Mark Brett/Western News Sorting grapes at Hillside Winery Bistro are Kathy Malone (right) Kitson Stewart (left) and Dave Holmes (back).

Okanagan grape growers downplay smoke impact

“We started with that experiment and then the smoke turned up throughout the summer.”

Guarded optimism surrounds this year’s grape harvest due to an especially smoky Okanagan summer.

“We have had some of our grapes tested and so far everything seems fine,” said Andy Gebert, co-proprietor of St Hubertus and Oak Bay Estate Winery with his brother Leo.

The Kelowna winery actually started the year conducting a smoke taint test experiment, tenting off a section of grapes and infecting their direct environment with controlled smoke releases to test the impact.

“The irony is we started with that experiment and then the smoke turned up throughout the summer from the wildfires,” he said.

RELATED: A BOUNTY OF FALL TASTES

“But the difference is none were close to us, as compared to say 2003 with the Okanagan Mountain fire where the smoke was hanging low over the crops. This year, the smoke was farther away at a higher altitude.”

Smoke taint happens when a volatile molecule found in smoke sticks to a grape’s waxy coating as the fruit begins to ripen. It’s undetectable when eating the grape, but become soluble in the alcohol formed during fermentation.

In that instance, the wine result can taste ashy and unpleasant.

In 2003, several nearby wineries were forced to dump their wine because of smoke taint.

Gebert said one difference with grapes compared to other soft fruits is the outward appearance means little to the consumer.

“All people see and taste is the wine. That’s all that matters. Some grapes can be beaten up but still produce great flavours. Or when the grapes look good but end up tasting horrible, then you have a problem as well,” Gebert said.

Kathy Malone, the winemaker for Hillside Winery Bistro in Penticton, believes the smoke blanketing the valley for much of this summer may actually turn into a blessing.

“I think we lucked out this year. The only impact I think is that it lowered the temperatures a bit during our really hot days which actually gave us more optimum temperatures,” Malone said.

“If it gets too hot, it stress the vines and they shut down and also it (heat) advances ripening so we get too much sugar which means we get too much alcohol.”

Both Malone and Gebert said the science of grape growing intensifies with each new crop, carrying forward the knowledge learned from whatever Mother Nature directed their way in previous years.

“Every year we push the envelope a little bit. It’s half strategizing and half trouble shooting, being able to react to changes in the situation and read to the fruit as it comes in,” Malone said.

Gebert said grape growing studies at the Summerland agriculture research station and UBC Okanagan are helping equip Okanagan grape growers with the knowledge to react to weather changes.

“Grapes are a sensitive crop, but they are fairly predictable when you grow smaller crops and take corrective measures during the year, they usually don’t disappoint you.”

Laura Kittmer, media relations officer with the B.C. Wine Institute headquartered in Kelowna, expects the tourism winery numbers to fall short of what was record year in 2015.

“With the flooding in the spring and the smoke from the wildfires, I don’t think the numbers will be as high. You have to remember last year we had an incredible early start to spring and summer which brought out the tourists and visitors,” she said.

“It’s still a growing industry. We are young and learning as every vintage is different. No two years seem to be the same. So we have to cross your fingers a bit every year and hope Mother Nature will be on our side.”


@BarryGerding
barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Outbreak at Okanagan hospital

Gastrointestinal illness reported at Vernon Jubilee Hospital

Kelowna public menorah lit tonight to celebrate Hanukkah

The menorah will be lit tonight after celebrations at 5 p.m. in Stuart Park

Big Band supports children with disabilities in Lake Country

Proceeds from the Okanagan Big Band performance in Vernon supports local kids

Were your hockey cards stolen?

The Kelowna RCMP are looking to reunite a hockey fan with their cards

RCMP look to reunite owner with stolen tools

Kelowna police seek to identify the owner of tablet and tools seized by RCMP

VIDEO: New series takes in-depth look at sexual harassment in B.C.

Black Press takes a hard look at sexual harassment in B.C.

Warriors ground Rockets in Moose Jaw

Moose Jaw scores five in the third period to down Kelowna in Rockets’ third game of prairie road trip

Horgan says pot smokers may face same outdoor rules as cigarette smokers

B.C. is developing its rules on recreational marijuana

Dedicated volunteers look for clues

Police appreciate work of those who provide extra eyes for missing women investigations.

Truck driver volunteers to take dog lost in B.C. back home to Alberta

Frankie, a pit bull service dog, was found wandering in the Lower Mainland

B.C. teacher suspended after explicit images projected to class

Jeffrey Rohin Muthanna had been viewing porn on a school laptop for two years

Man who pledged to give B.C. hockey team millions charged with fraud

Mike Gould has since repaid $8,000 he allegedly owed Cranbrook restaurant, owner says

Horgan on Site C: ‘dammed’ if did, ‘dammed’ if he didn’t

B.C. premier didn’t like keeping massive hydro damn project going, but felt he had to

Strong economy fuels housing sales in B.C.: report

Economist says demand for houses is being supported by a large number of millennials entering the market

Most Read