine

Netting guards berries of Riesling from wildlife in preparation for Icewine harvest in the Okanagan Valley near Osoyoos, British Columbia.

Netting helps guard berries of Riesling from wildlife in preparation for Icewine harvest in the Okanagan Valley near Osoyoos, British Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Constellation Canada)

Award-winning Arrowleaf Cellars in Lake Country north of Kelowna harvested 3.5 tons of Vidal at 40 Brix.

“The grapes are of excellent quality right now,” owner/vineyard manager Joe Zuppiger said. “An added benefit from harvesting Icewine in November is the clean fruit we get with very little damage from birds and wildlife.”

The BC Wine Institute estimated nearly 72 tons were taken during the first round of picking — all in the northern portion of the Okanagan Valley. Varieties included Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Merlot, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah and Vidal. Harvest is expected span the rest of the Okanagan Valley this weekend.

Last year, the BC wine industry saw icewine producers begin harvest on Nov. 12. That Arctic blast so close to the end of table wine harvest resulted in damage throughout vineyards in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in portions of the Walla Walla Valley and Idaho’s Snake River Valley.

Tantalus harvests Riesling, Syrah for Icewine

Tantalus in Kelowna, British Columbia, showcased its wines at the 2013 Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle and quickly became sought-after by sommeliers in the region.

Tantalus in Kelowna, British Columbia, showcased its wines at the 2013 Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle and quickly became sought-after by sommeliers in the region. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

Acclaimed Riesling producer Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna recruited a winery-record 15 pickers to arrive at 5 a.m. Thursday to take 2.5 tons of Riesling and Syrah. It took the crew 2 1/2 hours to pick through vines managed by Warwick Shaw.

“This is my seventh icewine harvest, so I’ve done late picks in January and early picks in November and I love the purity of the fruit we get in an earlier pick,” said Tantalus winemaker David Paterson. “The early freeze condenses the vintage allowing us to capture the ripe flavours of pure juice with wonderful natural acidity in the wines.”

Eric von Krosigk, founding winemaker for Summerhill Pyramid Winery, said “perfect conditions for picking” allowed him to bring 25 tons into Stephen Cipes’ iconic Kelowna winery. They expect to bring in a total 120 tons of fruit for icewine.

The institute said production for late harvest wines began Oct. 1 and more than 42 tons have been processed.

Some years have seen icewine harvest pushed back into February. According to the BC Wine Institute, yields for icewine range from 150 to 300 liters per ton compared to approximately 600 liters per ton for dry table wines.

To keep up-to-date on the harvest, follow @WineBCdotcom, #BCHarvest2015, #Icewine and #BCLiquidGold on Twitter.

About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the president and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for 15 years. He is a frequent wine judge along the West Coast and contributor to Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, the region's longest-running golf publication.

2 Comments

  1. Charles Merten

    December 4, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Interesting.

  2. Pingback: Record warm November sets stage for 2016 totals - Great Northwest Wine

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