Memorable vintage forecast by Okanagan winemakers

A long, sunny, dry summer has resulted in grapes of amazing quality arriving to be crushed into wine, say grape growers and winemakers..

Quails Gate winemaker Grant Stanley checks the sugar content of merlot grapes in the vineyard with a refractometer prior to beginning picking.

Judging by the grapes that are arriving to be crushed, the 2012 vintage of Okanagan wine could go down in history as a remarkable one.

That’s the consensus of winemakers who are taste-testing those grapes in vineyards up and down the valley now to determine whether they are at the optimum stage to pick.

With the hot, dry summer extended into fall this year, growers and winemakers are waxing poetic about the grape harvest this year.

“It’s a dream harvest,” commented Grant Stanley, winemaker at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in West Kelowna.

“These are the lowest bunch rates ever, with very intense flavours in small berries,” he said.

The cool nights are helping the acids hold their own, yet hot sunny days are bringing on the ripening every day, he said.

The right balance of sugars and acids are critical to bringing complex flavours to wine.

“It’s just outstanding. It makes my work much more pleasurable,” he added.

Some years, adverse weather has meant many varieties of grapes had to be picked as soon as possible, telescoping the season, but this year, the harvest had been spread out over many weeks, with no pressure to get a particular variety picked as soon as possible, he said.

George Heiss, founder of Gray Monk Estate Winery in Lake Country agreed, commenting, “It’s an absolutely fantastic harvest.

“I’m looking forward to tasting the first wines from this vintage. The grapes have pronounced flavours,” he added. “I’m smiling from ear to ear.”

Although June was very wet and spring was delayed, the extended hot, dry summer weather allowed fruit to get caught up.

“It’s a nice time of year, harvest. You work hard all year for this,” he said.

Gray Monk’s Heiss family is celebrating its 40th anniversary since planting the first grapes in its lakeview vineyard, and he can recall some years when the quality of the grapes wasn’t nearly like it is this fall.

“It’s a picture-perfect harvest,” agrees Leo Gebert, founder of St. Hubertus Estate Winery, who laughed as he pointed out that it’s been so dry the past few months that a forecast of rain is now news.

He’s been picking grapes in the Mission area of Kelowna for 28 years, and says this year is one of the best.

“There are particularly good flavour components in the grapes, and the sun is still shining and the leaves are still green, so it’s only getting better,” he commented.

“They’re top notch grapes. It’s ideal, and it’s a good sized crop this year too,” he said.

Although some vineyards in the south part of the valley have had some frost, those in the Kelowna area are mostly still free of damage.

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com