Okanagan ice wine harvest a success

B.C.'s annual Icewine harvest arrived early as wineries North of Penticton start picking grapes for BC's "liquid gold."

With sub-zero temperatures arriving in the Okanagan this week, BC’s annual Icewine harvest arrived early as wineries North of Penticton start picking grapes for B.C.’s “liquid gold.”

After last vintage’s second-earliest start on record on Nov. 12,  winemakers and viticulturists in B.C. are collectively rejoicing at the early arrival of freezing temperatures this week with the first day of Icewine harvest in the Okanagan starting on Wednesday, Nov  25 and continuing into the early morning hours on Nov  26, says a representative from the BC Wine Institute, in a press release.

Harvested at – 8C or below, the wine made from these frozen grapes must reach quality standards including 35 brix of sugar to be called true Icewine.

This year, 20 wineries expressed interest in producing Icewine for a potential harvest of 722 tons from approximately 169 acres, last year there was a total of 844 tons picked.

The first 2015 Icewine grapes were brought in by Volcanic Hills Estate Winery in West Kelowna on Wednesday, November 25 just after 6 a.m. with temperatures at -13 C (8.6 F), bringing in four tons of Chardonnay and four tons of Pinot Noir. At midnight last night they resumed picking, bringing in another five tons of Riesling.

Volcanic Hills president Bobby Gidda reports that the overall quality is very good with very sweet characters, noting they got over 40 brix in their Chardonnay.

“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. I think it’s going to be a very good vintage for Icewine,” said Gidda.

This is the third consecutive year BC’s Icewine harvest has started as early as November and many winemakers, including David Paterson at Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna are thrilled.

“It’s awesome when we get Icewine in November,” said Paterson, “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. The early freeze condenses the vintage allowing us to capture the ripe flavours of pure juice with wonderful natural acidity in the wines.”

Tantalus Vineyards had a team of 15 eager pickers ready to start Icewine harvest at 5 a.m. this morning with temperatures between -8 C (17.6 F) and -10 C (14 F) in their vineyard. Paterson notes that this was the largest group of volunteers they’ve ever had for Icewine harvest. By 7:30 AM they completed their picking bringing in approximately 2.5 tons of Riesling and Syrah grapes for Icewine.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna also started their harvest Wednesday night reporting “perfect conditions for picking” in a recent interview. Winemaker Eric Von Krosigk notes that they harvested 25 tonnes with another 96 tonnes to go, and the quality is outstanding.

Arrowleaf Cellars also harvested early this morning in Lake Country, starting at 5 a.m. at -10 C (14 F) and reaching a high of -9 C (15.8 F) by the time they finished picking at 8:30 AM. Vineyard Manager Joe Zuppiger notes that they brought in 3.5 tons of Vidal at 40 brix which will be pressed and completed today, with another five tons to pick tomorrow. If the temperatures are not cold enough to meet the standards for Icewine tomorrow, the rest of these grapes will be picked and used for their Late Harvest wine – a designation that allows wineries to pick grapes ideal for dessert-style wines without having to adhere to the standards of Icewine. “The grapes are of excellent quality right now,” says Zuppiger. “An added benefit from harvesting Icewine in November is the clean fruit we get with very little damage from birds and wildlife.”

As of this morning, six wineries have started their harvests and an estimated 71.50 tons have been brought in, leaving about 650 tons still to be picked with more harvesting expected to continue tonight. There have been no reported pickings from the South of the Valley yet, but with a cold front forecasted in the South, we expect volumes to increase over the weekend.So far we have had a diverse range of varieties picked for Icewine including: Vidal, Riesling, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

With the arrival of the Icewine harvest, wine lovers across BC can look forward to an excellent crop of new Icewine releases in 2016.

Wineries that have decided to forgo the Icewine designation have already started picking grapes for Late Harvest wines on October 1,2015 with approximately 42.5 tons picked so far and still being picked.

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