First frozen grapes plucked in Central Okanagan for this year’s icewine

Hardy workers gathered in groups throughout the Okanagan's vineyards in the early hours Saturday morning to pick frozen grapes for icewine.

With a plunge in temperatures overnight

The sun was not yet up when workers around the Central Okanagan struggled into layers of warm clothes to gather at local vineyards Saturday morning to pick grapes.

It’a a far cry from the warm autumn grape harvest, when vineyard work is often done in shorts.

Today’s workers had to work to keep exposed skin from freezing, as the grapes must be picked and crushed while temperatures are below -8 C. for the popular nectar called icewine.

Mission Hill Family Estate winemaker John Simes said they began about 4 a.m. when temperatures had unexpectedly plunged to -12 C in the vineyard in West Kelowna, and -17 C at Kelowna’s airport.

It’s late in the season to be picking grapes for the premium-priced dessert wine, and Simes estimates they’ve already lost half the crop to drop, wildlife and weather.

However, he’s philosophical about it. “Losses are part of what happens with this late a harvest,” he commented as he gazed out over the vineyard, covered in snow, and with uneven bunches of brownish-coloured fruit hanging behind nets.

The winery is also picking frozen grapes in Oliver and at Naramata today. When temperatures rise above -8 C, they’ll stop picking and resume in the evening or the next morning, as another plunge in temperatures is forecast.